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COLUMN

Chase wins Lester Patrick Award

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For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.

NHL, USA hockey honor 60-year career

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 5:15 am

Across North America today, younger fans are hearing Bob Chase won the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United States and are wondering, ``Who's Bob Chase and what did he do to deserve this?''

Chase is having a debate in his mind to figure out how he fits on the list of past winners. He figures the only way he deserves to be near such prestigious company is to interview them, which he's done with most of them before.

Here's why he deserves to be on the roll call: No one has ever introduced more people to hockey and maybe no one has caused more people to love it.

Sounds crazy, right? Except it's still probably true.

Before 1995, WOWO's 50,000-watt signal could reach as far as the Canadian Maritimes, the U.S. East and Southeast coasts, and pretty far into the western sections of the country. About the only area WOWO didn't reach was a stretch between Portland, Ore., and Orange County, Calif., back to Fort Wayne because of the signal's direction and competition with other high-powered stations.

Chase has even received letters from servicemen in Europe as far as the Mediterranean Sea and from U.S. embassies in South America where they were picking up the signal.

Players said a perk of signing with Fort Wayne was their parents could listen to all the games in their living rooms.

Throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s, WOWO and Chase was the only broadcast throughout the International Hockey League and the only hockey broadcast throughout much of the rest of the country. During the era of six NHL teams, the game he saw was the only one to visualize for many young fans who'd fall asleep listening to their transistor radios hidden under the covers.

Just like the St. Louis Cardinals introduced baseball to much of the South and West before the sport migrated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chase and the Komets much did the same thing.

There are hundreds of stories about Komets fans driving around Florida or Alabama or even as far west as Texas late at night so they could tune in the final moments of a playoff game. Former Komet Terry Pembroke used to call about once a year to say he was listening while sitting on a horse somewhere in south Texas.

My favorite comes from New York native Randy Dannenfelser, who grew up listening to Chase in the 1960s before losing track of the Komets. He was driving through the night three decades later when just for fun he flipped the dial to WOWO and found a Komets game.

``Man, this guy sure sounds just like his dad,'' Dannenfelser thought.

Just last week, Komets legend Len Thornson got a call from a Montreal radio personality who could talk all about former IHL players because he used to listen to Chase. He also knew everything about Thornson -- who retired in 1969.

Now 40-some years later, Komets broadcasts are seeing a resurgence thanks to the Internet where anyone can listen from anywhere, and Chase is still there describing the action, spreading his infectious energy and love for the game.

He's always been there. Of the 4,490 regular-season games the Komets have played, Chase has likely called more than 4,000. When he missed a game on April 2, 1992, because of food poisoning, it was the first time illness had knocked him off a broadcast since 1958 when he had pneumonia. Until he suffered heart problems in 1998, Chase had broadcast all 351 playoff games the Komets had played. He missed the final 10 regular-season and four playoff games but came back the next season after quadruple bypass surgery to call 70 games.

He also missed one playoff game in 2009 to be inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame but has called the next 43 in a row for 491 of the 496 Komets' all-time postseason games. He wouldn't mind calling No. 500 sometime next spring. It's unlikely more than a handful of announcers have called 500 playoff games in any sport, let alone with one team.

During all that time, entailing all those thousands of miles riding on a bus or in a caravan of cars, Chase has influenced millions. Any potential fans he missed, his protege Mike Emrick has enraptured, and he gives Chase credit in helping develop his Hall of Fame career. Without Bob Chase, there would have been no one to inspire a baseball-loving boy from LaFontaine who later became the greatest hockey announcer ever. Chase deserves this award and every hockey fan's thanks just for that.

Today there are millions of hockey fans because Bob Chase introduced their fathers, grandfathers and maybe even great-grandfathers to the game.

That's who Bob Chase is, and why he's winning the Lester Patrick Award.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .