John Habib's City Sports: For Cail, tonight's Monarchs game a grand experience
"I'm thrilled to be the only (play-by-play) voice the team has ever known," said Ken Cail, who hasn't missed a single game since the American Hockey League franchise arrived in Manchester in 2001.
Cail's 1,000th game can be heard on 610 WGIR-AM beginning at 7 p.m., when the Monarchs face the St. John's IceCaps.
"I'll probably reminisce a little about my 12 years with the Monarchs, but other than that, I'm approaching the game the same as the previous 999," Cail said.
Cail credits good health and good fortune for his iron-man streak in the Monarchs broadcast booth.
"It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love my job," said Cail. "I've enjoyed working for the Los Angeles Kings organization. I've enjoyed working with the players, present and former, and the coaches, from Bruce Boudreau to Jim Hughes to Mark Morris. Great people in the front office like Dave Taylor, Dean Lombardi, Ron Hextall, Hubie McDonough, Jeff Eisenberg, Darren Abbott ... The list just goes on and on. It's truly been an honor."
Cail has been an on-air fixture in Manchester since 1977, calling mainly high school sports until 2001 when the Monarchs were searching for their radio play-by-play broadcaster. Cail said he sent a tape of a high school hockey game to Eisenberg, the Monarchs' first president.
"Frank Sullivan was my partner for many of those high school games," said Cail. "Other than a few University of Vermont hockey games, I had never called hockey games higher than the high school level. I finally met Jeff for lunch at the old Merrimack Restaurant, and after telling me he liked what he heard, he hired me.
"The fact I had an established name in the city I think helped me. Skip Ashooh and (then-) Mayor Ray Wieczorek, who were both instrumental in paving the way for the arena to be built in Manchester, also recommended me to Jeff. So being from the area didn't hurt my chances."
Eisenberg teamed Cail with former Boston Bruins great Rick Middleton and the late Pat Burns, a National Hockey League coach for 14 seasons, including four seasons in Boston.
"I learned so much about the game from Rick and Pat," said Cail, whose impressive list of broadcasting analysts over the last dozen years with the Monarchs includes Dick Lutsk, Jim Rivers, Charlie Sherman, Rene Leclerc and, most recently, Chris Ryan, now in his seventh season.
"I've been really blessed because all of them are terrific," said Cail, who said his ongoing streak almost ended as soon as it began.
"The Monarchs are playing their very first game in franchise history in Lowell (Mass.) against the Lock Monsters, and I'm working the game with Pat Burns at the Tsongas Arena," he recalled. "Late in the second period, I'm starting to lose my voice on the air. Pat realizes something is wrong, and I'm just glad he's there to help me get through the period.
"Fortunately, I finish the game and I learn afterwards that I had a case of laryngitis. Luckily for me, Manchester didn't have another game for another week, allowing me to rest my throat. If Manchester would have played a day or two after that first game, my consecutive streak of calling games for the Monarchs would have ended at one."
Many years ago, Cail said, he was stranded in Nashville, Tenn., coming home from vacation with his family.
"We had a flight delay. I was supposed to be in Manchester by noon - in plenty of time to call the 4 o'clock game against Hershey at the Verizon. Fortunately, I had left all the (radio) equipment at the arena before I left on vacation. I called Dick (Lutsk), who was able to set up and handle the pregame show. I arrived in the booth at the arena exactly one minute before the game started and called it."
Another close call for Cail happened about five seasons ago when he was involved in a head-on automobile accident on the way to call a game in Manchester.
"The guy in the other car fell asleep, drifted into my lane and crashed into me," Cail said. "Fortunately we weren't going at a great rate of speed, but my car was totally damaged from the crash. I actually blacked out for a few seconds. Chris Ryan handled the pre-game show, and I managed to get to the arena in time to call that game against Lowell. So I've had some near misses along the way to 1,000."
Cail said he believes he ranks somewhere in the top five among active AHL broadcasters for most games called on radio.
"Don Stevens is in his 27th season with the Rochester Americans, and I've still got a long way to catch him," he laughed. "I know (the Connecticut Whale's) Bob Crawford is in his 16th season. I don't know for sure if either has called 1,000 consecutive games, but it's an honor to be among those two gentlemen who have called 1,000 or more games."
Cail said hockey is his favorite sport to broadcast.
"The key to hockey broadcasting is the preparation," he said. "If you're not prepared, you can get yourself into big trouble. Much more than any other sport, the game of hockey really calls itself. For me, it's a matter of getting into the rhythm and flow of the game. If you know the rosters backward and forward, you're on your way."
In addition to his work with the Monarchs, Cail has had many memorable jobs during his 40 years in broadcasting.
He was a statistician for longtime Boston Bruins play-by-play man Bob Wilson; served six combined seasons as the public address announcer for the Manchester and New Haven Yankees, predecessors of Eastern League baseball's New Hampshire Fisher Cats; and was the producer for longtime WBZ radio's Guy Mainella (of "Calling All Sports" fame) and Gil Santos, who recently retired as the longtime voice of the New England Patriots.
Locally, Cail worked many seasons for the Nashua Pride, serving in multiple capacities with the public relations department of the now-defunct independent professional baseball club.
After that, from 2008 to 2011 he was the radio broadcaster for the Lowell Spinners, short season Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.
Cail said all of those experiences "were wonderful, but calling games for the Manchester Monarchs is the best gig I've ever had in my career."
Cail, who said his 1-year-old grandson, Phillip, will be in attendance today for his 1,000th game, hopes to broadcast the next thousand games for the Monarchs.
"I'm only 58 years old, and my voice is as strong as ever," he said. "Believe me, I'm not close to retiring anytime soon."
"City Sports" appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at firstname.lastname@example.org.