Bruised, talented players dot Toledo’s hockey history
Contributing writer Jefferey D. Norwalk featured long time Toledo hockey public address announcer Bobb Vergeils, currently the voice of the Detroit Tigers, in the May 13 edition of The Press. Here, in time for hockey season, Norwalk throws out more of Vergeils’ tales.
If you have been a fan of Toledo professional hockey, you know that its history includes plenty of bruising players, plenty of promising future NHL players, plenty of fights, and even more entertainment.
The very first time Sports Arena public address announcer Bobb Vergiels slid behind the microphone for a Toledo Storm game against the Raleigh IceCaps in 1991, swarms of Toledo’s fans converged sporting their green and yellow, only to file out of the barn three hours later totally swept up by the new kids in town.
They had seen the first-ever Storm goal scored by Bruce MacDonald 54 seconds into the game and a promising, bruising lineup consisting of studs as fellow forwards Mike Maurice, Mike Casselman, and Brad McCaughey; defensemen Pat Pylypuik and Greg Bignell; and lights-out goaltender Scott King, to name a few.
They also saw the last game at the Sports Arena, April 14, 2007 against the Cincinnati Cyclones, which Toledo fittingly lost, 7-3.
After the final horn finally sounded, Vergeils somberly made his way out onto the ice he had negotiated so many times prior for Chuck-a-Puck, Score-O, and other silly promotions, and kissed the rink goodbye like he was kissing an old friend. That was the last official photo ever taken at the arena, which Vergeils treasures to this day.
Vergiels could talk for many beers and maybe even a cup of chili and a hot dog or two from his favorite, the former Central Hot Dog on Front Street, about Toledo hockey.
He called many games over 20 years, including the Storm’s first-ever Riley Cup championship-win in April of ’93 when Mark “The Deazel” Deazeley, charging hard to the net, took a pretty Ian Duncan feed, and buried the puck past Wheeling Thunderbird goaltender Frankie Ouellette for the game-winner in an exhausting, double-overtime barnburner. Afterwards, Ouellette, a notorious hothead in East Coast Hockey League lore, shattered his stick over his crossbar, which Vergiels collected from referee Russ Johnson, and took home as a souvenir to commemorate the occasion. He still has the stick today.
Bloody, knock-down, drag-em-out fights? He’s witnessed a few of those, too, like the Ken Tasker vs. Trevor Senn (Richmond Renegades) slobber knocker in ‘99, which featured two of the ECHL’s toughest, most-notorious enforcers trading punches at center ice for a little over 30 seconds, which to this day is still the most-watched hockey fight on YouTube.
As a riveting storyteller, he can spin the tales of MacDonald going over the penalty box glass after the Icehawks’ bird mascot one rowdy playoff night in Louisville, and of Wheeling Nailers’ enforcer Matt Van Horlick getting laid out by two different Storm players in less than five minutes during “Church Night” in Toledo.
Favorite players? His Facebook “friends list” reads like something of a “Who’s Who in Toledo Hockey,” many of whom he tries to keep in touch with, like Rick Judson, Andrew Williamson, Duncan, Nick Vitucci (also current head coach of Walleye), Alexandre Jacques, Rob Thorpe, Nick Parillo, and David Goverde of the Storm; and Evan Rankin and Kyle Rogers (“C”) of the Walleye.
There have been crazy nights, too. An unnamed Storm backup goaltender stumbled out of the Consaul Tavern one night, only to end up stumbling into a neighbor’s house, where the homeowner found said-player fast-asleep on his couch the next morning.
There were proud moments. In 2002-03, Vergiels was tabbed to present former Toledo Goaldigger and then Storm head coach Claude Noel with the Brabham Cup — for the ECHL team which finishes with the most regular season points — and the ECHL Coach of the Year award.
“Claude’s always been a class-act, and a close, personal friend of mine,” Vergeils said.
There were tear-stained times. In ’98 when Vergiels’ father passed away, the first floral arrangement to arrive at the funeral home was a plant from the Storm Fan Club, a plant which still survives and thrives to this day, and one which Bobb calls “Dad.”
Vergiels has played the part of Toledo hockey historian tirelessly. He still has the game-worn jerseys of both the Storm’s first-ever captain and last-ever captain, in Byron Lomow and Jason Malenko.
Vergeils has all three scorecards from Storm female goaltender Erin Whitten’s historic 9-8 win over Wheeling on Oct. 30, ’92. However, he had to trade then Storm coach Chris McSorley three six-packs for it. The game still stands as the only victory recorded by a woman in a major male team sport, some 20 years later. Vergiels has given instructions to his children, that when he passes away, all three scorecards are to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Throughout his two decade run, Vergeils settled into the role of resident court jester with equal degrees of self-deprecating humor. He encouraged home fans to boo him when he announced his own name at the beginning of games – “And I’m your rink announcer, Bobb Vergiels” — and he regularly held up handmade signs, with wacky messages scrawled on them that read, “I’m Carty Finkbeiner’s Public Relations Manager,” or “I Work at Hooter’s” when the crowd yelled “Don’t quit your day job” at him…both of which went on to become enduring Toledo hockey traditions.
Longtime Toledo hockey public address announcer Bobb Vergeils, currently the voice of the Detroit Tigers. (Photo courtesy of Toledo Walleye)