An interview with PAT SHETLER

November 16, 2010

In researching the Internet for content to add to this site I checked on Pat Shetler who, along with Al Blade was the inaugural season's radio announcer for all of the Gears games. For those of you who may be wondering- Pat is doing very well these days and has been the color commentator for the Norfolk Admirals since 1989 where he's know as "The Red Whistle" mainly because of his hair color. Pat was nice enough to do a phone interview with me today, most of the content of which follows...

Saginaw Gears Dot Com (SGDC): I understand that you had a career as an NHL linesman that lasted for 600 games, what inspired you to leave the striped sweater behind and pick up the radio microphone?

PAT: I was doing back-up officiating for a Stanly Cup playoff game in Montreal and I started talking with with the Montreal announcer Danny Galvin. I told him I was thinking of doing some broadcasting. Danny gave me a tape (recorder) and told me to go over into a room and call the game... do the play-by-play for the last two periods. So I did. I played him just a bit of the tape and he told me I should take that exact tape and play it for the people in Philadelphia who were looking for a TV play-by-play broadcaster. I got the job in Philly thanks to Danny. He said I had what it took to be a pro. broadcaster. Philadelphia was a tough place in those days- it was pretty rough hockey.

SGDC: How did you come to be involved with the Saginaw Gears?

PAT: In the summer of 1972 Wren Blair approached me and said that he was getting together a group that was starting a team in Saginaw, Michigan and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I said "Sure." Of course I didn't even know where Saginaw, Michigan was so I had to go and get out my map and look it up. I'd worked with Wren as director of his summer hockey camp for a few years and I knew that he had started Bobby Orr's career, so I thought this would be good. When I got to Saginaw Wren made me Special Assignments Director for the new team.

SGDC: What was your impression of the Wendler Arena when you first arrived?

PAT: Loved it. It was the perfect size for hockey. It seated, I think, about 5,700 and it was brand new. It was just right. The people of Saginaw really supported the team. The people there were great to get along with.

SGDC: Saginaw was a very industrial, blue collar town in 1972, a far cry from the big cities of the NHL, it must have been quite a change from your previous haunts.

PAT: Not really, you see I'm from Sydney Nova Scotia, and it's a lot like the Saginaw area was. We had a steel mill and some industry and the people are very similar- hard working, very close and very warm, real friendly, real good people. So I felt real at home in Saginaw- I loved it, the close atmosphere. The big cities of the NHL have no personality.

SGDC: I'm always amazed at what a small world hockey really is, especially among the professionals such as yourself. Do you still cross paths with former members of the Gears hockey club?

PAT: Here's a good one- when I first came to Norfolk to start the team, there really was no league. So to keep into hockey I started to referee in Hampton. I got a game to do in Johnstown, where the Johnstown Chiefs were playing. I got there and went out on the ice to start the game and while I was skating around I looked up at their broadcast booth. That's a small building and so the booth is pretty close to the ice. Anyhow, I looked up and who's doing the Johnstown broadcast, but Al Blade! He saw me first as I was coming onto the ice and so he was waving and smiling. I waved right back. Later he came down between periods and we laughed and talked- it was great.

SGDC: The Gears played road games in some real barns in those days, the worst of which was Columbus. I recall your broadcast from one game there, I remember that Leon Stickle, the NHL linesman was working as an IHL ref. that night and a fight turned into a riot with fans invading the ice. I'm sure you knew Leon, and we could hear it in your voice that you were pretty disgusted with how the fans were acting. What is it like to broadcast a situation like that?

PAT: Yes I knew Leon we worked a lot together.

SGDC: Columbus was the last rink in the IHL to have chicken wire instead of glass. That's how the fans got into it.

PAT: Yes, that right, I remember that was awful. You can't have fans on the ice. I'd be more critical of the coaches for letting it get that far. No one should be on the ice except the players and officials. In Detroit, for example, the only fan that was ever allowed on the ice was the octopus. We (linesmen) were not to fond of the octopus, because we had to clean the damned thing up. I'd usually kick it over to the guy with the shovel and let him take it away.

SGDC: What about Don Perry?

PAT: Don and I did not always see eye-to-eye perhaps because I was a ref. and he was from a player's background. We had some hot conversations on things I'd see one way and he'd see another way. He was old-school and took that into coaching. He was the kind of guy to yell and scream in the room- kick wastebaskets and get real mean. That's how they did it back then. These days a coach almost needs a counselor with him to talk to a player. You can't set them straight like the old coaches did. Also Perry did not like to lose. Wren Blair had warned me that "Whatever you do, don't talk to Perry right after a loss."

