For many, the road to becoming a National Hockey League broadcaster is a long and winding one.
Most take the route through the minor leagues, which means long hours, long bus rides to and from small towns and juggling multiple roles to gain experience behind the microphone.
Everett Fitzhugh, the radio play-by-play voice of the new Seattle Kraken, is no exception. After years in the East Coast Hockey League, which despite its name has teams throughout the Southeast, Midwest, the prairies and Mountain West, Fitzhugh’s dream of reaching the NHL came true, landing his job with Seattle last summer.
His travels didn’t end in Washington’s largest city as he went to Poulsbo for his new travelogue.
The Kraken released the first episode of “Sight SEAing with Fitz” that explored the Kraken name, its connection to Scandinavian folklore and the Seattle area’s Nordic history, including a trip to the Viking City.
The seven-minute episode features highlights of Fitzhugh’s time filming in Poulsbo, which took place in November before the state imposed new COVID-19 restrictions.
After taking the first ferry he had ever been on in his life to Bainbridge Island, Fitzhugh said arriving in Poulsbo felt like he had been dropped off in Norway. “It was like you were transported into another world right in your own back yard,” he said.
Fitzhugh spent time talking to local folks on the street, and of course no trip to Poulsbo is complete without heading in to Sluys Bakery, after which he quickly devoured a Viking Cup on camera. Naturally, a stop at the Brass Kraken also made the cut as did admiration of the local Norwegian flavor of the architecture and scenescape. “Once the weather changes, I’ll definitely be going back on my own,” Fitzhugh said.
From Detroit to Seattle
Landing in Seattle is a dream come true for Fitzhugh, who grew up in hockey-mad Detroit, home of the Red Wings, one of the NHL’s oldest and most successful American franchises. Fitzhugh said he always wanted to work in sports. He got into broadcasting at Bowling Green University but never realized play-by-play would be an option.
Because basketball and football were the most popular sports there, he found himself calling a few hockey games his freshman year. After his first broadcast, he was bitten by the bug. He called his mother and told her that he was “putting all [his] eggs into the hockey basket.”
The grind of the minor league hockey broadcaster is not for the faint of heart. A typical job includes far more than calling the action of each game. The broadcaster is usually also the head of media relations, and thus responsible for writing press releases, producing video and audio for the team’s website and social media. They may even have some marketing and/or public relations duties and often serve as one of the lead representatives of the franchise in the local community.
Game days typically began at 9 a.m. and, in the words of Fitzhugh himself, “If I left at midnight, it was a good day.”
“What continued to push me was the fact that I was committed to getting to the NHL,” he added. “This was the very first goal that I ever set for myself professionally.”
Fitzhugh most recently spent five years as the voice of the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL after a stint in Youngstown, Ohio. He also spent time working as the manager of communications for the United States Hockey League.
When the Kraken came calling, he made history as the first full-time Black play-by-play broadcaster in the National Hockey League.
Fitzhugh admits he noticed as a kid that there were few players who looked like him. Though he was already a fan of the game, one night he turned on the TV and watched the Red Wings take on Edmonton. The Oilers had Mike Grier, a fellow Detroit native, and Georges Laraque on their roster, who were two of the league’s few Black players at the time.
“For me to see that as a kid growing up was huge for me,” Fitzhugh said.
Fitzhugh said he has never let his skin color hold him back from following his dream, nor does he believe it has ever been an issue. He said he has always been treated with respect at all levels he’s worked.
Although hockey has grown more diverse, Fitzhugh’s hiring is still a milestone, and he takes seriously the responsibility of being a role model.
“I don’t think anyone ever intends to be a trailblazer,” he said, “but if you do find yourself in that position you owe to it to yourself to be that person you never had.”
“The Pacific Northwest is ready”
Whether he’s calling a game, hosting a Q&A video, or just talking about the game he loves, it’s easy to see why the Kraken plucked Fitzhugh out of the minor leagues to help build the frenzy, the fandom and the excitement for the team’s debut as the 32nd NHL franchise in the fall.
That job has kept him plenty busy. Aside from his visit to Kitsap, he’s hosted a livestream on YouTube during the most recent NHL draft, interviewed Seattle’s TV play-by-play voice John Forslund and created a number of other media projects for the team.
And he’ll be front-and-center as the Kraken take their next steps — they still have to hire a head coach, take part in the expansion draft and the regular NHL entry draft as they put together their inaugural roster.
“The Pacific Northwest is ready,” Fitzhugh said. “You’re starting a team from the ground up, and the excitement and the interest that we’ve seen from the community has been awesome.”
His infectious personality is a constant in everything he does. And when he steps into the broadcast booth for the team’s first game, his goal is to make that special connection with the audience. He wants listeners to feel like they’re sitting in a bar in Seattle talking about the game.
“There are two things I don’t lack — passion and volume,” Fitzhugh said. “I’ve always been a very outgoing, optimistic, glass-half-full person.
“If I’m excited about this game, I’m excited about what I’m doing, you’re going to be excited about this game.”
Although Fitzhugh’s schedule has been hectic even without games, he still takes time to remember how fortunate he is to have achieved his dream.
“It’s really cool to be able to say that,” Fitzhugh said. “I’ve been on the job now four months, and I still have ‘pinch me’ moments, and I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.”