By Cam McGuire '19
Doug Plagens was always around hockey and, in fact, won a 2003 State Championship with Trenton High School in Michigan. Hockey was always a big part of his life, but when he was six years old, he had his sights on being a weatherman-but that would change as time went on. “Being surrounded by hockey in Michigan, that interest quickly switched to wanting to be a sports announcer,” said Plagens.
From the moment Plagens stepped on the Lake Forest College campus, he was involved with WMXM and started doing a weekly sports show. He eventually began calling games as well.
During his sophomore year, he began doing color commentary for hockey while Brien Rea did the play-by-play. “I learned a lot from Brien and through working with him,” Plagens said. He learned so much seeing the way Rea called the action, because he never had called a game prior to that. “I had the opportunity to do play-by-play for a couple games that season, and then the next year, after Brien graduated, he trusted me to take over what he had built into a really solid sports department. I had some big shoes to fill after the work he had done calling hockey and football play by play and maintain the standards he set was something I took very seriously.”
Tony Fritz, head coach for the Foresters men’s hockey team from 1978-2010, vividly remembers both Rea and Plagens. “They would go on road trips with us and do the radio from there,” Fritz said. “They were really accepted by the guys on the team which was really nice to see. Both were very talented, determined, and dedicated and I knew they had a bright future ahead of them.”
After graduating in 2007, Plagens attended Syracuse University for graduate school as he wanted to gain additional education and training focused solely on broadcasting. Not only is Syracuse one of the best schools for broadcast journalism, but having an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise, Syracuse Crunch, in your backyard is a plus. While Plagens attended Syracuse, he worked as broadcast intern for the Crunch where he worked with the play-by-play broadcaster, Bob McElligot who now is the radio broadcaster for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. “I learned so much working with Bob, and he gave us some amazing opportunities,” Plagens said.
One weekend McElligot got the call-up to fill in for the Blue Jackets which allowed Plagens to fill in for him on TV and call the game for the Crunch, his first professional game he would call. “Bob is still a great friend and mentor,” Plagens said. Plagens and McElligot connect throughout the NHL season as the Panthers and the Blue Jackets play three times during the regular season.
Plagens served as the broadcaster for the Idaho Steelheads in the ECHL from 2008-2011. He called all 72 regular season games on AM radio while 36 select home games were broadcasted on local cable. He made such an impression in the ECHL and was named Broadcaster of the year in 2010.
“The 2010 ECHL Broadcaster of the Year award is still one of my proudest achievements,” Plagens said. “It’s voted on by all the broadcasters and PR people around the league. The ECHL has always had so many talented front office people, and especially during my years in the league, there were so many great broadcasters and PR people that I had the chance to work with, and to get an award that they voted on really means a lot to me.”
Plagens spent his time in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters, former farm team of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. While Plagens was in Cleveland, it was not just hockey that he was able to call. Midway through his first of four seasons with the Monsters in 2011-2012, the ownership acquired the Cleveland Gladiators Arena Football League team.
“My boss asked me if broadcasting for the Gladiators would interest me, and I was extremely interested and excited in that opportunity,” Plagens said. It was a good fit for Plagens as the seasons lined up perfectly with football being in the spring and summer and hockey being in the other months.
Plagens can still remember the first game he called for the Gladiators, and just like the journey to the NHL it was definitely another rat race.
“I actually had called three games in three nights for the Monsters, one each in Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday, and then one Sunday in San Antonino. On Monday morning, the Monsters flew back to Cleveland while I flew to Atlanta and met up with the Gladiators,” Plagens said.
In fact, when Plagens found out about the Florida Panthers’ opening for a broadcaster, he was standing on the sidelines at a Gladiators practice and saw on Twitter that the current radio play-by-play announcer, Randy Moller, was moving to TV.
“Naturally, I wondered if that meant the Panthers would be looking for a new radio broadcaster, and that evening they posted the job opening,” Plagens said. I applied, interviewed, and was fortunate enough to be hired by the Panthers in August of 2015.”
For Plagens his life varies each day depending if the team is on the road or at home. It also depends whether it is the actual season or the off season, but the variety of the job is what makes it so special for him.
“For a typical game, the prep usually takes place the day or night before. On game days I will go to morning skate and then players/coaches are available to the media which is when I will get my interviews done for that night’s broadcast,” Plagens said. Around 12:30PM he will grab lunch and is back at the rink by 2. “That is when I will make sure that all my preparation is completely finished. I’ll usually hop on the air for the first time about 45 minutes until puck drop, 30 minutes before the game is when we start our pregame show. Then it’s game time!” Plagens said.
“Broadcasting in the NHL was my dream since I was in elementary school, and it has been every bit of the dream-come-true I hoped it would be, and I’m thankful to the Panthers for the opportunity every day,” Plagens said. “I get to work with a ton of amazing and talented people at the Panthers.”