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Published: Sunday, 7/30/2006

Bringing sports to life is his calling

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports reporter Mark Monroe talked with former New Jersey Devils radio announcer Mike Miller, who started his broadcast career calling Toledo Goaldiggers games and recently spent four years as the Toledo Storm's general manager.

For 26 years, Mike Miller said he has felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

The candy in this case is sports, and drawing a paycheck for over two decades through sports has allowed the Toledo native to maintain a youthful exuberance.

Miller, 54, grew up in West Toledo, where he would turn down the volume on the television and mimic his favorite announcers to entertain friends. He eventually parlayed that horseplay into a career as a radio play-by-play broadcaster.

Miller started his broadcasting career in Toledo in 1980-81 and called Goaldiggers games for five years. He then moved on to Kalamazoo, where he spent nine years continuing to broadcast International Hockey League games.

Miller called 1,005 consecutive minor league games and, in 1993, moved up to the NHL. He served as the radio voice of the New Jersey Devils for nine years.

Miller was diagnosed with vocal-cord cancer in 2001, suspending his broadcasting career. After recovering, he became the Storm's GM and vice president in 2002-03 until he resigned in January to pursue the resumption of his broadcasting career.

Miller returned to the booth last year, providing coverage of both pro golf and hockey on XM satellite radio and also has been a fill-in host on NHL discussion shows. He says he is in the running for several broadcasting positions for professional sports teams, including a handful of NHL organizations.

Miller and his wife, Susan, reside in Temperance. Their two daughters, Lindsay, 21, and Kayla, 19, are both students at the University of Toledo.

"I GREW UP in the area around Secor and Laskey. It was a great neighborhood to grow up in if you were into sports. It was the era in the late '50s and '60s and every kid had a baseball glove on their bike. We played every kind of sport daily outside. We had rinks in the backyard."

"EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT, we'd watch Hockey Night in Canada on Channel 9. We had the old rabbit ears and we watched the Maple Leafs. There were some great broadcasters. I loved Foster Hewitt and Bruce Martyn of the Red Wings. They could paint a picture of the game. It was phenomenal. I also loved listening to George Kell and Ernie Harwell call Tiger games. They brought the games to life."

"I'LL NEVER KNOW if there was a plan. When I started working for the Goaldiggers in 1980 I was also working construction. We were building the O-I building in downtown. I worked as a surveyor and we went to Goaldigger games at night. I'd take a tape recorder to the games and do a period or so. I'd drive my friends crazy. I was 25 and I didn't know what I wanted to do. [Broadcasting] was kind of always a thought in the back of my mind. I was able to entertain my friends doing it. They'd say, 'Hey, that's pretty good.' I was more or less having fun with it. But I decided to send the tapes to some teams. Jerry Francis, the GM of the Goaldiggers at the time, heard the tape and he hired me. I ended up doing it full-time and the team won back to back Turner Cups the next two years."

"WHEN I THINK of those teams today [1982 and 1983 Goaldiggers], I first and foremost have a very heavy heart. We lost two of those guys in the past year. Paul Tantardini and Mike Greeder exemplified what hockey was all about in Toledo. It's hard to think of them being gone. Paul had to be one of the top 10 most loved athletes in Toledo history and Mike was one of the great leaders of any team."

"I GOT A CALL on Oct. 1 of 1993, on my birthday, asking if I was interested in coming to the NHL. It took me about a 10th of a second to agree. I spent 13 years in the minors and I looked at it like medical school. My first game in New Jersey was like doing my first operation. The Devils were still playing at the Meadowlands and I was 90 feet above the ice and I did not have a good angle. They were playing Tampa Bay and the Lightning numbers were scripted and hard to read. It was not one of my better nights. I had a tough time with the numbers and players."

"I WAS IN NEW YORK - the largest market in the world. You could not babble and make mistakes. You'd get butchered. I'll never forget an article in the New York Post. They found the worst picture they could find of me. The headline in big letters was 'Devil Worship.' The Post gave it to me for being a big homer. But everyone said, you haven't made it until you're on the back of the New York Post."

"I MISS GOING into towns like Vancouver and Montreal. What I enjoyed most about the NHL was being able to broadcast the last sporting event ever at the Boston Garden. I got to call games from the Forum in Montreal and Maple Leaf Gardens and the Old Chicago Stadium. All those buildings are gone now."

"THE ONE PLAY I remember the most was in the Stanley Cup finals in 1995. Everyone thought the Red Wings would kick New Jersey's butt. Scott Niedermayer went coast to coast at Joe Louis Arena. He had dropped his stick, but for some reason Shawn Burr gave it back to him. He went through five guys, and beat [Red Wing goalie Mike] Vernon. I think that goal broke Detroit's back."

"I GOT VERY HOARSE in the division finals in the 1999-2000 season. I thought I had laryngitis. I was getting treated for it when the Devils won the cup in 2000. When I listen to my call now, I really hear the strain in my voice. I kept getting diagnosed with acute laryngitis. I finally went to a doctor at Henry Ford and he took one look at me and told me I had vocal cancer."

"I WAS STUNNED. But he said, 'Listen, we can treat this. We can help you. People survive this.' They could have used radical treatment and taken my vocal cord. But I had radiation treatment for six weeks. I lost my voice for awhile. I had never missed a game. I had called 1,741 straight games. I came back and called the playoffs. I'm a survivor. I feel blessed by it. Five years out and I'm fine."

"I CAME BACK TO TOLEDO in 2001 and came back with the Storm for four years. It was great. I remember going to hockey games here and watching the Blades and the Hornets. It was special to be part of my hometown team again. I left with no bitterness. I worked so hard to keep hockey in Toledo. But to have the real success, a new building needs to be built."

"WORKING FOR XM satellite last year with the golf and hockey, I got the bug again. There are numerous openings in the NHL. There are also a lot of openings in some other sports. I have my fingers crossed. I'm cautiously optimistic. I hope to get back in the booth at the major league level."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.



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