Monday marks the end of an era for the Pittsburgh Penguins as legendary announcer Mike Lange announced his retirement after 50 years in broadcasting, including 46 with the team.
Lange had already cut down his broadcasting duties the past two years for health reasons and because of the pandemic as he awaited a vaccine. Now he is officially retiring with Josh Getzoff, his replacement the past two years, taking over full time duties.
“As many of you know, I have been cutting back on game broadcasts the last few seasons. This year was difficult with the pandemic, but I was still able to broadcast a limited few, which was important to me. That marked 50 years of broadcasting professional hockey – four in the Western Hockey League and 46 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. That was pretty special for me,” said Lange in a statement released by the team. “I didn’t get cheated in my quest to do what I have always loved. The Penguins have asked me to continue to add commentary and voice work on a limited basis to the current radio set-up and I look forward to staying involved. In the meantime, the best consolation to stepping away is knowing that the broadcast couldn’t be in better hands with the very talented Josh Getzoff, and the Ole ’29-er, Phil Bourque.”
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In his four-plus decades with the Penguins on both TV and radio, Lange was able to become one of the franchise’s biggest icons. If you wanted to go with the played out “Team Mount Rushmore” exercise, there is no doubt that Lange would be on there for the Penguins right up there with Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby as the most significant people in the history of the franchise. His role with the team and impact on the city and its fans is that important.
Being “the voice” of a team for that long is a significant accomplishment, and it is very important thing. That voice tells the story of the team’s biggest moments, both the celebratory and the soul crushing. Fans build a connection with it. It becomes something familiar that is as much of a part of the team as any player, coach, or individual moment.
With that said, some personal story time on Lange’s impact with the Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh.
Having grown up in Pittsburgh and starting my hockey viewing experience with the Penguins there is no doubt that Lange played a significant role in helping to grow my love and passion for the game. For Penguins fans of almost any age, Lange is synonymous for his catch phrases and goal calls that entertained almost as often as they confused (who, exactly, is Sam and why are you buying him and his dog a drink? It doesn’t even matter because Jagr just scored another goal!).
As a kid, that stands out to you. It makes you laugh and it brings an added layer of fun to something that is already entertaining.
But as I got older and started to develop a better understanding of hockey and the viewing experience, something else started to stand out about Lange. He is not just somebody that has a bunch of quick catchphrases. He understands the game. He has a feel for the flow of the game, the way it is going, the way it is being played, and an incredible grasp for the moment and the situation. His voice would match the intensity of the moment, or the seriousness of the moment, and you could always tell by the level of excitement when something was about to happen.
Lange spent most of his career in Pittsburgh calling games on television until 2006 when the local sports network decided to go in a different direction, parting ways with Lange (an extremely unpopular decision). The Penguins quickly acted to make him their radio voice. And while going from TV to radio may have been viewed as, for lack of a better word, a demotion of some sort, radio really did seem to be Lange’s element and play to his strengths as a broadcaster. He could paint you a vivid picture of what was happening.
In covering the NHL for more than a decade I have spent the most time around the Penguins in Pittsburgh. In all of those years I have never encountered a player (current or former) that left me “star struck.” No matter how good players are they always come and go, and you never really know anything about them outside of what they do on the ice. But for someone growing up in Pittsburgh and following the team, Lange was always a constant, and somebody that never changed no matter how much the team or its success did. He told you the story of the game and the team and was as much of a part of it as anybody on the ice. In some ways he is a bigger part of it.
During one of my first years in the press box I found myself riding the elevator down after the game with him and took it upon myself to introduce myself and explain how significant his calls were all of those years, and we had a great conversation on our way out the building. A few times per season I will be asked to be a guest on the Penguins radio broadcasts during the first intermission to talk hockey, and every time I would go into the booth to prepare for the segment he would always have something to say about the game, or just a simple hello, and it was always surreal. Truly a legend.