This is the third-installment of an on-going series at Bus League Hockey,“Major Calls, Minor Leagues”, getting first-hand stories from current-and-former Minor League or Junior hockey broadcasters.
It goes without saying that every sports broadcasters path to making a living or keeping their career going takes a different route.
Whether that means picking up a “real job” to afford the “hobby career”, being a commission-only staff member who makes their whole check off sales, or going unpaid completely, the pursuit shows the passion and the cruelty of the industry.
For Evansville Thunderbolts broadcaster Tommy Pecoraro, it meant moving across the country from his home, but so much more sacrifice would follow.
Tommy was the first broadcaster from the Southern Professional Hockey League to reach out to me upon being hired into the league. His kindness and eagerness to get in touch was incredibly pleasant, but upon hearing his story, I knew I needed to share it.
Pecoraro was born-and-raised in the Sunshine State, with aspirations to be a meteorologist growing up, with his first-ever broadcast being as the school weatherman when he was in second grade. After a challenging-period of his life during high school, studying Meteorology in college was no longer becoming a viable option.
Due to this, he began turning his head towards another passion of his – hockey.
“My grandfather had gotten me into hockey [in middle school], and I’d watch the Rangers games with him for a few years until his passing. Listening to Sam Rosen call [New York] Rangers games was one of my big inspirations to become a Hockey Broadcaster,” said Pecoraro “I remember playing NHL ’04 and NHL ’06 a lot – I mean every day. I would turn the volume off and practice doing play by play all by myself. All the way into high school.”
It was this self-teaching and passion the lead to his first ‘broadcast’ for an NHL game – but it’s not like you’d think.
“I went to a Panthers vs Rangers game at the BB&T Center with some friends on December 30th, 2011. Sat 20 rows from the ice, and so I showed my friends my rough play-by-play skills,” said Pecoraro “Before long, the whole section was wanting to hear my [call]. A guy behind me had gotten up to the press box, and grabbed me a pack of game notes to work with – still have them today, too. But that game was where I officially decided I was gonna focus on being a hockey broadcaster.”
Riding off the high and confidence of his first ‘NHL Call’, Pecoraro resourcefully used what equipment he had and his willpower to record his demo reel – for an ECHL game.
“My first demo tape was from my Nintendo 3DS that I brought with me to an Orlando Solar Bears game, it was their first year back and they were playing the Greenville Road Warriors. I recorded myself doing play-by-play even though I knew almost none of the players,” said Pecoraro “The first goal of the game was on that video, and that clip became my first demo reel, which helped land my first pro gig with the Danville Dashers, straight out of high school.”
A Nintendo 3DS, a passion for hockey, and a dream. At 18, these three ingredients lead to his first broadcast job, and first time living away from home – 1,093 miles from his hometown Sebastian, FL to Danville, Illinois and the Federal Hockey League.
This would start the beginning of a four-year endeavor of surviving in the FHL by any means necessary – much like any other player or team.
It was an interesting experience to say the least. I had never lived away from home and I didn’t know anybody in Danville. But the guys all took me under their wing and helped in any way they could. I learned an incredible amount about the game, the way it was played, and proper ways of behaving around the locker room, on the bus, or on the bench,” said Pecoraro “I had my fair share of screwups but I rolled with the punches and made it through the year. I suppose the best way to describe that first year, was that it was an adventure.”
Included in that adventure was what was supposed to be his first-ever professional broadcast.
“My first official game as a broadcaster with Danville didn’t go according to plan. None of the equipment was set up correctly, and even when we did briefly get on air, I was so nervous I went completely silent,” said Pecoraro “On the ice, the Dashers got destroyed by the Dayton Demonz, we lost 9-1. Thinking back, it’s a good thing that game didn’t air.”
His first-real broadcast would happen nearly a month later, as his downtrodden Dashers would overcome the defending-champion Danbury Whalers 2-1 in overtime.
The ’13-14 season in Danville would end with Pecoraro being on the all-too-commonly cut-able side of the budget, and he’d be let go.
He wasn’t down for long, as the Danbury Whalers would quickly come calling, and he’d be on his way to the east coast.
Things were looking up for Pecoraro – the league expanded from four to six teams, he was living near his then-girlfriend, and close to New York City. Not to mention, he was employed again.
Nothing was ever good for too long in those days of the FHL though, as the next year challenges would strike him. At this time, he had to split time between the Front Offices of Danbury (now the Titans) and the Brewster Bulldogs, who were owned by the same group.
During my second season, with the Whalers, and my third, with Brewster, I dealt with some housing issues. In addition to that, I was dealing with illness that heavily impacted my performance and even sent me to the hospital a couple times,” said Pecoraro “I was told a couple times that I could quit and go home. But I stuck it out because I knew if I gave up, that was it and my career was over. So I toughed it out, and it’s only gotten better since.”
