Ten questions with Drew "The Enforcer" Pelto

This month, Hound Central introduces you to Drew Pelto, 22, an autograph collector and play-by-play announcer, known on-air as "The Enforcer," for the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats, a North American Hockey League team.

Pelto, who hounded the Bruins and visiting hockey teams when he wasn't attending classes at Emerson University in Boston, also works as an all-purpose radio guy (DJ, producer, board operator) for a couple of radio stations in Texas.

Puckhound: What got you interested in hockey?
Drew Pelto: My dad was always a big hockey fan. He grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and his parents were both of Finnish heritage. He never played hockey growing up (his mother thought hockey and football were too dangerous), but watched the games anytime he could. He was a Chicago Blackhawks and Michigan Tech Huskies fan, back in the days of Tony Esposito playing for both of those teams.
I became a fan in 1991 while living in Cleveland. I was 7 years old and just getting into nearly every sport imaginable. At the time, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the closest team to me and they also happened to win the first of their two Stanley Cups.
Occasionally we would get broadcasts of their games, and my dad and I would watch them together. With the Cup wins, I jumped on the bandwagon and have remained there ever since.

PH: When did you attend your first game?
Drew: My first game was in 1993 when we finally got the IHL in Cleveland. My dad and I went down to the old Richfield Coliseum to see the Lumberjacks vs. the Kalamazoo Wings. I don't remember much about the game, except that we had awesome seats (fifth row, next to the penalty boxes).
The 'Jacks lost, and there was a fight almost right in front of me between future NHL enforcers Paul Laus and Reid Simpson. Ten years later, I finally got a video tape with that fight on it. My first NHL game wasn't until 2003, when I saw the Bruins and Avalanche play in Boston. Avs won in OT.

PH: Who is/were your favorite player(s)?
Drew: Jarome Iginla is my favorite right now. I think he's as close as we will ever come to seeing another Cam Neely, a guy who can score, pass, hit, fight, and really just do anything and everything on the ice.
All-time, I've always been a fan of the brawlers. Guys like P.J. Stock, Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, John Kordic and Marty McSorley are at the top of my list. However, I also like Mario Lemieux and have a huge collection of Jaromir Jagr cards that I was collecting when he was a Penguin.
I also have to show some support here for Jock Callander, a former Cleveland Lumberjack and the IHL's second all-time leading scorer, and also Rick Hayward, another former Cleveland Lumberjack and one of the best fighters never to get a significant shot in the NHL.

PH: What's your favorite hockey memory?
Drew: I'd have to say the year I played in high school. We were able to have two teams, a varsity and a junior varsity team, and the jayvees would honestly take anyone who had ever put on a pair of skates.
So as a senior, after serving as the varsity team's manager the year before, I decided to try my hand at playing for the jayvees. Practices were hard, but the games were great.
We had a pretty good team, and at the end of the season, we were selected to play in the Ohio JV State Tournament with three other Cleveland teams and four Toledo teams.
In the semifinals, we beat Toledo's St. John High School 5-1, scoring 4 goals in the span of 3 minutes in the second. The game had to be called with five minutes left after a St. John player tried to attack our bench, resulting in a brawl.
Unfortunately, we lost in the finals to Padua High (a Cleveland team that used some of its varsity players who they hadn't put on the official tournament roster), 4-3. We pulled our goalie and cut the deficit to one, but couldn't quite get the game-tying goal.
Overall, it was a great season and I wish I could do it over again. Oh yeah, my final stats were 0-0-0 in 22 games, but at least I was +4.

PH: When did you start collecting autographs?
Drew: My first autograph goes back to 1991. Joe Charbonneau, the 1980 AL Rookie of the Year, was signing at a card show near Cleveland and I got a photo signed by him. I still have it here in Texas with me.
After that, I got Indians infielder Mark Lewis' autograph at a game against the Twins in Cleveland, also in 1991.
My first hockey autograph was from around 1992 or so. Alex Delvecchio was signing at a card show in my mom's hometown of Jackson, Mich., while we were up there visiting family.
I didn't start collecting heavily until I got into college. In middle school, I sent out a few requests by mail, but I didn't do any major hounding until I got up to Boston, where I attended Emerson College.
From 2003 through 2005, all my spare time was spent at TD Banknorth Garden and the hotels, as well as doing some baseball hounding in the spring and summer in Boston and Cleveland.

