Bobb Vergiels gets the fans pumped up during Walleye games. The longtime public address announcer has called Toledo games for 19 seasons.
Not much surprises public address announcer Bobb Vergiels when it comes to hockey in Toledo.
Vergiels has called pro hockey games in Toledo for 19 seasons, and he has developed a flamboyant yet personable style that has created a mutual bond between himself and the fans.
ON THE HOOK
with Bobb Vergiels
Position: Walleye Public Address Announcer
Hometown: La Salle, Mich.
Born: March 17, 1952
Hockey player you admired growing up: I have a tremendous amount of Toledo heroes. I loved Dino Mascotto, Glenn Ramsay, and Greg Jablonski. I really liked Bob Dillabough.
Favorite sport other than hockey: In different ways I like every one of them. I've done more than 700 Tigers baseball games. University of Michigan basketball this winter could not have been better.
Favorite type of music: Oldies.
Have you ever eaten walleye?: Yes. But we called it pickerel and I absolutely love it. My mom [Ginny] made it and it was a delicacy.
Favorite food: Steak and baked potato
Favorite beverage: I'm a Pepsi product guy.
Best fast food: I eat more than I should. I love White Castle sliders.
Favorite Movie: Slap Shot. A close second is The Longest Day.
Favorite TV Show: Law and Order
Person you most admire: My dad obviously. I can only hope that I can be called Mr. Vergiels one day.
If you could meet an person, dead or alive, who would it be? The Apostle Paul.
Favorite place you've been to?: I like going to Florida. I never fly. I always drive. I have 22 hours to myself. I go to where my mom lives in Leesburg.
Top sports moment: There are so many of them. The biggest moment is calling Armando Galarraga's 28-out perfect game [near no-hitter in 2010]. I called the game. I grabbed my game notes afterward. The way [umpire] Jim Joyce and Galarraga handled it the next day was perfect.
What's your hockey superstition?: I always take a 10-minute nap in my car before I go in to do a game and I listen to Republica's "Ready to Go" just before I get out of the car.
Why is your name spelled with two Bs?: I was doing football and hockey games when I was a student at Western Michigan back in 1973. They spelled my name with two Bs in a print ad. I couldn't believe they misspelled Bob. But everyone's looking for a gimmick, right?
Favorite way to spend time away from the rink: I'm a stamp collector. I have a huge collection. That's how I spend my quiet time. That settles me down. My father [Bob] was a big stamp collector for years.
— Mark Monroe
Vergiels is in his third season as the announcer for the Walleye at the Huntington Center after calling Storm games at the old and equally unique Sports Arena for 16 seasons.
"I can trot out some stories," Vergiels said. "I once heard someone say that every reporter has a good book in his head -- and that's where it should stay. That's how I feel. The Storm stories just never stop. That was like Slap Shot every night."
The charismatic Vergiels has gathered even more stories over the years in his PA duties for the Detroit Tigers, University of Michigan basketball, and Wayne State University football.
Vergiels has developed many memorable catch phrases at Toledo pro hockey games. He said the game itself has evolved along with the fan base at the Huntington Center.
"The game has changed," Vergiels said. "You will not have the mayhem at the Huntington Center like you did at the Sports Arena. You won't have Ken Tasker going out and taking on everyone. That won't happen anymore. The hard core fans are still there. But there are also the event people."
Despite the Walleye's struggles on the ice — they are eight points out of the playoffs with 13 games left — the team continues to lead the ECHL in total attendance (191,787) and average attendance (6,187 per game).
"To me that is a tribute to the marketing machine that is the Walleye and Mud Hens," Vergiels said. "They try to maximize the crowd enjoyment. They work to make it a fun time. I have yet to talk to anybody that said they won't come back. You have people that are frustrated that it's not the hockey they remember. But they put a good entertainment product on the ice."
The Walleye have hosted 29 total sellouts in three seasons at the Huntington Center, including eight this season. Toledo is averaging 6,142 per game in the history of the franchise.
"That first year you could have put six Bobb Vergiels on the ice and the place would have been packed," Vergiels said. "Now they have a product. People want more Ws and Ls but there are bottoms in the seats."
Vergiels said he has been frustrated with the number of call ups to the American Hockey League that have hurt the team.
"The guy that has to be the most frustrated is [coach Nick Vitucci]," Vergiels said. "You look at all the players that should be here and you wonder what the team would be like if we had them for a full season. But you realize when you are at this rung of hockey, you're here to develop those guys. I wondered what we would have done with Evan Rankin still in lineup."
But Vergiels said he likes the addition of some players recently that he calls "personality guys." He said players like Riley Emmerson, Todd Griffith, along with Matt Krug have been good fits.
"They seem to get what Toledo hockey is. They give no quarter and take no quarter," he said. "I saw Griffith, who is missing some front teeth, skate up to the glass to a little kid with his lips tight and then he had this big smile with a gaping hole."
Vergiels said he is most impressed with the professionalism of the young players despite the team's struggles.
"What really gets me is that this has not been an easy year but every Friday night you go up to lounge after the games and the players are always there," he said. "Even on nights when they cough up a lead, [Captain Kyle] Rogers and Krug and those players are always up there. They realize why they can play pro hockey. They make sure they let fans know how much they appreciate them."
Prior to every game Vergiels is greeted with a hardy boo from those fans when he introduces himself to the crowd.
"[Former Blade reporter] Dan Saevig suggested they boo me because I was the only announcer that would introduce myself," Vergiels said. "That was very early in the Storm years. They still do it. Some fans must think I must be pretty bad. But that kind of thing doesn't happen everywhere. Toledo fans are like that."
Another tradition that has carried over from the Sports Arena days is product giveaways when the home team scores a power play goal.
The Storm organization would give away coupons for free food at Burger King.
"Some nights we would give away a full meal," he said. "We'd give away a junior Whopper, a fry, and a drink."
Another power play giveaway was window washer fluid.
"The Storm set a record one year. They scored a ton of goals," Vergiels said. "One guy would stockpile the washer fluid. He'd pick up tickets off the ground. He had a stockpile that was enough for five years."
The Walleye award a small bowl of chili for power play goals.
"We tried to start a chili chant. But it just doesn't seem to have caught on," he said.
Vergiels, 59, admits he is looking forward to Detroit Tigers games this season but said he would first like to see the Walleye qualify for the playoffs.
"The numbers are against them," he said. "Last weekend they took five out of six points and did not gain any ground. That has to be frustrating for the guys."
Vergiels, who has a daytime job as coordinator of communications and public relations for Monroe City Schools, said he is contemplating retiring from Walleye games after next season.
"I'm getting serious about backing off," he said. "Twenty years is a long time."
FISH TALES: The Walleye have six consecutive games on the road and need other teams to lose to make up ground. They play at Reading on Friday. The team's next home game is March 18.
On Tuesday, the team signed forward Kris Belan to a contract. Belan, a native of Florence, Ont., has spent the last five years playing college hockey at the University of Guelph.
The team captain appeared in 131 college games with 58 goals, 41 assists, and 415 penalty minutes.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.
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