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On Sports

Don Stevens is still scoring with his hockey broadcasts

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Rochester Business Journal
October 9, 2015

Upon graduating from a Denver high school nearly a half century ago, Don Stevens enrolled in a community college. He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, but he figured he’d stumble upon something. After a semester of spending more time playing cards in the student union than studying for exams in the library, Stevens saw his college career come to a screeching, ignominious halt.

“When people asked me what I was majoring in, I told them hearts,” he joked. “That was my favorite card game. Forget about liberal arts. I was working toward a degree in hearts. There was just one problem. It wasn’t part of the curriculum.”

His mom did not find his response funny. Doris Inkin was determined to provide her college dropout with some career direction. “She sat me down and said, ‘Well, Don, you sure do like to talk, so maybe you should get a job at a radio station,’” he recalled. Stevens didn’t think much of the idea at first, but his persistent mom wasn’t about to let it die. She called a local radio station to find out how one got into the field and a man told her about this year-long broadcaster training program in Minneapolis. At her urging, Stevens put together an audition tape, sent it off and was accepted.

Mother obviously knew best. Stevens found his calling. And a broadcasting career that has taken him all over the continent, as well as Switzerland, continues tonight at the Blue Cross Arena when he begins his 30th season of calling Rochester Americans hockey games. “It sure beats working for a living,” the jovial, 67-year-old deadpanned when asked what he likes about his job. “It’s just something that I’ve always done and always enjoyed. I guess I’ll continue to do it until I figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up.”

Amerks fans hope that discovery is still years away. Players and coaches have come and gone through the years and decades, but Stevens has remained the one constant—the one thread that has tied together generations of hockey fans in this town. His booming, signature “He scores!” call following Amerks goals has become a permanent part of our sports soundtrack.

“I’ve called goals that way probably since my first hockey broadcast with the Sioux City Musketeers back in the mid-1970s,” Stevens said. “My over-exuberance drew some dirty looks and the ire of some of my broadcasting contemporaries, and maybe still does, but I don’t care. Why try to hide it? I’m working for the Amerks and their fans. I’m a homer. So, I’m going to get excited when my team scores, and I’m going to be upset when the other team scores.”

He’s lost track of how many Amerks games he’s broadcast, but the number is probably in the neighborhood of 2,500. They include two Calder Cup championships and seven finals. Though the games tend to blur together, some stand out—like his first one, when Shane Churla of the Binghamton Whalers climbed onto the old stage at the War Memorial to confront fans who were taunting him. Stevens will never forget Don Lever’s short-handed goal to tie the score in game six of the 1987 Calder Cup finals. The Amerks wound up winning that contest, forcing a seventh game against Sherbrooke in Quebec.

“We wound up winning the Cup up there and when we got back to Rochester at about four in the morning, there were thousands of fans greeting us at the airport,” he said. “What a sight!”

He also relishes calling the goal by Amerks goalie Darcy Wakaluk in Utica. “It was the first time in pro hockey history that a goalie had scored a goal on a direct shot, so that got a lot of play throughout the States and Canada,” he said.

Though best-known as the “Voice of the Americans,” Stevens has called all sorts of sports during his career—everything from Rhinos soccer to World Team Tennis, which included Martina Navratilova, who once invited him and several others to her apartment for pizza after a match. As Stevens will attest, the life of a broadcaster isn’t always glamorous. During his first job in Grand Island, Neb., he had to lug his heavy radio equipment 20 feet up a telephone pole to reach a perch from where he called high school football games.

“I did one game in a blizzard,” he said. “I had to send a runner down to tell me what was going on at the other end of the field because the visibility was so bad. I wore every layer of clothing I owned that night, but I still froze my you-know-what off.”

Years later, he’d experience the other weather extreme when he broadcast minor-league baseball games in Phoenix on days when the temperatures soared well above 100 degrees. Celebrities occasionally stopped by his booth for a few innings. One memorable visitor was comedian Milton Berle. “I let Uncle Miltie do some play-by-play,” Stevens said. “The first pitch he called he said, ‘Low and outside. Berle one.’”

Stevens, who spent his formative years on the family farm in Alberta, Canada, long dreamed of landing a National Hockey League broadcasting job. He did make it to the big-time one time, when he was an emergency fill-in on a Buffalo Sabres televised game in the early 1990s. “It was a huge thrill, and I received a lot of great feedback from Sabres fans, but unfortunately that’s as far as it went. Minor-league broadcasters are no different than minor-league players. Our aspirations are to make it to the big leagues. Circumstances just never worked out for me.”

The Sabres’ loss proved to be our gain. For three decades and counting, Stevens has provided major-league descriptions of our minor-league hockey team. Each time he speaks, he scores with his legions of listeners.

Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. You can talk sports with him Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m. on ESPN Rochester 95.7, AM 950 or

10/9/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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