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HEETHUIS PAINTS PICTURE WITH WORDS

Thursday, 01.08.2009 / 9:54 PM / Features
By Dave Vest
For Bob Heethuis, there’s no such thing as being too prepared for a Coyotes radio broadcast. That’s why the team’s play-by-play announcer dedicates so much time and energy to getting ready for each game. It’s a mind-set he established years ago when he was working in the minor leagues, and it has served him well in his three-plus seasons in the NHL.

“A lot of the preparation comes from working at the minor-league level for so long, where you are the only person doing the broadcast,” Heethuis said. “Very rarely did I ever have a color commentator. It just wasn’t in the budget. So I always tried to prepare as much as I could because I always had to have a lot of information to carry the broadcast.”

Heethuis attends almost all of the Coyotes practices and morning skates, and he estimates he spends about four hours getting ready for each broadcast. But if you ask anyone who is around the team on a daily basis they will tell you that four hours is a conservative estimate.

“'Heeter’ puts in endless hours of preparation,” said Tyson Nash, the team’s radio analyst. “He is always doing research on our team and the other teams, and he’s always getting ready for the next game. It’s amazing, really.”

It’s a cliché, but Heethuis’ hard work is clearly a labor of love. He says working in sports was the only thing he ever wanted to do when he was a young man. Well, not exactly.

Heethuis estimates he spends a minimum of four hours preparing and researching for every broadcast, as illustrated by the extensive notes he keeps. (Photo by Norm Hall/Phoenix Coyotes.)
“What I really wanted was to play for the Detroit Tigers,” joked Heethuis, who grew up loving baseball and hockey in Muskegon, Mich. “That was my dream in Little League, Pony League, high school and as a walk-on at Michigan State. It never happened, obviously, and broadcasting was always in the back of my mind because I knew I wanted to be involved in sports somehow and I felt broadcasting would be the next best thing.”

Heethuis, who, as a boy, used to record himself broadcasting games he was watching at home, attended Michigan State University and worked at the campus radio station. It was there in the early 1980s that he began honing his broadcasting skills. After graduating in 1983, Heethuis was hired to be the play-by-play announcer/media relations contact of the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League. He kept that job for eight years until the team folded and then moved to the Valley to work in a similar role for the IHL’s Phoenix RoadRunners.

Adam Keller was the general manager of the RoadRunners who hired Heethuis in 1992.
“Bob was very dedicated and hard-working,” Keller said. “There was never anything that was too much for him to do.”

Heethuis remained with the RoadRunners until they folded after the 1996-97 season. He then joined the Coyotes radio broadcast team and served as a pre-game, post-game and intermission host. When the team decided to do separate radio and TV broadcasts after the 2003-04 season, they turned to Heethuis to be the play-by-play announcer. His first game in that role was also Wayne Gretzky’s first game as the team’s head coach and the team’s first game after the NHL lockout.

Heethuis remembers feeling a few butterflies on that first night, Oct. 5, 2005, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“It was a media circus and there we were in the middle of it,” Heethuis said, referring to himself and then-partner Louie DeBrusk. “It was very humbling and thrilling to begin my NHL career in that type of atmosphere, and every day since has been equally exciting and enjoyable. This job is so fun and rewarding, and I’m thankful every day that I get the opportunity to do it.”

It takes a talented communicator to announce a sporting event on the radio, and hockey may be the most challenging of all the sports to call because of the speed of the game and the constant shuffling of players on and off the ice.

Heethuis said his approach is pretty basic.

“The main thing is to tell the story and paint the picture,” he said. “My focus is description. I try to describe as much as I can. And as the players get faster and the game gets faster, that gets harder and harder to do. But that’s how I approach it.”

Heethuis enjoys calling the action on the radio for the Coyotes fans and is "thankful every day that I get the opportunity to do it." (Photo by Norm Hall/Phoenix Coyotes.)
Broadcasting with constant energy and enthusiasm, regardless of the score of the game, is critical to a successful broadcast, Heethuis said.

“Hockey is such a passionate and exciting game so I try to show that as well,” Heethuis said. “I’ve found that if you don’t have energy, then your mind slows down a little bit, and on radio any slight pause and you’re behind on the play. If there is not instant name and number recognition then it is tough. And once you get behind, it’s tough to catch up again.”

While providing colorful description is important, Heethuis said accuracy is even more important.

“The bottom line is you can be a descriptive as you like, but you’ve got to strive to get things right, and sometimes that doesn’t always happen because the game moves so fast. But that’s the goal,” he said.

Heethuis lists legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell as his all-time favorite broadcaster for professional and sentimental reasons. Just the mention of Harwell’s name instantly reminds Heethuis of cherished childhood memories.

He also is a fan of Los Angeles Kings announcer Bob Miller.

While Heethuis has his list of favorite announcers, he has some fans of his own.

It was a media circus and there we were in the middle of it. It was very humbling and thrilling to begin my NHL career in that type of atmosphere, and every day since has been equally exciting and enjoyable. This job is so fun and rewarding, and I’m thankful every day that I get the opportunity to do it. - Bob Heethuis
“I remember when Bob was the voice of the RoadRunners and I was doing afternoon-drive sports at KTAR,” Coyotes TV/radio host Todd Walsh said. “I can vividly remember Bob doing road games back east, and I would sit in the office and listen to him do everything – the pre-game, game, intermission reports and post-game – all by himself, and I was just like a drone. I remember thinking he was the consummate professional, and I still think that. And nobody appreciates what he does for a living more than Bob. This job now is the job of his lifetime and he knows it.”

Heethuis indeed loves his job and he takes pride in every broadcast. But the games he enjoys broadcasting the most are the ones that are not being televised.

“I try not approach the radio-only games differently, but I think subconsciously you do because you know you probably have a bigger audience,” Heethuis said. “And in this day and age with the Internet and satellite radio you never know who is listening. That definitely inspires you to do a good job, and the adrenalin gets flowing a little more because you know the spotlight is on us more.”

The “us” he is referring to is Nash, his new partner this season. The two have quickly developed unique chemistry. Nash said Heethuis has been a helpful partner and mentor.

“Bob is an ultimate pro and he’s so patient with me and never gets frustrated,” said Nash, who is a rookie analyst. “He puts it on a tee for you and sets you up so you can hit a home run. And that’s not easy to do with me. He also just happens to be the nicest man on the planet.”

Keller agreed.

“The thing about Bob is that I haven’t yet found a person that doesn’t like Bob Heethuis.”



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