TOM GRACE: THE VOICE ENTERS PENGUINS HALL OF FAME
Old school Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins fans will probably never forget that moment.
The end of a playoff game. A wild crowd. And Andy Chiodo facing off with his netminding nemesis, Antero Niittymaki, for some fisticuffs near the center ice logo.
But also engrained in that moment is one of Tom Grace’s most colorful pieces of play calling.
“ANDY PUTS THE JERSEY OVER NIITIMAKI’S HEAD! ANDY CHIODO IS BEATING NIITIMAKI’S BRAINS IN! OH NITTIMAKI…THAT’S A GUY FROM FINLAND WHO JUST GOT FINISHED! ANDY CHIODO FOR PRESIDENT!”
“If that call didn’t exemplify and show how invested Tom was in our team, in our journey, in the game, I don’t know what does,” said Chiodo. “What I remember when I reflect on that was the building, our fans, the whiteout, and Tom’s call.”
NOT JUST THE VOICE
Grace was more than a broadcaster when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins first came into existence. He was THE connection between the fans and the team, both in the community (you could regularly find him out meeting fans, attending school appearances, or speaking at events) and on the airwaves.
“I was injured when the team first went on the road,” said Mike Yeo, a member of the Penguins inaugural squad and currently an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks. “Games weren’t on the internet or anything like that. So the only thing that I had was just to listen to Tom.”
Fans may recall that the team spent the first month and a half on the road that year while the arena was still under construction. And during that trek, the team only managed one win in 13 contests.
“You could tell right away just how passionate he was about the team, and his enthusiasm in the games. Even though that first road trip wasn’t going too well, he had the ability to bring the excitement every night.
“Just tons of energy and enthusiasm and excited to be there. Which obviously, for a brand new team, going to a new market, was huge.”
BEHIND THE MIC, BEHIND THE SCENES
Behind the scenes, Yeo was struck by the hard work that Grace put into each broadcast.
“I told Tommy this a number of times, that I was incredibly impressed with his preparation going into games,” he said. “He’s not a guy that just showed up. He was dialed in as far as who we were playing against, even asking questions about the way they played the game, or just whatever he could do to make sure he was prepared going into the game, to call the best game.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Alain Nasreddine echoed those sentiments.
“Pure entertainment,” beamed Nasreddine, a former Penguins player and coach, and currently serving as an assistant with the Dallas Stars. “First I should start, very good at his job. People that don’t know Tom Grace personally, they don’t see the type of person he is behind the scenes.”
But all of the preparation in the world can only get a play-by-play caller so far. Grace had a particular style and storytelling ability that played perfectly for the fans in NEPA.
“Tom Grace knows how to paint a picture with his words,” said former Pennsylvania State Representative Kevin Blaum, himself a member of the Penguins Hall of Fame. “Ice hockey was brand new to all of us in northeastern Pennsylvania. And he had to teach the fans all about the game.”
“I’ve been around this game for a long time, to me he sticks out as the best I’ve seen,” said Nasreddine. “Maybe a little biased and some people didn’t like it, especially the Hershey fans. But for us players, we felt he always had our back.”
A flashy dresser, Tom Grace commanded any room he entered.
“He’s a guy that gets your attention from the start, that’s for sure,” said Yeo.
“Tom is unapologetically Tom,” Chiodo said behind a huge smile, “and it’s AWESOME!”
Individual game tickets and season-ticket packages for the 2022-23 season are on sale now. Full-Season, 22-game, 12-game, Flexbook and Premium Seating plans are available by reaching out to the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.
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