PH: What's the story behind your most prized hockey autograph?
Drew: Honestly, I can't narrow it down to just one, so I'll name off my favorites.
One was from a friend of mine who had some old autographed pucks he was trying to sell because he really had no use for them. He had stopped collecting years ago. The group consisted of two Henri Richards, Jean Beliveau, Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion and Gordie Howe.
They're sitting at my dad's house in Ohio, but will one day be on display with my other pucks when I finally build my "Ultimate Sports Basement."
Next up is a lot of Oilers pucks signed by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley and Dave Semenko that I found on eBay. The guy selling them mostly specialized in computers and computer parts, so I have no idea how he got these. He had no pictures and only about 95 percent good feedback, so I was taking a bit of a risk in buying them. However, I sent my money (a steal, honestly), and a week later I had the pucks, all in decent condition.
I should make a mention that it is very rare that I buy any autographs. I don't buy from the average dealer, but will certainly buy from just an ordinary person who has a few autographs for sale. Most dealers I've known can be total scumbags, while just the average person probably isn't as much of a jerk and isn't as opportunistic as most of the dealers seem to be. You won't see very many items in my collection purchased from dealers. Okay, moving on.
Next are the Maurice Richard autographs I got through the mail. Not only did he sign the card I sent, but also sent a signed photo saying "To Drew Pelto, Good Luck, Maurice Richard 9." Apparently, he was in the hospital at this time undergoing cancer treatment, and reports said nurses saw him fulfilling mailed autograph requests from his hospital bed. Gotta love how the old timers, especially in the hockey world, seem to always remember and respect their fans.
And finally, last year, after a couple years of trying, I finally managed to get Mario Lemieux to sign for me. From previous meetings, I knew he only signed photos of yourself with him (so, that's one card for my Topps Total set I can forget about). So I made sure to take my digital camera and get a picture with him in the morning, which he did. As the team went for their morning skate, I stopped off at CVS to get the photo blown up to 8x10 size.
After hounding the Bruins, I picked up the photo and returned to the Pens' hotel. And as expected, Mario signed my photo -- with a "To Drew, Best Wishes" on it as well.
An honorable mention here is my Ryan Vandenbussche signed jersey. I didn't even have to ask him, he came to me and asked "Hey, buddy, want me to sign that for you?" So he personalized and signed it. I asked if I might be able to have one of his sticks. He said "Yeah, no problem, it'll just have to wait until after practice" (The Pens were practicing at Northeastern University). True to his word, as he skated off the ice, he passed his stick up to me!

PH: What's your take on Sidney Crosby?
Drew: Great player, not much of a person toward the fans. It's a bit problematic too, as I'm a Penguins fan and I think he's a great player, and I want to see him take this team places, but at the same time, I can't respect him.
I wrote out a long essay on this on my site after getting stiffed by him for a record-setting 15th time -- 14 attempts to get his autograph in person, and one attempt via mail, and I'm still coming up empty now.
Maybe my attitudes about him will change once I get an autograph out of him, but right now, I just really don't like the guy. But still, I hope he can lead the Penguins to the playoffs soon.

