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Mallards' broadcaster puts money where mouth is
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Photo: John Greenwood/jgreenwood@qconline.com
Brian Lavelle, the Quad City Mallards radio announcer, calls a game Friday against Wichita. He was the former director of communications and broadcasting.
Brian Lavelle, Quad City Mallards director of communications and broadcasting.
Brian Lavelle's career qualifies as the dream job for any good sports fan.

In reality, few would make the same sacrifices for their craft that the Quad City Mallards' radio broadcaster has made.

The biggest nightmare came in the summer of 2012. Despite not getting paid, Mr. Lavelle was one of two employees who remained devoted to the Flock when ownership issues nearly wiped out local minor-league hockey.

"I was OK. I got by financially,'' Mr. Lavelle said. "In retrospect, I'm still not quite sure how we survived.

"But this is a good hockey market, so there was a decent chance there would still be hockey when things worked themselves out. I took the realistic approach that hockey broadcasting jobs are hard to come by, so I decided to stay and bet on weathering the storm.''

Mr. Lavelle's gamble was rewarded when former owners of the Central Hockey League stepped in at the 11th hour to save last season, then chose to retain the Mallards last summer when selling the rest of the Double-A circuit.

That's allowed the Bostonian to continue providing play-by-play coverage of the Flock for a fifth season, in his 15th overall as a broadcaster at the sport's lower levels.

"A lot of people start out thinking they'd love to be a broadcaster, too, but quickly find something else to do when they find out about the many sacrifices, the other parts of the job they may not like, and the fact they aren't going to become rich from doing this,'' Mr. Lavelle said.

"That first job just isn't going to be on (ESPN's) SportsCenter or calling the Super Bowl. But my approach always has been this is what I want to do, and I understand it may take me who knows where, but I'm OK with that. You're exposed to so many great experiences and great people when you go where it takes you.''

Mr. Lavelle majored in broadcasting at New Hampshire, calling basketball games and broadcasting news on the campus radio station.

Still, finding a job in broadcasting after college proved impossible, so he began attending Triple-A hockey games in Providence, R.I., and Worcester, Mass., to hone his craft.

`"I'd sit in the stands like a crazy person, talking to myself into a tape recorder doing play-by-play,'' Mr. Lavelle said. "I sent those samples out to every hockey team below the Triple-A level, earning three to four bites over two years before finally landing my first job.''

That initial experience also offered a culture shock, with the Billings Bulls transferring the native New Englander to Montana.

"I remember flying out for my interview and seeing all of these cowboy hats on my connecting flight from the Twin-Cities,'' Mr. Lavelle said. "I'd never seen that in day-to-day life. Cowboy hats were something you only saw on TV or the movies.

"But, Billings was a great place to live for two years. It's so different from what I was used to, and I met so many great people who are still friends.''

The Billings Bulls ceased to exist, but Mr. Lavelle had the good fortune of being transferred by the owners to their USHL franchise in nearby Cedar Rapids, where he worked for eight seasons before joining the Mallards.

Along the way, highlights included a USHL title-winning season in 2005; calling three all-star games, including 2010's CHL contest; and broadcasting the longest game in USHL history at 1 hour, 26 minutes and 45 seconds.

Late in the afternoons on game nights, Mr. Lavelle said he ritually "slams a couple cups of coffee to ramp up the caffeination.''

Mr. Lavelle also has found standing during a broadcast ensures higher energy than sitting, and his preferred vantage point is center ice, above the glass, to lend perspective and not get too close to the action.

"But if I have a working phone line, I really don't have much to complain about,'' Mr. Lavelle said, noting the many crazy places positioned to call games on the road. "If I can just get on the air, I can make anything work.''

That chameleon quality also helps adapt to minor-league sports, where broadcasting is only part of the job.

"It's stressful at times because you do have to wear a lot of hats,'' Mr. Lavelle said. "Public and media relations always seems paired with this job. I've also done community relations, served as a traveling secretary and sold everything from advertising and sponsorships to tickets. I've even painted the ice any number of times.

"The staffs are small, so there are just a lot of things you end up doing because they have to get done, but it's a great learning experience in lots of different areas, and I'm always happy to do it because it means I can still go and broadcast games.''

Whether at home or on the road, game days tend to be long because of the office work, with his desk at the iWireless Center often exchanged for a bus seat or hotel room with a laptop and cellphone.

"It's more of a change of scenery than a change of duties,'' Mr. Lavelle said. "Home or road, it's not just show up and start talking. The amount of time I have to prepare for a broadcast is determined by how much other stuff I have to do that day.

"You start a normal business day in the office at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and then, on a game night, instead of finishing up at 5 p.m., you're there until at least 10 p.m. or so.''

Mallards players are stunned that after a long overnight bus trip, Mr. Lavelle usually is headed into the office.

"But, it's part of the deal and I'm OK with it, because I get to do what I love.''

Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Oct. 20, the 293rd day of 2014. There are 72 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The store of Devoe and Crampton was entered and robbed of about $500 worth of gold pens and pocket cutlery last night.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Michael Malloy was named president of the Tri-City Stone Cutters Union.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dewitte C. Poole, former Moline newspaperman serving as vice consul general for the United States government in Paris, declared in a letter to friends that the once gay Paris is a city of sadness and desolation.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Plans for the construction of an $80,000 wholesale bakery at 2011 4th Ave. were announced by Harry and Nick Coin, of Rock Island. It is to be known as the Banquet Bakery.
1964 -- 50 years ago: An application has been filed for a state permit to organize a savings and loan association in Moline, it was announced. The applicants are Ben Butterworth, A.B. Lundahl, C. Richard Evans, John Harris, George Crampton and William Getz, all of Moline, Charles Roberts, Rock Island, and Charles Johnson, of Hampton.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Indian summer is quickly disappearing as temperatures slide into the 40s and 50s this week. Last week, highs were in the 80s.

(More History)