Wally Shaver: "Oh How I Remember The Gears."

(Editor's Note: Following the 1972-73 season, the Saginaw Gears were minus one announcer as Pat Shetler departed. The beginning of the second season brought a new voice added to that of Al Blade as the WSAM radio broadcasts were tuned in by Gears fans. For the next four seasons we would hear the voice of Wally Shaver when the team of "Shaver and Blade" gave us the play-by-play and Gears action. Many winter nights would find countless Gears fans with an ear glued to their AM radios as the Gears played and Wally gave us every move in detail. In making this site I contacted Wally and asked him to please recount a few of his memories of those days and he was nice enough to take the time to respond- the text of which is seen here...)

Oh how I remember the Gears. After all, it was my debut into the hockey business – one that I am still enjoying 38 years later. I presently broadcast the hockey games for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and handle the publicity for college hockey’s top individual prize, the Hobey Baker Award.

Just after Labor Day of 1973, I was hired by Wren Blair for the Gears second season and joined Al Blade on the marketing staff and shared with him the radio broadcasting duties of all Gears games. I remember my first meeting with sports writer John Poznell. He honestly thought it was a stage name. “Blade and Shaver doing hockey games – c’mon that can’t be real can it?” After whipping out my driver’s license, he was convinced we weren’t pulling a fast one.

My Debut
It had been my dream to broadcast hockey. Growing up in Canada, our family moved to the U.S. in 1967 when the NHL expanded by six teams. My dad Al Shaver was hired to broadcast the Minnesota North Stars games and did so for all 26 years of the franchise before their 1993 move to Dallas. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and hopefully make it to the NHL some day myself. (I finally did in 1981 and worked for the North Stars for eight years handling corporate sales, marketing and broadcasting the TV games).

However, after my first two broadcasts in the “I”, thoughts of a different career path crossed my mind. The first game was in Flint and the Gears beat the Generals 8-6, a wild scoring game in an era when five goals was a big night. Our home opener the next night was against the Dayton Gems. That is one game I’ll never forget. Tempers soared as the game progressed and finally erupted in a fight that led to a bench clearing brawl. Everybody entered the fray and the Dayton goalie, Louie Lavaseur, was roaming around with his gloves and mask still on and taking pot shots at guys who were engaged in tussles of their own. That was all it took for coach Don Perry. He ventured out on the ice and went right after cheap shot Louie. After that weekend, I’m thinking, “what the hell have I gotten into?”

Rock N’ Roll Part II
I haven’t relayed this story very often but I certainly don’t mind letting everyone know that I made Gary Glitter more famous than he ever could on his own. Back in the 1975-76 season, we had a game in Toledo. I can’t remember the outcome, but what stuck in my mind was the electric atmosphere the Goaldiggers had created in that dump of an arena. Occasionally during stoppages in play, they piped in music over the P.A. system. This really inspired the crowd with a good hand-clapping, foot stomping beat. It was pretty cool. The crowd responded with great enthusiasm and it certainly jacked up the team.

On the bus ride home, Al Blade and I were commenting on the atmosphere the music created. We decided to research doing that ourselves. The arena said no problem; they could play music over their system. We decided we didn’t want to use the Goaldiggers theme song and needed to search for our own identity. I was giving it a lot of thought and listening to a lot of music to find something that would fit. I called my good friend Bill Courbier with WSAM radio, our broadcast outlet to enlist his help.

At the time, Gary Glitter had a song that was getting some airplay called “Rock N’ Roll Part II.” It got into the top 20 hit parade but not much higher. I told Bill, “We’re looking for something like that with a catchy beat; something fans can clap to; something with a lot of instrumentals that would allow a longer shelf life.” We discussed a few titles and decided he’d put a few songs on tape and get them over to me.

We listened to the selections in the office. Then I played them for the team on the bus on our next road trip. Rock N’ Roll Part II had a slight edge over the other tunes, but I had already decided this was going to be the one. We introduced it to our crowd and it was accepted right away. Thus, Rock N’ Roll Part II became our theme song. Visiting teams to Wendler Arena loved it, often complimenting us on how it revved up the crowd.

There was a marketing guy working for the Kalamazoo Wings, Kevin O’Brien, who left the K-Wings to join the Colorado Rockies of the NHL. He readily recognized what a crowd motivating tune this was and called to ask me if they could use it at their games. I said sure. From there, Rock N’ Roll Part II blossomed into one of the all-time great sports theme songs used in almost every arena and sport at all levels.

My only regret is I didn’t get a cut of the royalties Glitter gleaned from the sudden sports stardom and that he turned out to be such a sexual deviate in his later years.

Turner Cup
My fourth and final year with the Gears was the memorable 1976-77 season. We had a really good team and I could sense this was going to be a great ride. And it certainly was. Although, it was close. "Sagy" made it to the Cup finals and a Game 6 in Toledo resulted in a loss to even the series at 3-3. Returning home for the final, we beat Toledo to capture the Cup. The celebration in the Civic Center was fantastic. The party in the ballroom was so joyous to see the players and fans all having an unbelievable good time. No one wanted it to end.

But it did. I figured, here I am just 25 years old, we just won the title and surely more would follow. That’s not the way things work. My future moves took me to Flint for three years, Wichita, KS for one year, eight years with the North Stars, a couple years with the Minnesota Moose and finally the Golden Gophers. I would frequently look at my Turner Cup ring from ’77, savoring that league championship and wondering if it would ever happen again. Winning it all is a very difficult task – there are plenty of opponents who want it as well, regardless of how good you think your team is. It wouldn’t be until the back-to-back national titles for the University of Minnesota in 2002 and 2003 that I would taste season-ending victory again.

Winning it all is even more elusive in college hockey. There are 57 other opponents who are trying to accomplish the same thing, yet only one is left standing. Championships are rare – enjoy them when they happen.

I’ve absolutely loved my career in hockey – something I would never trade. I’m really glad I didn’t let that first wild weekend in Saginaw convince me otherwise.

(Editor's Note: First off, thank you Wally! You have really sparked the motor of the memories machine among Saginaw hockey fans. I recall many a night of working at the Civic Center, ushering, sweeping floors or guarding doors with the radio plugged into one ear and your voice calling a Gears game on the other end of the wire. You probably have no idea how many folks spent how many evenings, snowy afternoons and hours listening to you and those Gears games when we should have been "working."

I recall, while down in Florida doing flight training in the mid 1980s, I tuned in ESPN for a Northstars game. They were having a blizzard up there that night and the ESPN announcing crew could not get in. Wally Shaver picked up the broadcast. I excitedly called my dad up in Michigan and told him to tune in. Then I got my roommates and dragged each one in to watch- none of them were hockey fans, but I really got a thrill of watching the game that night.

You have plenty of fans out there Wally, and I can say from all of them, we would very much like you to drop a memory or two upon us again. You will ALWAYS be welcome here at Saginaw Gears dot com.

PS- Sorry about the picture... it was the best I could find from "back in the day.")

1 comment:

Bruce cech said...

I was an usher at the Civic Center in the early days of the Gears..Then a season ticketholder...I broke into broadcasting having worked at WSAM.
And it was Al Blade that inspired me to get into play-by-play hockey broadcasting. My first gig was calling Alaska Gold King mens senior hockey in Fairbanks, Alaska. Dennis Desrosiers hired me to call Saginaw General/Hawks hockey for two seasons...Alaska called again and I returned to call University of Alaska Nanook Hockey...Just completed my 23rd season as voice of the Nanooks, members of the CCHA!!!
BRUCE CECH(Saginaw High 1975)