Hooked on hockey

Steve Mears ’02 named TV play-by-play announcer for Pittsburgh Penguins

By Bob Cunningham

Looking back at his freshman year as BGSU’s hockey play-by-play announcer, Steve Mears ’02 said it’s easy to tell his broadcasting idol was Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Lange of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now, Mears, who majored in telecommunications at Bowling Green State University, joins Lange as part of the Penguins’ broadcast team. Mears will call the play-by-play for the Penguins’ games on television for Root Sports Pittsburgh, while Lange will continue to be the team’s radio play-by-play announcer.

It’s a dream come true for Mears, who grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Murrysville, Pennsylvania.

“When the team, the city and the history of the team is in your DNA it just means that much more,” Mears said. “There are so many moments in my life growing up in Pittsburgh that are directly connected to hockey in some way. It’s just meant so much to me. On top of that, it’s a tremendous opportunity getting back to the art of play-by-play, which I love and first honed when I was at BGSU.”

Mears said his foundation was set at BGSU because he got the opportunity at such an early age to be on the air.

“I remember doing my first hockey game against Michigan State,” he said. “This would have been the 1998-99 school year, and I remember thinking this is so natural, it felt so right because this is what I’ve been doing for so long.

“As a kid, I used to turn down the volume and announce the game as I watched it. I just treated it the exact same way and I did it on the radio. People thought I had done it for a long time and it was my first actual hockey play-by-play. The funny part is, if you listen to those tapes it sounds like a kid doing an impersonation of Mike Lange. He was that influential to me. Luckily, as I evolved my style progressed along the way and I was able to pull from many broadcasters.”

Mears joined the Penguins after working at NHL Network, where he had been the co-host of "NHL Live” since 2013. He also previously was a member of the Penguins Radio Network and served as host of “Penguins Live” on the radio. In addition, he was the voice of the New York Islanders for three seasons on the radio and did various game broadcasts for the Toronto Maple Leafs TV and MSG television networks. In 2005, he was named the Central Hockey League Broadcaster of the Year for his work with the Bossier-Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs.

Mears caught the hockey bug when he was a youngster as the Penguins became a championship contender behind the play of future hall of famer – and the team’s current owner – Mario Lemieux.

“I feel very lucky and fortunate because I was at the perfect age,” Mears said. “I was 10 and 11 years old when the Penguins won their first two Stanley Cups. Not only did it get me hooked on the game, but my whole family and pretty much all of western Pennsylvania.”

While Lemieux held Mears’ attention on the ice, it was Lange’s influence from the broadcast booth that would send him to Bowling Green and eventually to the NHL.

“During the early ’90s, not only did you have the greatest player in Mario Lemieux but you had thw best announcer in Mike Lange narrating it all,” Mears said. “I was inspired by Mike Lange, the hall of fame voice of the Penguins, and that’s how I initially got into the broadcasting world because all along I wanted to be just like Mike Lange. That’s why I started pursuing my path, even well before my time at Bowling Green.”

BGSU was known to Mears because of Falcons turned NHL stars such as Rob Blake and Mike Liut. Plus, Bowling Green was a mere four-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

“Then I discovered BGSU had this outstanding broadcasting program and a sports broadcasting program that allows students to do hands-on work at a really early stage; that, combined with a Div. I hockey program with a rich history, it just added up,” he said. “When I visited, I was just captivated by the campus and the entire vibe of the school and how beautiful the campus was. It had everything I could have wanted. I just walked around thinking it was the perfect place. Then, it turned out to be 10 times more than I could have ever envisioned.”

Mears said by the time he was a sophomore, he was calling every Falcons hockey game, and he got to travel to Alaska, Denver and the East Coast to call games.

“As a college student I got to call the names of future NHL players, many of whom are still in the NHL,” he said. “You don’t get that opportunity at other broadcasting schools like I got at BGSU. If it weren’t for the hundreds of games I was able to call in college, then I’m not as prepared to go to the minor leagues as I did in my first job and I’m not prepared to take that next step when the NHL comes calling.

“I’m forever grateful for my time at BGSU, not only for the hockey but also for the telecommunications professors and teachers that I had back then.”

Mears hopes to visit the University now that he will be back in western Pennsylvania, just a few hours away.

“I look forward to driving to BGSU maybe to catch a hockey game during a break in the Penguins’ schedule and enjoying everything on campus,” he said. “It’s cool to come back and see how many different things have changed and how many have stayed the same. It’s just a fun place and it brings back so many fond memories.

“My time at BGSU changed my life because the University provided the platform and I was able to utilize the resources.”