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Published: Sunday, 11/15/2009

Walleye voice needs no cue

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's Sports section. Blade sports reporter Mark Monroe talked with Toledo Walleye broadcaster Matt Melzak. The Toledo native has called more than 400 hockey games, including four seasons as the Storm's television and radio announcer.

Matt Melzak hones his craft much like the players he covers from the broadcast booth.

From an early age, Melzak dreamed of calling football, baseball, and hockey games. He idolized hall of fame announcers like the Detroit Tigers' Ernie Harwell and the Detroit Red Wings' Bruce Martyn.

After graduating from St. Francis de Sales High School in 1994, Melzak majored in communications at the University of Toledo. His first broadcast was a Rockets football game for the college's radio station. Melzak landed his first pro gig as the lead announcer for Bowling Green State University hockey during the 2002-03 season.

He then became the director of communications and the voice of the Toledo Storm from 2003-2007. In 2006, Melzak was selected as a member of the ECHL All-Star Game broadcast team.

He returned to the radio and television booth this season for the Toledo Walleye's inaugural season. He is the organization's lead TV announcer for all home games and is the radio announcer while the team is on the road. He also hosts a weekly coaches show during the season on WCWA-1230 AM.

The 33-year-old Melzak also has worked for BCSN since its inception calling football, baseball, and hockey telecasts. Melzak also has worked for 1470 AM, 106.5 FM and 94.5 FM.

"I JUST WANT to keep getting better every game just like a player. I'm always working on new things. I get excited for each and every game.

"This has been my life-long dream. I've always been enamored with the call of the game. When I'd go to bed at night, I had headphones on listening to Ernie Harwell or Bruce Martyn. They just had a way of pinpointing the picture on what was happening on the ice or field. It's just the call of sport. When I watch a game I want to hear the broadcast. I have a hard time going to a sports bar to watch a game.

"The first time I did a sporting event I was a junior in 1998. It was a UT football game, and I did play by play. I was a bit nervous. But I felt like I was really prepared and did enough to make it sound good. Looking back it probably was not the best of all time. But I enjoyed the moment.

"I have a real passion for calling hockey games. And it started at BG. That was when I got a major bug for calling hockey. The sport is so fast and you have to be so quick with how you envision things, how you word things. It's an electric sport. Broadcasting has become part of my fabric. I can't imagine not doing it. I also enjoy calling football and baseball at BCSN. Every sport has its own little quirks and challenges."

"THERE IS A different style to calling a game on the TV and radio. People have to understand the way the game is flowing because of how your describe it. I got into sports talk when [WLQR-AM 1470 program director] Norm Wamer and I struck up a friendship. We got an afternoon show, and we meshed well. I liked interacting with the fans that would call and have an opinion. Norm and I would disagree on stuff. That is the great thing about sports. It is always something new and fresh."

"MIKE MILLER [former New Jerseys Devils announcer] was a great teacher. He helped me make it to the pro level. I could not say enough glowing things about Mike. He was very hands on. My first year with the Storm, we'd sit and listen to the games I called together. I took notes and he gave me tips.

"That first season the team struggled. There will be nights when you'll be down 6-1 and you have to be ready to handle those things. You have to have enthusiasm despite the team's struggles. It's just like the players. It's more fun when things are going right.

"[Walleye coach] Nick Vitucci has been a very nice influence. I can talk to him about anything. He has so much experience in the ECHL. We've struck up a nice friendship."

"IT WAS A terrific honor to go and call the ECHL all-star game. At the time there were only 25 teams. But it was a rough trip. I had problems with my flight and I got into Fresno at 3 in the morning. I was fighting to keep my voice together. But it was really an enjoyable experience.

"I'll never forget when [former Storm goalie] Drew MacIntyre drove overnight to Wheeling when we were down 2-1 and ready to be knocked out of the playoffs. It showed the lack of selfishness on Drew's part. He was playing in the playoffs in Grand Rapids and wanted to rejoin his guys in Toledo to help them win the series. It was the single greatest moment in my four years.

"Game No. 2 of the Gwinnett series at the end of 2005-06 season was a great game. Logan Koopmans made more than 50 saves and Todd Jackson scored the game winner. It was a great individual performance. It was an exciting 10-hour bus trip back."

"I TRY TO get to know the players. Some are easier than others. But in a professional atmosphere I have to be somewhat objective. I'm not one that likes to get super close. I like to be on a good speaking basis.

"I had a good relationship with Rob Snowball. I never had guys that I didn't like. Hockey players are so good to deal with. They all have interesting stories."

"OVERALL THIS Walleye team could be really good. It's just a matter of finding a consistent base to work from. This is as talented a team as there is in the ECHL.

"The new arena is fantastic. I enjoyed calling games from the old Sports Arena. But now I couldn't be happier. It's something Toledo needed for a long time. Some people were very hesitant. But it's such a great place to watch a game. I'm so happy they wanted me to be the broadcaster. People who loved the Sports Arena now love the new arena."

"I DON'T HAVE to spend too much time memorizing names and numbers. It comes naturally to me. I look over the roster during warm-ups and do number-name recognition.

"You always have aspirations and ultimate dreams and goals. But it also depends on where you are comfortable. I'm very happy in my hometown. I'm not pining about where I will be in next couple of years. It's just a really fun job to have."



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