Toughing it out had become a theme for Pecoraro, who had to take on many roles for his teams to be afforded on the payroll.
On top of broadcasting, he’d been an equipment manager, player taxi, van driver, assistant coach, trainer, “you name it”.
Brewster would fold after that season, and he’d be back in Danbury for the ’16-17 season, as the equipment manager and broadcaster.
This year would prove to be a defining one for his career, as he’d be named the Broadcaster of the Year in the FHL.
“I worked extremely hard after missing it the first three years. It was a great feeling being told I had won it,” said Pecoraro “It was actually a surprise as well, as I was told by FHL executive John Landers towards the end of an on air intermission interview.”
What happened next would be the culmination of years of anguish, and bad news not being what it seemed.
“It started much like past summers, waking up to find out the Danbury Titans had ceased operations. After that, I got a message from a staff member in Evansville who previously worked in Danbury. They were looking for a new broadcaster, and he knew how hard I was willing to work. Along with that, I had my freshly acquired Broadcaster of the Year accolade. With my updated resume and with the recommendation of both my friend and a couple players who were there as well, I was selected out of dozens of other candidates,” said Pecoraro “It was an incredible feeling getting the job and knowing I would get to work at a higher and more stable level. In fact the first thing I did was go to Macy’s, and got a brand new navy blue Alfani suit and a bottle of new cologne to go with it.
After somehow lasting four years in the FHL, Pecoraro had finally moved up to the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Pecoraro thanked Peoria Rivermen broadcaster Brad Kupiec for helping his transition into the higher-league, and adjusting so well.
A long overdue transition, after grinding through the last few years.
“How I survived mainly had to do with me not giving up. I was able to build many connections within the league, to utilize when one team folded so that I could land with the next. At one point I was living in my car, homeless, for a solid month-and-a-half because I had no place to go. I wasn’t being paid much and I wasn’t allowed to stay with the players,” said Pecoraro “I knew that things would get better if I toughed it out, and surely enough it did. I turned enough heads around by how many different tasks I could manage, combined with how hardy I had become at even just surviving day to day. Through that, I developed my broadcasting skills over those four seasons enough that I landed my job in Evansville. Being in the FHL was far from a walk in the park, but if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.”
A year under his belt in the SPHL, and Pecoraro admits it was a welcome-change from his former homes.
“It was incredibly different, in a good way! I went from a league that had 3-4 teams come and go every summer, to a solid and well-rounded 10 team league, with some being more than a decade old,” said Pecoraro “Instead of smaller rinks that sat less than a thousand people and small arenas with 2,000 to 3,000 capacity, most teams had buildings that could hold well over 7 or 8 thousand, and there were plenty more seats filled.
Of course, outside of the league itself, there was a change in his personal living.
“I went from sharing houses with almost a dozen players to having my own one bedroom apartment all to myself. I suppose the only thing I missed was that there were no Tim Horton’s locations in the SPHL, going there for Timbits and an Iced Capp were one of my favorite parts of traveling to Watertown, Port Huron, Cornwall or Dayton.”
So, now with five-years of professional hockey experience under his belt, how did he view those first four of proper development in the FHL?
“It was nerve wracking at times. After each of the last 3 years I was in the FHL, the team I was on ceased operations. Even now with my job secured in Evansville next season with almost zero chance of the same thing happening again, I still get nervous,” said Pecoraro “I looked into moving up as soon as the season had ended. Getting all my game video together and clipped and sending it out.”
Despite his now-irrational fear, the Thunderbolts and SPHL have brought him his favorite broadcast memory.
“So far I would say calling my 100th game last year. The guys all congratulated me, I had plenty of congratulations messages coming in around the country,” said Pecoraro “On top of that, we came back to tie the game late and win in a shootout, and I was given the game puck for the milestone.”
Not without a shot from the SPHL guys, first.
The journey of Tommy Pecoraro truly shows the dedication it takes to survive and advance in the bus leagues, and his tenacity should not go without mention.
Neither should our all-encompassing question.
BLH: “With so many Military Academies, both United States and Canadian, having hockey programs, how would a team comprising entirely of The Troops fare in the SPHL?”
TP: “I’m not too sure how they would do skill-wise, but one thing is for certain, they would be right up there with the rest of the league when it comes to fitness and teamwork. If we learned anything from the Miracle on Ice in 1980, it’s that sometimes, enough of those two things are enough to get the job done against any team in the world.”
A true-icon of the bus leagues, and a broadcaster with a bright future still to come.