FORT WAYNE – Bob Chase will receive the Lester Patrick Trophy, one of the highest honors in all of hockey, today for his outstanding service to the sport in the United States.
He was chosen, in part, because of all the people he has influenced – players, fans and other broadcasters, such as Mike Emrick, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who was mentored locally by Chase.
So it raises the question: Who influenced Chase?
When Chase began calling the Komets’ games on WOWO in 1953, there weren’t many well-known broadcasters. Chase borrowed a bit from Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan, famous for their work on Hockey Night in Canada, but he looked elsewhere for his greatest mentoring.
His father, Gunnard, was the person who set Chase on the path to a career now 60 seasons strong.
My dad was my best and worst critic, Chase said. He would listen to me and say, Bucko, you didn’t give the score too many times last night. I couldn’t tell what was going on.’ Or, he’d say, You sounded good, you sounded like you, and I know who you are because you grew up in my family. And I like you being yourself.’
That turned out to be my key, just trying to be me.
Chase, who was born in Negaunee, Mich., as Bob Wallenstein, never set out to be a sports broadcaster. He was a player and, after serving in the Navy during World War II, he began his radio career as a student at Northern Michigan.
He began covering the Komets shortly after joining WOWO.
But there was a hitch.
My first day on the job, the (operations) manager told me, You’ve got to change your name.’ I kind of bristled and said, I don’t change my name for anything,’ Chase said. He told me to understand that Wallenstein is way too long a name and it’s got to be brisker, sharper for air use.
It didn’t take long for him to settle on Chase.
The opps manager said, Where the hell did you get that?’ I said, Be careful, that’s my wife’s (maiden) name,’ Chase said. I didn’t even consult (Murph), but I made my father-in-law a lifetime ally. He had five girls.
When Chase, 86, learned from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in September he would be getting the Lester Patrick Trophy, along with Patrick’s grandson, longtime Washington Capitals executive Dick Patrick, Chase had a condition: It had to be awarded to Bob Chase-Wallenstein.
I wanted to make sure my name is on it with due credit to my parents, said Chase, who will have longtime Komets great Terry Pembroke as one of his guests today in Dallas at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction celebration.
The master of ceremonies will be ESPN’s Steve Levy, one of the many broadcasters who took Chase’s biggest advice: be yourself.
My philosophy always was if you can be who you are, you don’t have to remember tomorrow what you did yesterday to be the same way, Chase said.