As Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins CEO Jeff Barrett searched for a person to replace the team’s play-by-play announcer, Tom Grace, he settled on someone who he said is a natural fit.
Many people applied to replace Grace, who will be taking a front office job with the NHL’s Florida Panthers later this month, but Barrett found the answer inside the team’s headquarters at Coal Street.
On Thursday, the Penguins named Mike O’Brien as the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations. O’Brien, 35, has served as the team’s director of communications and provided color commentary for radio and television broadcasts over the last two seasons.
Taking over the play-by-play duties is a natural progression, O’Brien said, but the job doesn’t necessarily mean he is the replacement for Grace, who has been the Penguins broadcaster for all but three seasons.
“You can never replace Tom Grace. He is truly the Voice of the Penguins,” O’Brien said. “What I can do is bring my own personality to the broadcast, bring energy, balance and an analytical eye and, most people, give the fans a quality, entertaining broadcast.”
O’Brien is no stranger to the broadcast booth. Prior to joining the Penguins, he spent the 2010-11 season as a play-by-play announcer for the men’s ice hockey teams at Boston College and St. Lawrence University, as well as the men’s and women’s teams at Neumann University in Aston.
A native of Gladwyne, O’Brien began his broadcasting career in 2003 with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL, where he called the team’s 2005 Kelly Cup Championship run and was also selected as a radio broadcaster for the 2006 Rbk ECHL All-Star Game.
O’Brien moved on to the American Hockey League where he was hired as the Lowell Devils’ Director of Media Relations & Team Services in 2007. The team’s color commentator for the 2008-09 season, he took over play-by-play duties for the 2009-10 campaign and called the Devils’ first-ever appearance in the Calder Cup playoffs.
“It’s definitely something I’ve done before, but when I came I didn’t expect this role to open up anytime soon,” O’Brien said. “I’m ecstatic about this opportunity in one of the best markets in all of the AHL.”
Barrett said he looked at a lot of applicants during the search to replace Grace, but O’Brien was the natural fit because of his broadcast experience in the AHL and ECHL and his familiarity with the team.
“Once I listened to Mike’s tapes and talked to him, I knew,” Barrett said. “I didn’t want to prolong things after that.”
O’Brien will still handle media duties and will travel with the team on all road games. While the travel aspect may be new for O’Brien during his Penguins tenure, it’s a task he is very familiar with. When he was with Trenton, he traveled with the team during it’s championship run in 2005, starting in Atlantic City and Reading before heading to Anchorage, Alaska, and Fort Meyers in Florida.
“We went all across the map, and I also traveled a lot with Lowell to so it’s nothing new to me,” he said.
While O’Brien shared the broadcast booth with Grace over the last two seasons, he said no decision has been made as far as bringing someone in to provide color commentary.