PH: How did you get into radio broadcasting?
Drew: For all my life, I wanted to be a pro athlete. And then I discovered I have no athletic ability, whatsoever (.067 Little League batting average, didn't play hockey until I was 17, and the fact I'm 5'8" 200 even now at age 22 rules out almost every other sport). So I figured I might look into broadcasting sports in some way, whether it was on TV or radio.
As a senior in high school, I got a short internship with a small station in Willoughby, Ohio (WELW-1330 AM), where I wrote news and sports stories in the morning, four days a week for a month.
Moving on to college, I majored in broadcast journalism at Emerson College in Boston. Unfortunately, Emerson only offered one sports journalism class, and it was offered only once every three years, and was geared more toward print journalists. Additionally, the broadcast classes concentrated primarily on TV. Out of three and a half years, I had only one class that was specifically dealing with radio.
While back home in Cleveland for a summer, I interned again with WTAM-1100 AM as a call screener for the Mike Trivisonno Show, also getting on the air a couple times. After graduating from Emerson in December 2005, I moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, to be with my girlfriend, and now fiancee, Gen. (Editor's note: Congratulations!)
In Wichita Falls, we have a team in the North American Hockey League (Junior A, just about the same level as the USHL, just below college and the Canadian juniors), the Wichita Falls Wildcats, who are also broadcast on local radio and on the Internet. I spoke to the team's business manager, notifying him that if they need an additional radio announcer, I could cover games for them.
I knew they had two announcers already, but there may be some games that only one announcer, or even neither guy, could cover. Turns out I had some good timing working out there, as that weekend I was sent with the team to Texarkana, Ark., for a two-game series vs. the Texarkana (now St. Louis) Bandits.
At about the same time, I began working for the local Clear Channel-owned stations as a board operator, producer and DJ. Along with announcing for the Wildcats, I have regular DJ'ing shifts, as Andrew Adams, on Lonestar 102.3 (KWFS FM, a country station) and 106.3 The Buzz (KBZS, a rock station). I produce two sports shows on Saturday mornings, Friday Night Recap, and The League (which I also co-host) on Newstalk 1290 (KWFS AM, the news, talk and sports of Texoma).

PH: What's it like calling games?
Drew: It's a lot of fun as long as you can keep up with the action. It's easier on TV as a lot of the action there can speak for itself. But, on radio, you need to be able to tell everywhere the puck goes, when someone gets hit, all while keeping track of who's on the ice.
However, the good part is that no one knows when you mess up. Once in a while you can leave things out as long as you keep going with talking. Just don't let the air go dead. And make sure you have a bottle of water nearby because when talking nonstop for an entire period, including stoppages in play, you'll need it.
It's much easier when I get to work with one of the other announcers "Slapshot Steve" Miller or Jim "The Beast" Beason, since we can just go back and forth with one calling the game a while, then the other, giving time to grab a drink, catch our breath, and just take a quick breather.
Road trips are usually good too. We eat really well, with a trip to Olive Garden one night, Applebee's another, and a lot of Hometown Buffets in between.
On the bus, one of the guys will throw in a movie, or we'll play some euchre, or I'll just put some music on and read or see what's out the window. Just make sure you can sleep on a bus and that you don't mind sharing a room with either the bus driver or the trainer (they're both great guys).
Best of all, it's all paid for by the team. The bad news is that I get no other compensation than free games and free roadtrips. But I'll take it, as it's something I enjoy doing. Last year I went to Santa Fe, N.M., and Frisco, Texas, along with the trip to Texarkana. This year I've already been to Minnesota and will get to go to St. Louis and Springfield, Mo.
If all goes as I hope it will, the Wichita Falls job will be a stepping stone to the AHL. I sent my resume to Cleveland's new team, set to begin play next fall.

PH: Any funny stories about the job?
Drew: We had the lights go out on us at an arena during a game last year. The Wildcats were going up against eventual NAHL Champs (for the third year in a row), the Texas Tornado down in Frisco.
Things are going smoothly until about 3 minutes into the third when suddenly, BAM! Out go all the lights. Steve and I were announcing the game and we had no idea if we were still on the air or not until finally the board operator at the station back in Wichita Falls came on and said yes, we're still on.
The power came back quickly, but it took a good 10 or 15 minutes for the lights to slowly power back up. Even worse, we couldn't take any commercial breaks as they all were pre-set by the station. Never before had we ever had so many scoring and penalty recaps in a 10-minute span than we had during this delay. Eventually, the lights came back on and the game finished up without any further problems.
The Tornado won the game as their dominance over the Wildcats continues.

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