Mike Lange introduced me to my first love when I was just six years old. The speed, the skill, the physicality, the fisticuffs. The sound of skates carving up the ice, bodies flying into the boards, and vulcanized rubber clanging off posts. I fell head over heels in love with the game of hockey growing up in the 90s in Wexford, Pennsylvania. And Mike Lange was the voice that brought it all to life. He was here before Mario. From the Igloo to PPG Paints. The voice of all 5 Stanley Cups.
The main attraction of Penguins hockey has always been the axe-wielding superstars. Lemieux. Jagr. Crosby. Malkin. But through all those years, for all those moments, Mike Lange was on lead vocals. He was always the front man. And his retirement leaves a void in Pittsburgh hockey that I'm not sure will ever be filled again.
We've been spoiled in this town when it comes to the broadcast voices that have brought us so many Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates memories. Lange. Bourque. Hillgrove. Cope. Ilkin. Fleming. Prince. Frattare. And the list goes on and on. But with all due respect to those other legends, Lange stands atop Pittsburgh's pantheon of broadcasting greatness. Not often does a broadcaster become synonymous with an organization, but that's exactly what Lange did in his 46 years with the Penguins.
Everyone has a Mike Lange story to tell, and here's mine. When I was growing up, my parents would always make me go to bed at the 2nd intermission of Pens games. That was usually around 9pm, which was bedtime as a kid. So I would get to watch the first two periods of the game before mom and dad would make me hit the hay. But what my parents didn't know was that I could turn on my bedside radio just loudly enough that I could listen to Mike Lange call the third period, but still quietly enough that my parents couldn't hear the noise from outside my bedroom. I spent countless nights falling asleep listening to Lange, Stag, and Bourquey wrap up Penguins broadcasts. It was truly the soundtrack of my childhood, and the reason that I wanted to be a sports broadcaster when I grew up.
They say to never meet your heroes. But if Mike Lange is your hero, I say bullshit. I was fortunate enough to meet him at a Giant Eagle in the summer of 2010, and he could not have been nicer. I had just finished my freshman year of college and told him how I was pursuing a degree in broadcasting, and he talked my ear off about everything I was doing, including calling WVU hockey games for our university radio station. It was a moment I will cherish forever.
I'm not really sure where I'm going with this or how to wrap this up. I woke up this morning and wanted to talk about Mike Lange, so here we are. I could post one of the dozens of iconic Lange calls - Mario's buzzer beater in the 92 Cup Final against Chicago, Fleury's last gasp save in game 7 in Detroit, Nedved in quadruple OT to even the series against the Caps, the Pens finally winning at the Spectrum in 1989, Kunitz in double OT to send the Pens to the Final - but you've seen those all over social media already. I could talk about some of my favorite Lange-isms, like "How Much Fried Chicken Can You Eat?!"
But in closing here is all I'm really trying to say - When it comes to Mike Lange's legacy, and his presence in Pittsburgh, Elvis will never leave the building. Every time it's a hockey night in Pittsburgh, we will think of you. And we'll be smiling like a butcher's dog. Thanks, Mikey.
Wesley Uhler is the host of Steelers Blitz, Noon-2 on Steelers Nation Radio, and The Afternoon Delight on ESPN Pittsburgh, 2-7pm. You can find him on Twitter @WesleyUhler.
(Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)