SGDC: The fan base in Saginaw seemed to grow like wildfire. In your opinion why did that take place?

PAT: It was good, the fans really took the team to heart. They were just the right people for hockey and the winters in Saginaw were just right for for the hockey season.

SGDC: There have been a lot of interesting and colorful "characters" who have come and gone in hockey. Can you tell us about any who stand out in your mind?

PAT: I knew Bobby Orr very well and he really changed hockey. When I played on the blueline the defensmen just got the puck out of your zone as fast as you could, abused anyone in front of the net and stayed back on the point. Orr changed all of that.
I got to know a lot of guys in the NHL, like Howe and some of the other greats. Those guys were something else. One night I was working (as a linesman) in Detroit and I got hit real hard at the Red Wings bench. So hard that I got knocked over the rail and ended up on the floor. So here's these guys like Howe, Delvecchio, Mahovlich holding me down on the floor and laughing. And the game just keeps going! After a while the referee looked around and said "Hey, I've only got one linesman!" So he blew the whistle and then they let me up.

SGDC: I'd heard a long time ago that Pat Shetler was the guy who designed the Gears logo. I know you have an extensive art background so I figured that is true... is it?

PAT: It was more of a team effort with some other people putting in ideas including Wren Blair, so I'd say it was actually a team effort.

SGDC: What about the name "Gears?"

PAT: Same thing, it was mostly a team effort. Considering the factory nearby with the same name, I figured it was a good match. But I did do most of the design work in the magazine (the Gears game program). It had about 90 ads in it and I did most of the graphics work. We had a lot of sponsors, especially from Frankenmuth- I can't recall the name of that restaurant...

SGDC: The Bavarian Inn.

PAT: Yeah! That's the one. My wife and I loved Frankenmuth.

SGDC: I assume you used your officiating background in the team's start-up process as well.

PAT: Yes, I got the minor officials together. The statisticians, the goal judges, guys like Gordie Mefford.

SGDC: Oh yeah! I remember Gordie- a terrific guy.

PAT: Don McLoskey, Fred East, Charlie Archibald, Bill Carter, Gene Ayotte...

SGDC: Gene was a referee in the high school league and suspended me for three games when I gave him a raspberry over a call.

PAT: Ha! Anyhow, that was a big part of getting the team going- the minor officials.

SGDC: I hear you have a story about the organ in the loft.

PAT: I wanted an organ for music, I'd seen how well it worked in the NHL, so I got a hold of the Davis Music Company and we got the organ. One night, when I was working in the NHL we came onto the ice and as we did the organist started playing dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, from "Three Blind Mice." Bill Friday (the referee) heard that and he says "Okay you guys- back into the room." and we left the ice and went back into the (official's) locker room. After a while this guy from the team comes in and asks what's the matter- and Friday says "were not gonna go out there and be called three blind mice by your organist." The guy from the team quickly agreed that from then on the organist would only play real nice music for us. So I tried to make sure that in Saginaw we always had real nice organ music.

SGDC: You departed from the Gears organization at after the 1973-73 season. Can you share with us what motivated that move?

PAT: I was contacted by a group that wanted to start a team in Winston-Salem, North Carolina- the Polar Twins was the team. They'd never had hockey in that entire area before so I saw it as a great challenge. Again I had no idea where Winston-Salem was, so again I had to get out my map and look it up. Still I'd say it was the challenge that drew me away.

SGDC: Pat, I consider you to be a real hockey icon, and I have honestly been thrilled to talk to you today. Thank you so much for sharing your time with Saginaw Gears Dot Com.

Pat: It was great talkin' to ya'.

Pat and I talked for nearly an hour- and the time really raced by. A book could be written about his hockey experiences as he played both in Canada and overseas. He was very egar to hear about what happened to the gears after he left Saginaw- of course he was talkin' to the right guy. I spent the first part of the phone conversation just filling him in of the history of the team that he was instrumental in starting. He kept saying "No, keep talkin' I'm lovin' this stuff." Once Pat started talking, however, I was the one lovin' the stories he was telling me, much of which I could not transcribe fast enough to capture in whole. The guy is a real treasure, and he played a big role in changing the Saginaw and the Tri City area as a whole. He also helped add a whole new dimension to my life- and it is hockey!
Pat's wife and kids got him the BEST birthday present ever in 2018. Happy birthday Pat!
The Red Whistle #20 NHL

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