Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins broadcaster Mike O’Brien often joked that he assumed his mother was the only one tuning in to his game broadcasts.
Now that O’Brien is leaving the team to pursue other career opportunities in the Boston area, he’s finding out that many more fans, in addition to his mother, were regular listeners.
O’Brien will officially end his seven-year tenure as the team’s broadcaster on Thursday, a decision he said was difficult. And since he announced the move on his Twitter account on Monday, O’Brien said the well-wishes from fans have been pouring in.
“I never expected all the support I’ve gotten. Just to know that so many people were listening and enjoying it, it’s very humbling,” he said.
O’Brien was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s third broadcaster in its 19-year history. He joined the team in 2011 as the color commentator with Tom Grace. When Grace departed in 2013, O’Brien handled the broadcast duties by himself until he was joined by Nick Hart in 2015.
Early on, O’Brien never expected to be in Wilkes-Barre for the long haul.
“I didn’t expect northeastern Pennsylvania to become a home, and I didn’t expect Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to become a family — which it did,” he said. “What was supposed to be a brief stop in the journey became years.
“It’s tough to leave this behind. Jeff Barrett (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO), Greg Petorak (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CFO), Brian Coe (vice president of operations) and the entire Pittsburgh organization make this such a special and unique thing to be a part of.”
While O’Brien isn’t sure if his future career path will keep him involved in hockey, he said the experience of being Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s broadcaster has left him with plenty of memories. From being around Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup championships the last two seasons to numerous Wilkes-Barre/Scranton playoff runs, O’Brien said it’s impossible to pick one moment that stands out.
But his first game in the booth is at the top of the list.
“It was a preseason game, and I was hired a day or two before,” O’Brien said. “I got here and we’re right into it. I had the butterflies, but that’s when I started learning from Tom Grace, who was a mentor.”
While fans will remember O’Brien for his voice on the radio, his job entailed much more than broadcasting duties. Over the years he handled public relations, team services and travel logistics, among other tasks.
Those behind the scenes duties will fall to the team’s next broadcaster. It’s possible that Hart could take over the role, but Barrett, who confirmed the team is considering a few “internal options for the post, said a decision won’t be announced until the end of the week.
In the meantime, just like O’Brien had big shoes to fill when Grace departed, the next Wilkes-Barre/Scranton broadcaster will come into a similar situation.
“Mike O’Brien did a great job for many years and we’re always excited when a person makes a change they feel is in their best interest,” Barrett said. “Mike was more than a broadcaster for us because of all he did behind the scenes. We’re going to miss him.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky