The booming voice of Dan Kelly, who thrilled and educated hockey fans in St. Louis and throughout North America for more than two decades, is silent now. But the memories will live on forever.
Kelly died of cancer on February 10, 1989 at the age of 52.
"In sports we talk a lot about franchise players," said former Blues chairman Michael Shanahan. "Dan Kelly was a franchise broadcaster."
Kelly came to St. Louis from Ottawa on the urging of Blues coach Scotty Bowman. Owner Sid Salomon Jr., hired Kelly in 1968 and the broadcaster became a fixture with the Blues. His description of a goal in the traditional of the great hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt — "He shoots, he scores!" — was legendary on KMOX radio. Kelly injected electricity into the broadcast of the Blues just a year earlier when the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams.
The talented Kelly also became the voice of hockey across North America, drawing plum play-by-play assignments as network television in the United States during the 1970s, Hockey Night in Canada, USA Network and CTV.
Kelly also helped educate young broadcasters breaking into the business. Former defenseman Joe Micheletti started his career as Kelly’s partner on KXOK back in the 1980s.
"The thing I will always remember about Dan was how blatantly honest he was," said Micheletti. "If you said something that had to be proven, he wanted to know. I learned that if I said something, I’d better be able to back it up."
Before Micheletti joined him, Kelly’s longtime broadcast partner was the late Gus Kyle. Kelly and Kyle, a team for 12 years, had great chemistry between them.
"There were and are a lot of great broadcasters, but nobody compared with Dan," Kyle related in 1989. "A lot of people have tried to imitate him, but with no successes."
Kelly was behind the microphone for the successes, such as the Blues’ trips to the Stanley Cup finals in 1968-69 and 1969-70. His call of Bobby Orr’s goal that beat the Blues and gave the Boston Bruins the Stanley Cup in 1970 ranks one of the greatest in hockey history.
As a broadcaster, Kelly was a perfectionist and a no-nonsense broadcaster. He pulled no punches on the air and off. If a player was having a rough night, he said so. And wasn’t afraid to critique the Blues players face-to-face after games when he’d peruse the dressing room.
"I remember the times when I played and I’d get into a fight," said longtime Blues star Brian Sutter. "Dan would be all over me on the air and after the games. He’d say, ‘you can’t score goals from the penalty box’ and get all over me. Barclay Plager was the same way. But I knew they were concerned about me."
Sutter used to listen to Blues’ radio broadcasts as a youngster growing up in Viking, Alberta. "It made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and my spine tingle," said Sutter of the enthusiasm Kelly would relate via the airwaves. "When I was drafted by St. Louis and first met Dan, it was a supreme privilege."
Kelly also remained loyal to the Blues despite years of turmoil. He survived the many years of uncertainty, when the franchise was unstable and seemed to go through a revolving door of ownerships from the Salomons to Ralston Purina to Harry Ornest to a group of local investors led by Shanahan.
"Through all of the ups and downs of the organization, Dan was the constant…he held the franchise together," said longtime Blues public relations exec Susie Mathieu. She called Kelly the best public relations and marketing tool the Blues ever had.
The Kelly broadcasting tradition continued in St. Louis after Dan’s death. His oldest son, John, was hired as play-by-play man in 1989 and handled the duties for several seasons before moving on to Florida and Colorado. John has since returned and is currently the play-by-play man for the Blues. Younger son Danny was the radio voice of the Blues in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 before being hired away to do television for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.
Dan Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame on October 3, 1989.