Brendan Burke remembers the euphoric feeling of elation in realizing his dream. After 10 seasons of broadcasting minor-league hockey, he finally landed a full-time NHL job in 2016, taking over for Howie Rose as the Islanders’ play-by-play announcer for MSG Networks.
It’s a feeling Alan Fuehring, the radio play-by-play voice of the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport since 2016 and Burke’s former intern with the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen, hopes to experience soon. But there are few job openings, television executives are scouting for specific qualities, and often it’s who you already know.
“It’s a frustrating process,” Burke said. “It’s borderline impossible to get one of these jobs. There are more U.S. senators than NHL broadcasters. As an American guy, it’s not 32 [teams] because you’re not getting any of those seven [Canadian] jobs. I did 10 years [in the AHL] and I was hoping every summer was going to be the summer. It’s hard to keep doing the job as well as you’re doing it and not get frustrated.”
The 33-year-old Fuehring, Bridgeport’s director of broadcasting and communications, was considered for television play-by-play jobs with the Devils and Chicago last summer. He has worked 28 NHL games between the Islanders and Chicago, filling in for 20 play-by-play assignments and substituting eight times for MSG Networks studio host Shannon Hogan last season.
He has an agent, Ethan Rautbort of IF Management, and a growing on-air resume. MSG Networks co-workers have praised how he fit in during his fill-in assignments.
It’s just a matter of getting that elusive full-time chance. June and July are typically when the openings occur.
Fuehring was not made available for comment, as the Islanders’ policy for staff members is that only president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Lane Lambert speak to the media. However, Bridgeport GM Chris Lamoriello has allowed Fuehring the scheduling freedom to pursue his NHL broadcasting dream.
“Alan is just Alan,” Hogan said. “People can understand quickly if you’re trying to be somebody else. He wasn’t trying to be me. I think it’s really hard. Say you’re a young broadcaster, it takes four or five years to find your voice. I am who I am on camera and off camera, but finding that probably took six years into my professional career.
“To me, it’s only a matter of time before Alan is a full-time NHL announcer. I do believe that.”
Of course, Fuehring needs to convince a television executive that he’s the right person for whatever job is available, whenever and wherever that may happen.
“One of the most important things a person has to have is a passion for the company they’re working for and you’ve got to have a passion for the sport,” said Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president of production and remote events, who has worked on the NHL telecasts since ESPN regained a contract with the league in 2021. “I would say the best play-by-play announcers – it sounds simple – document the games the best. And, it sounds simple, but you’ve got to know the rules of hockey. There’s a lot of them. The people in the booth are the conduit to the fans and the fan doesn’t know every single rule.
“Another thing, from a play-by-play standpoint [is] are you making the people around you better, specifically the analyst? Are you setting them up properly? Are you standing aside at the right time? Last, but not least, is it’s all about the game. It’s not about the announcer, per se. You can’t try to take away from the game that people are tuning in to watch.”
Fuehring grew up in Morton, Illinois, a suburb of Peoria. Those who know him recount he practiced calling events early, either off Nintendo Game Cube or a Hot Wheels race. In fact, Fuehring remains a huge fan of NASCAR and Burke said he always thought Fuehring would be calling car races, not hockey games.
Fuehring attended Bradley University in Peoria, studying sports communication and meeting Burke in 2009 as a student intern.
But, even with a solid background, there’s always room for improvement.
Rautbort said coaching is part of his company’s services in addition to sending out audition tapes. That ranges from working with a voice coach to Rautbort sending him a couple of notes after Fuehring works an NHL game.
Then, there’s the networking.
“You never really know when that production assistant from 10 years ago is now going to be the one making hiring decisions,” Rautbort said. “It’s entirely relationship building and Alan does a great job of that.”
Burke’s busy national broadcasting schedule guarantees MSG Networks will need a fill-in play-by-play announcer for several games each season.
“He has the best job in the AHL right now,” Burke said. “Anybody in the AHL, you want to get NHL games. That puts you ahead of the pack.”