Ralph Strangis recently received a text message from former Dallas Stars forward Jere Lehtinen and was overjoyed with what the note said.
“I just watched your games. It sounds like you’re having fun,” Lehtinen said to Strangis.
For the last two months of the 2016-17 regular season, Strangis called almost all of the Los Angeles Kings games in place of legendary broadcaster Bob Miller, who suffered a mild stroke during NHL All-Star Weekend.
Strangis, who was the voice of the Dallas Stars for 25 years before leaving after the 2014-15 season to pursue other endeavors, was originally supposed to call four road games for LA this year. This had to do with Miller’s reduced schedule based on 2016 heart bypass surgery and a transient ischemic attack he suffered last season. Instead, he got a whole lot more than he bargained for, which he was totally OK with.
“It was really fun, like it was really fun but it was bizarre-o world. But then it became ‘that’s where I went to work’ and it was great,” Strangis said. “It was more fun than a guy should be allowed to have. We just had a blast.”
In fact the 56-year-old Strangis had such a good time he said he’d like to be considered for the Los Angeles television broadcast job, vacated by Miller who retired at the end of the this season after a 44 year run. After Miller announced his retirement, Strangis joined a list of people who jumped into the booth during Kings broadcasts. These were LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen, Edmonton Oilers radio voice Jack Michaels and Kings radio analyst Daryl Evans who all called one game each.
“I’m interested the Kings job, but if that doesn’t happen I’m open to whatever is next. They have a lot of qualified candidates and I respect their process.” Strangis said. “That’s sort of my mantra. I’ve really been philosophical about this stuff. I have a lot of different things that interest me.”
Before Strangis came back he had a lot going on that took up his time. He enrolled at the University of North Texas to finish 33 credits so he could graduate college. He produced a play called “Hospitality Suite” in downtown Dallas where he was cast as one of the main roles. He wrote op-ed pieces for the Dallas Morning News and he also went to Europe five times within the span of 18 months.
Initially when the Kings called him, Strangis’ schedule had become less cluttered and he figured a return to the NHL for four games would be good for him in the short-term.
“I said “OK, this will be perfect. I’ll have just graduated college. The play will be done and I’ll have all the business done after that. I’m writing op-ed pieces for the Dallas Morning News’ and I said, ‘OK this will be good. I’ll have four games and then I’ll be fun,’” Strangis said.
On Jan. 26, Strangis finished his last scheduled game with the Kings at the Carolina Hurricanes and then went home to Dallas to prepare for a three-week long pre-planned stay Los Angeles.
He had rented a place in Venice Beach and was going to pack his car and drive out there with a stop in Palm Springs. Then he got a call during the NHL’s All-Star Weekend from the Kings telling him that Miller had suffered a health issue and the team needed him on standby for Jan. 31 game at the Arizona Coyotes.
When it was determined that Miller suffered a stroke and couldn’t call the game, Strangis then flew to Glendale to meet the team. After the game he took a plane to Palm Springs and then rented a car and drove to LA.
“Then I basically sat around and then I got a call a week later that said ‘Hey, we want you to do the game on (February) 16th.’ They called me a couple of days after that and said ‘We want you to do all the games in February.’ I said ‘OK,’” he said. “At that point I had my Jeep shipped to LA and I had my daughter put some clothes in my Jeep. So now I’m sitting in Venice Beach, I’m like ‘all right, now what? The place is going to get rented in a week because now I’m chewing up my three weeks I hadn’t spent there.’ So I got a place at the JW Marriott (at LA Live) to finish out the month of February.”
When the Kings and Strangis left for a road trip to Minnesota and Calgary at the end of the month, the broadcaster loaded his car with his clothes, thinking he was probably done when he got home. Then he got a call while he was in Minnesota asking him to stay on for the rest of the regular season, with the exception of the last two games, which Miller wanted to call along with the games other broadcasters would call.
“I said ‘yeah, OK.’ So then we worked a deal out with the Kings where I moved into the Residence Inn El Segundo and that’s where I stayed the last six or seven weeks,” Strangis said. “But checking in (when I got back) – so we go on the road, I have my stuff in my Jeep, I grab a cart across the parking lot at 2 a.m. … but it was nothing but fun.”
For a lot of people, living in limbo, like Strangis did, is a hard task. But Strangis believed that working in the sports industry helped him deal with some of the difficulties that came with the uncertainty.
“You know what, this is kind of how my life is, right? Anybody who does this for a living or for a long time knows you’re in a hotel, back-and-forth. The stuff that would be shocking to most peoples’ systems aren’t for guys like us, guys likes me. I’ve done this a lot,” Strangis said. “I live very small. I’m a minimalist and that helps me a lot. I have less than 1,000 square feet in a two-bedroom place in Dallas. I don’t own a lot of stuff. I have my Jeep and my bicycle so I’m always ready to go at the drop of a hat.”
After Strangis got settled in, he said he went to a lot of practices – since his hotel was practically next door to the Kings’ facility. He also met a bunch of people in the Manhattan Beach area and tried to to throw himself into life in Los Angeles as much as he could.
“I was enjoying every game for what it was. And every day I got to go to the rink, and every day I was walking around Manhattan Beach, and every day I met somebody new,” Strangis said. “I enjoyed all of that.”
There were a few strange moments for the broadcaster during his journey. His return to Dallas stood out to him just because of his past there.
“It was weird. There I am in a building where I worked the first game in, in a city where I was the first guy in town basically with the team and so … from Minnesota. So it was very strange,” Strangis said. “And then to go back in there and do that game. That was sort of a bizarre-o world because I’m in the booth next to the one where I had called all those years.”
Strangis also pointed out how working home games in Los Angeles in Miller’s seat was difficult at first.
“I sat down in that chair and put on his headset in his chair in the booth next to the one I used to look over the wall and smile and laugh and share funny jokes with Bob and now instead of looking right I’m looking left at the visitors – that was really emotional really to tell you the truth,” Strangis said. “That was more emotional than Dallas for me because Bob is sort of this icon for all of us and this guy who – you always wanted to see Bob Miller. You always wanted to find out what joke he had or what story he was going to tell you. And I looked over to my right for so many years and there was Bob at Staples (Center) and now I was in his chair and I was going to be in his chair for a while. It was emotional.”
Even if that seat doesn’t become Strangis’ there’s a sense of calm with him. He had a great experience in Los Angeles with the Kings and while he would like to be considered for their full-time gig for Strangis there’s no shortage of ideas and opportunities.
“I got to do hockey again and I got to make some money and I got to hang around in LA again. It was great. I had nothing but … it was great. It was an adventure,” Strangis said. “I’m going to write a piece about it for the Morning News about life in limbo, but it was great. There’s no bad to this. I like to do things differently than most people do them. My life isn’t ordinary and normal and that’s how I want it. This is just another one of those things. I had a great time.”
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