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On the Mike

Colorado Avalanche announcer Mike Haynes may work on the radio, but he doesn't use this fact as an excuse to dress down. He arrives at the Pepsi Center several hours before the Avs face the Calgary Flames clad in a well-tailored suit that would do any businessman proud. When asked about his attire, he says, "It's a hockey thing."

And Haynes is a hockey guy, which makes his status among Denver sports boosters all the more surprising. Most broadcasters who come to define athletics in their cities are linked with baseball, such as Los Angeles Dodgers icon Vin Scully, or basketball, like New York Knicks yakker/serial biter Marv Albert. Hockey, in contrast, is considered to be the most minor of the four major sports, and those affiliated with it are generally accorded lesser standing as a result. Not Haynes, though. The combination of the Avs' success since their 1995 arrival and Haynes's infectious style has made him the voice of Denver sports -- the most beloved, the most imitated, the most remembered.

Sure, fans recall the words of KOA's Dave Logan when the Denver Broncos clinched their first Super Bowl, but they've memorized a slew of classic Haynes moments -- many of them scraps of the sort that sent the Avs' Steve Moore to the hospital on March 8. While Haynes's frenzied narration of the 1998 melee between Patrick Roy and Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood may be his greatest hit, the way he described the 1999 battle pitting Joe Sakic against the Chicago Blackhawks' Doug Gilmour is just as thrilling. In the latter, which tops a collection of Haynes calls accessible at www.hockeepuck.com, he whips up a whirlwind of syllables and saliva, shouting, "Another right by Sakic! Another right by Sakic! He just beat up Doug Gilmour! Super Joe just scored a goal, and then he beat up Doug Gilmour! How do you like them apples, Gilmour?"

Mike Haynes's fame has grown with the Avs' success.
Brett Amole
Mike Haynes's fame has grown with the Avs' success.

"I give you the blow-by-blow," Haynes notes. "Most hockey announcers don't do that. If there's a fight, they'll say something like, 'Look at them go at it.' But I let you know what's really going on. 'A right! A left! Another left!'"

Haynes doesn't claim to have invented this approach. Indeed, he goes out of his way to credit others. In the case of his hyperbolized delivery, he salutes Bob Lamey, a veteran announcer currently with the Indianapolis Colts, and his father, a rabid sports aficionado who loved Lamey's work. A New York native, Haynes and his large family (three boys, three girls) moved to the Indianapolis area when he was in elementary school. There, he and his dad would attend contests featuring the minor-league Indianapolis Racers, "and the second the game was over, he would take my hand and we'd run to the car to listen to Bob's post-game show," Haynes says. "That made such an impression on me, watching how much my father enjoyed listening to this person. I thought, 'I want to do that!'"

Whenever he had the chance, young Mike would stand outside the broadcast booth watching Lamey bark -- but he didn't get up the nerve to introduce himself until he'd become a professional broadcaster. Last year, when the Broncos played the Colts, he visited his mentor and learned that one of Lamey's daughters lives in Denver. According to Haynes, "She said she listens to the Avs games, and she can't believe how much I've stolen from him!"

It took over a decade of struggling before Haynes could share these lessons with a sizable audience. After graduating from Boston's Northeastern University, he moved from one poorly compensated announcing gig after another. First it was the Baltimore Skipjacks, then the Capital District Islanders and, finally, the Utica Bulldogs of the Colonial Hockey League, which Haynes says is "the lowest hockey league there is." His spirits were even lower when, in the middle of the 1993-94 season, the Bulldogs' owner ransacked the team's treasury and vanished. He found out how bad things had gotten at a bank's drive-up window. Seconds after the teller cashed what turned out to be a bad check and sent his money to him through a tube, she asked him to return it.

Without help from Hollywood, Haynes might have given up on broadcasting -- but after he and his father went to see the movie Rudy, about a never-say-die Notre Dame student, he decided to forge ahead. His foolish optimism was rewarded when he landed a job with the minor-league Denver Grizzlies, which led to most of the good things in his life: the Avs job; his wife, whom he met on a Grizzlies-oriented cruise; their two children; and the undying affection of Avalanche followers.

Symbolic of this devotion was a wedding Haynes performed for a hockey-loving couple between periods of the Avs' March 3 contest against the Vancouver Canucks. So, too, was the reaction to a technical gaffe at the February 24 Calgary match. The broadcast, aired inside the Pepsi Center on a frequency different from that of the Fan, the official Avs station, was put on a seven-second delay in what Lou Personett, vice president of broadcasting for Kroenke Sports, called a reaction to the Janet Jackson wardrobe-malfunction incident. Unfortunately, this meant people in the arena couldn't listen to the observations of Haynes and his longtime partner, Norm Jones, in real time. Many shouted panicky gripes to the booth throughout the contest. The experiment was declared a bust later that night.

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