By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – John Michael might be the most versatile of the Johnstown Chiefs’ three ECHL All-Star Game representatives.
Michael, 32, was named as one of the league’s radio broadcasters to work the Jan. 26 game in Reading that will be carried by NHL Radio.
The all-star game selection is the latest reward for the Aliquippa native who truly is “chasing the dream.”
You see, Michael took the less traveled road into the vintage, cramped broadcast booth at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
In fact, those who don’t know Michael might be asking, “How could you do this?”
Prior to jumping head-first into broadcasting, Michael had a six-figure income as a trial lawyer at Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, one of the most prestigious law firms in Pittsburgh.
He went to Notre Dame University and earned not one, but three degrees – mechanical engineering, law and an MBA – in an eight-year span.
“I was thinking, what does this guy think?” Chiefs General Manager Jim Brazill said of his initial reaction to Michael’s resume. “But once I met him and we had a chance to sit down, I knew right away he was the right guy for the job.”
So how does a guy like this end up in Johnstown, calling ECHL games and making, well, a heck of a lot less money?
“When I was working at the firm full-time as a lawyer, I was doing local high school and small-college games on the side in four sports,” Michael said. “It was something that I loved. It was going well and someone suggested that I send tapes to minor league teams. I did and I got a call from the Hagerstown Suns, an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.”
Two summers ago, Michael called the Maryland-based Suns baseball games. That fall, he hooked up with the Chiefs and has savored almost every minute since.
“After weighing everything and realizing this might be an opportunity that never comes around again, I decided to put the law career on hold,” Michael said. “To come to a stadium or arena, a place you love to be, every night and get paid for it is tremendous. The choice is to spend 12 hours a day behind a desk or get out and be at the arena and do something you love to do. That made the decision clear, regardless of the money situation.”
Michael already has a signature statement that he says after Chiefs road victories:
“Walter, start the bus, the Chiefs are bringing home a winner.”
The line refers to Chiefs bus driver Walt Leitenberger.
“It just kind of came out one night,” Michael said. “Walt is our bus driver. If I’m not mistaken, the bus driver in ‘Slap Shot’ was named Walt, too.”
How long this ride lasts for Michael is uncertain.
Michael also works for Pittsburgh-based MSA Sports Network that broadcasts high school sports.
He is engaged to marry Julie Maund, a teacher, this summer. The couple met at Notre Dame.
“The object is to give broadcasting a legitimate shot and see where it goes,” Michael said. “If it takes off and I could do this full-time and be able to move up throughout the professional ranks, the final goal is to get to the show in the NHL or one of the other major sports. If it gets to the point that it starts to stagnate, then going back into law isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
No argument on that point.
For now, Michael is quite comfortable in the Chiefs’ booth and will carry the team’s banner in Reading later this month.
“Just to be considered with all the great broadcasters in this league and to be selected to call the game is special,” said Michael, who will join Chiefs forwards Brent Kelly and Jean Desrochers in the all-star game. “The thing I’m most proud about is to be able to represent this Johnstown Chiefs organization, an organization that has treated me great from the get-go.”