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Flyers Broadcasters Delighted to be Back to Work

Wednesday, 11.09.2005 / 12:00 AM / News
By Bill Fleischman  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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Flyers Broadcasters Delighted to be Back to Work
During the lockout that shut down the NHL for the 2004-05 season, some players skated for European teams while others were involved in businesses. Team and network broadcasters also had to keep busy and pay the bills.

The activities of the Flyers television broadcasters ranged from Steve Coates's millwork business to Jim Jackson calling minor league baseball to Gary Dornhoefer's greet-and-golf work for a casino.

"While the lockout was negative financially," Jackson said, "I met a lot of people I never would have met. I feel they'll be friends of mine forever."

Of the three, Jackson had the most varied experiences. He did play-by-play for the Trenton Thunder's Class AA Eastern League team, worked for Comcast SportsNet and WIP and finished his book "Walking Together Forever: The Broad Street Bullies, Then and Now." He also performed some Mr. Mom duties for his family.

"I loved doing baseball," Jackson said. "If it was possible, I'd do baseball and hockey. Baseball is 100 percent different atmosphere. The season is like a marathon: you have to pace yourself."

With the Thunder, a New York Yankees farm team, Jackson shared the microphone with Dan Loney. One of the joys of broadcasting minor league baseball is seeing players on their way to the major leagues. Jackson said Thunder players to watch include third baseman Eric Duncan, catcher Omir Santos, left fielder Kevin Thompson, center fielder Melky Cabrera, shortstop Ramiro Pena and first baseman Shelley Duncan.


Coates kept in touch with hockey by working with Flyers radio play-by-player Tim Saunders on some Phantoms games. Through all their lockout experiences, Coates, Jackson and Dornhoefer couldn't wait to get back in the Flyers booth.

"It's like we never left," Coates said. "We're having a great time."

One reason for their delight is the presence of Peter Forsberg and rookies Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in the Flyers lineup. Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke pulled the biggest post-lockout surprise when he signed Forsberg in the off-season. The signing brought Forsberg back to the NHL team that originally drafted him. Acclaimed as the best hockey player in the world, Forsberg offers his superb skills and presence to the Flyers.

"He is better than I thought he was," Jackson said of Forsberg. "He's the best passer in traffic that I've ever seen, including (Wayne) Gretzky. Gretzky, in open ice, was unbelievable. But Gretzky, in most of his prime years, didn't have to deal with the tight play (of the last decade).

"I remember hearing this about Barry Sanders when he was in his prime as a running back: he's there, he splits into two, goes through the defender, then goes back into one. (Forsberg) is mesmerizing."

Speaking of Forsberg, Dornhoefer said, "Every time he's on the ice he makes something happen. He uses a short stick and has the puck in so close to him, so it's almost impossible to take the puck away from him. When (opponents) get close, he knows how to shield the puck.

"There's never any panic. Two guys could surround him and somehow he always
ends up making a play."

Philadelphia hockey fans had a preview of Richards and Carter during last season with the Phantoms. The two 2003 first-round Flyers draft choices helped lead the Phantoms to the Calder Cup championship.

Coates describes what Richards and Carter did with the Phantoms as "absolutely phenomenal." In most cases, when new players join a team at the end of the year the players who have been with the team all season are resentful. "(Players say) `we've been here all year, we're a team, who are you guys?' " Coates said. "But the Phantoms saw Carter and Richards come in
and said, `Whoa, these guys are good players.''

"(Phantoms coach) John Stevens didn't miss a beat. They were killing penalties, playing on the power play, playing a regular shift. These are special players."

The new rules aimed at opening up the game and limiting obstruction has forced players to adjust. Broadcasters also are learning to live with the new rules.

"There's no question the game is more entertaining," Jackson said. "I understand the problem old-school (hockey) people have with it, because there isn't as much grinding. (But) the clutching and grabbing just strangled the game. I think the players will adjust. They have to. You just can't put your stick in a guy's midsection anymore.

"Would I like to see more physical play? Yes, but I'm starting to see it. The players who have a physical edge to their game are beginning to understand what they can and can't do. I don't think you'll see as many hits in games, but I think you'll see bigger hits because there's more speed. More speed with bodies means the contact will be a little more intense."

Dornhoefer agrees with Jackson, saying, "The skill players have a lot of skating room because you really can't do anything to stop them legally. I would like to see more battles in the zones, but I'm sure before playoff time comes that will happen.

"(Previously) if a team had a two- or three-goal lead, to come back was very rare. Now, sometimes a four-goal lead isn't enough. It keeps the people in their seats."

As a grinding Flyers winger on the Stanley Cup titlists, Dornhoefer appreciates the new freedom the forwards have. He worries (a little) though about the goaltenders. "There's so much pressure on the goaltenders that, with all the shootouts, by the end of the year (goalies) may have a nervous breakdown or two," he said.

Coates, also a forward in his playing days, doesn't have much empathy for goaltenders and defensemen. "They're getting paid good money, they're all right," Coates said with a chuckle.

TV Team Tops

Under the guidance of Bryan Cooper, the executive producer and director of Flyers telecasts, Jackson, Dornhoefer and Coates have blended into an informative and entertaining broadcasting team.

It took a while for some fans to accept Jackson as a replacement for the popular Gene Hart, but the Syracuse University graduate has settled in.

Coates started on the Flyers radio broadcasts, then moved into the TV booth seven years ago. Dornhoefer has come a long way from his first TV experience. Following his retirement as a player, the Flyers Hall of Famer had an audition at Channel 10 for weekend sports work.

"I wasn't very good," Dornhoefer said, laughing at the memory. "I had never read from a teleprompter before. I got a two-minute shot and never heard from them again."

After one season as a Flyers game analyst for PRISM, the predecessor of Comcast SportsNet, "Dorny" returned to Canada. Ralph Mellanby, the father of former Flyers player Scott Mellanby, was a top executive for "Hockey Night in Canada." Ralph gave Dornhoefer a three-game tryout, which led to regular "HNC" work for eight years. Dornhoefer then returned to Philadelphia to work on Flyers telecasts, where he provides solid analysis and honest opinions, just as he did as a player.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of ``Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of ``The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.

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