Q&A with Voice of the Stingrays, Mike Kelly
MV: You grew up in Toronto. You’re a Leafs fan, I guess?
MK: “Absolutely. Forty years this year without the Cup. I’ve never seen the Cup raised. But yes, just outside Toronto I grew up. We saw the Leafs on TV every Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada and all that growing up. It gets ingrained in you at an early age.”
MV: Who were the players you looked up to an early age?
MK: “I met Lanny McDonald at the Hall of Fame in Toronto one time, and he signed autographs. That was awesome. And Darryl Sitter, I ended up meeting him several years later when I worked with Brantford of the Colonial League, now the United League. He was a very nice man, too. McDonald, Sittler, and I also enjoyed Borje Salming on defense. Those three were the guys I followed when I was growing up. They never won the Cup, but they got to the semi-finals one year. That was as close as they got. Then Harold Ballard destroyed the team. He ripped them apart. He traded Lanny McDonald to the Colorado Rockies, and that was the end of the Leafs as far as taking a run at anything. I remember that trade like it was almost yesterday.”
MV: All of these players here, their goal is to move up to a higher league. Is it the same for you, Mike?
MK: “If I’m fortunate enough to, I’d definitely look at the opportunity. But I’m very happy here. It’s a great situation. If the opportunity presented itself, I’d take a look at it for sure.”
MV: What are typical game days, non-game days and off-season days like for you?
MK: “As far as game day goes, I prepare for the radio broadcasts plus finish up any groups that I have that day for the game that night. I make sure they are taken care of and ready, that they have their tickets and all that in advance. There are always some last minute things that you have to take care of with the groups. But I focus on the radio broadcast on game days. I make sure I am ready to go. When we’re on the road I am by myself, so it’s a three-hour deal, and I have to make sure I bring everything I need, all the stats and everything. The other night we had a glass breakage, so that was an extra 15 minutes tacked on there. You can only go to commercial break so many times. Fortunately, I was ready.
“On non-game days, I focus on groups and ticket sales, season tickets. Next season is special; we have our 15th anniversary season here with the Stingrays. We have a great package on the season tickets including two airline tickets for season ticket holders. It’s a good deal, so those have been going well.
“And then during the off-season I focus on ticket sales again. Season tickets predominantly, and then as we get closer to the fall we start calling the groups again and bringing them out. And I try to keep up on hockey at all levels, pro and amateur, whether it’s the juniors or the colleges. I like to keep up to date on everything.”
MV: So do you have a color guy you work with at home here?
MK: “I do. Our beat writer here is Andrew Miller, from The [Charleston] Post and Courier, our daily paper. He joins me for the home games. He adds a lot because he knows the history of the team and has been covering the club for several years. It adds a really nice aspect.”
MV: Talk about the booster club for a bit if you could. Jason was telling me that they provide food for you guys on the bus and they outfit the apartments for the kids.
MK: “They do. They provide the bedding, utensils, microwaves, everything for the guys. Basically they come in and it’s all set up and ready to go for them. It’s amazing. With the support they bring, they are like an extra man for the team. It helps the guys; they don’t have to go out and shop for all these things when they come to town. Everything is ready for them, and they can just concentrate on hockey. And they’re [the booster club is] passionate about the game, which is really good. They support us on the road, too. It’s always great when you score a goal on the road and you hear a pocket of fans or a section explode.”
MV: You travel with all your equipment and you set it up. What are some of your favorite rinks in the ECHL as far as view and the personality of the building?
MK: “The one in Florida is really special. It’s not very old; it was built in 1999. It’s called Germain Arena and it’s just a fantastic setup. It’s a smaller building than the North Charleston Coliseum. It’s really intimate and you have great sight lines there. The guys always get jacked up going down there. They always have big crowds as well. You know going in there that it is going to be an intense game right off the bat. I’ve never seen a bad game down there. It’s almost like a playoff-style atmosphere every time you are down there. You’re in the deeper South, and the sun is shining when you come to the rink. It is here, too, but especially when you come from further north. A lot of these guys are from the North and they get pumped up going down there and I do too. It’s fun.”
MV: Your schedule is 72 games, and it’s obviously very heavy within the division. Do you ever play at all against the Western teams?
MK: “We don’t this year. In fact our schedule is really intense in the South. Sixty-eight of the 72 games are in the South Division. We only play four games against the North, and two of those are this weekend against Reading. We played Dayton once and Johnstown once, and they both came down here. We don’t travel north this year at all, which is a quirk in the schedule. Usually you either go west or north at least once, but we don’t do either this year.”
MV: Why did it happen that way?
MK: “I don’t know. Sometimes the schedule just falls that way. I don’t have an explanation for it.”
MV: How far west do you go?
MK: “I went to Alaska. We went to Anchorage when I was with Mississippi. That was neat. Three games in four days, and we actually did well. We won two of the three games up there. That was when Scotty Gomez was playing with the Aces. That was exciting, going head-to-head and watching him play. He was fun to watch. We actually held him in check up until overtime of the third game. That’s when he had a beautiful pass up the middle and he sprung a guy on a breakaway and had the assist on the game-winner. He’s a great player. He is so patient with the puck. And when he wanted to turn it up and throw it into another gear, he could do it.”
MV: Talk about the bus a little bit. It sounds like it’s a better vehicle than the one I rode on with the Portland Pirates up in New England during the lockout. Give me an idea of how it’s outfitted and how you spend your time.
MK: “Well the bus is state-of-the-art. It’s a nice ride, as far as riding the bus goes. There are 25 cots, so everyone has their own. They are six feet long and three feet wide, very comfortable. You can lie down if you need to on some of these long trips. And we have a 15-hour ride to Beaumont, Texas, from here so you definitely need to lie down on trips like that. It has a microwave, a fridge, satellite TV, so a lot of bells and whistles that you don’t normally have on coaches. Some of them even have wireless Internet, so I can get a lot of work done for the Internet and update things that I need to get taken care of.
“The booster club provides a lot of fruit and snacks and things as well. That gets us through and we don’t have to stop other than filling up for gas on those long trips. We just keep rolling. That’s the bus in a nutshell. It’s like a semi truck. It’s huge. Bands will use it, you know Bon Jovi and people like that. These are traveling buses. It’s not for little one- or two-hour trips, typically. We call it our ‘rock star bus.’ You feel like a rock star on it.”