As Blackhawks change course in TV booth — again — remember, they didn’t need to veer in the first place

New voice Rick Ball isn’t replacing Pat Foley. He’s replacing the guy whom fans didn’t widely accept. Ball gives the Hawks a do-over — though they should’ve had nothing to redo with Foley and Eddie Olczyk in the booth.

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Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk, shown in the United Center broadcast booth, called Blackhawks games on TV from 2008 to 2022.

Pat Foley (left) and Eddie Olczyk called Blackhawks games on TV from 2008 to 2022.

Sun-Times

Chris Vosters wasn’t the first Blackhawks TV voice to be pushed out after two seasons. He wasn’t even the first Pat Foley successor to fail to win the hearts of Hawks fans.

That person was Dan Kelly.

In 2006, during a dark age in Hawks history, Kelly replaced Foley, whom the team had fired unceremoniously after 25 years behind the mic. Reports of Foley’s dismissal at the time cited “personal differences” – on the Hawks’ side, assuredly – and he landed with the AHL’s Wolves.

Kelly wasn’t short on connections or experience. His father was Dan Kelly Sr., the longtime voice of the Blues and a Hockey Hall of Famer. The younger Kelly had been the Blues’ radio voice for three years and the Blue Jackets’ TV voice for four.

But Kelly was woefully short at being Pat Foley.

Not even having Eddie Olczyk as his analyst could save Kelly. The Hawks stunk, and fans were angry about losing Foley. Kelly never had a chance. Fortunately for all, new Hawks leadership brought Foley back in 2008, and the Kelly era came to an abrupt end.

Fast-forward to last week. Vosters, the Hawks’ chosen successor to the retiring Foley after a wide-ranging, season-long “Survivor”-like audition, was cast aside after two seasons calling brutal hockey. Vosters didn’t have Kelly’s experience, but even worse, he, too, wasn’t Pat Foley.

Neither is Vosters’ replacement, longtime hockey broadcaster Rick Ball. But he has the benefit of replacing the replacement. He isn’t replacing Foley. He’s replacing the guy who, like Kelly, didn’t receive wide acceptance from fans. Ball gives the Hawks a do-over – though they should have nothing to redo.

When the Hawks began that merry-go-round season of announcers in 2021, they were dead set on going young. They wanted a play-by-play person who would be active on social media (which Vosters, 33, was) and relate to the demographic. The same went for the studio analysts.

But in one season together, Vosters and analyst Darren Pang, 60, didn’t mesh. The Hawks changed their tune on Vosters’ broadcasting, and with a push from Pang, whose relationship with Vosters became strained, a change was made.

Now the Hawks have gone in the other direction, hiring the 57-year-old Ball last week to join Pang. So not only did all of those auditions overshadow Foley’s final season and reduce his visibility to fans, they turned out to be a waste of time because Vosters’ replacement didn’t even come from that field.

To be sure, Vosters didn’t have a hockey background (though that did nothing for Kelly), and he needed to grow into the job. One could argue that the Hawks were wise to shift gears if they thought their plan wasn’t working. But one also could argue that the Hawks already had this plan in place.

Though Foley, 69, wasn’t shown the door for his second departure, he certainly was escorted to it. Olczyk, 57, followed a few months later when the Hawks wouldn’t give him the same contract length that the Kraken did. And with that, the demolition of a beloved and revered TV booth was complete.

In all likelihood, Ball will be just fine, if not great. Pang wore rose-colored glasses too often last season, but he’ll be fine, too. Still, all of this was avoidable. Foley and Olczyk could’ve been calling Connor Bedard’s rookie season, ushering in a new era as they did for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Instead, the Hawks installed a revolving door to their broadcast booth, stopped it, then spun it again. We’ll see how long this stop lasts.

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