Few days pass in which Blues broadcaster John Kelly isn’t reminded by fans about the role his father, Dan Kelly, played in them becoming attached to the organization.
Dan Kelly arrived in St. Louis in 1968, at the start of the club’s second season in the NHL, and for the next two decades called every highlight: Red Berenson’s six-goal game, two Stanley Cup finals, the Monday Night Miracle and every accomplishment in between.
Kelly died in 1989 at age 52 of lung cancer. But 26 years after his death, the broadcaster’s legacy lives on.
“I can’t tell you how many times in my life that someone has come up to me, especially in the last 20 years, and said, ‘John, I loved your father, and I became a Blues fan because I would listen to him in bed at night with a transistor radio under my pillow,’” John Kelly said. “Over the years and now the decades, I assumed that it wouldn’t be as numerous as it was in the first 10 years, but quite honestly, it hasn’t changed. Almost every single day people will come up to me and tell me how much they loved him as an announcer. It hasn’t lightened up at all. You’d think after 10 or 15 years it would, but it hasn’t.”
On Saturday night, another poignant reminder of Dan Kelly’s prolific career will take place, as John will accept on his dad’s behalf induction into the St. Louis Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame. He will be one of six inductees in a ceremony that will also honor Blues owner Tom Stillman at the Sheraton St. Louis City Center. A reception begins at 4:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m., and tickets are still available.
Dan Kelly, who was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame shortly after his passing in 1989, was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame last September. His latest hall invite came as a surprise, with the St. Louis Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame notifying John Kelly during the middle of a Blues’ broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest last season.
“Our producer said in the morning there was a gentleman (Steve Dioneda) that was going to be coming in the booth during the intermission to make an announcement,” John Kelly said. “I introduced Steve and he shocked me by saying, ‘We’re here to tell you and everyone else that your father has been selected.’ I never expected him to be nominated because he didn’t play hockey in St. Louis, he didn’t coach … but there are obvious reasons why he was inducted.
“I think that you have to understand the St. Louis hockey landscape in history. When the Blues came here, quite honestly there wasn’t a lot of minor hockey played. The Blues built their fan base and hockey grew at the amateur level year in and year out. In an nutshell, he was part of the reason people fell in love with the Blues … because they listened to him every night. He was like a preacher for so many years spreading the great word of hockey in St. Louis.”
Scott Rupp, president of the St. Louis Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame, was one of those youngsters coiled up at night listening to Kelly.
“I think some people will say, ‘Wait a second, why’s he getting inducted?’” Rupp said. “Well, as a board, we decided that when we were little kids, Dan Kelly was the guy who brought the Blues to every household. I remember laying in bed with a transistor radio, not wanting Mom and Dad to hear that I was listening to the games.
“We said, ‘You know what, Dan Kelly was our inspiration.’ He was the guy who gave us the spirit to want to be hockey players. All of the sudden I wanted to be Garry Unger, somebody wanted to be Bob Plager and it just grew. That’s why, even though he really didn’t do anything (officially) for St. Louis amateur hockey, he really did do a lot for amateur hockey. And that’s why he’s getting inducted. He was the man.”
The list of inductees Saturday will include Jim Hermann (coach), Matt Buha (coach), Keith Blase (administrator), Jeff Weisman (player) and Mike Robben (player).
“There’s some pretty neat stories in there,” Rupp said. “Jim Hermann coaches the Gateway Locomotives and has not seen a Super Bowl in over 20 years because their practice time is on Sunday’s at 5 o’clock, and the kids would rather go play hockey than watch the Super Bowl. Matt Buha is as big of an ambassador of the game in St. Louis as there is. He knows just about every player that ever played, a walking encyclopedia. Keith Blase is from here and moved on to USA Hockey. You can’t get any higher in hockey than the United States. Jeff Weisman played goalie at Boston University. His partner was Jim Craig from the Olympic team. So there are some pretty good stories.”
Stillman will also be recognized with the “Spirit Award.”
“He instills the spirit of hockey,” Rupp said. “Tom came in and saved the Blues from being sold to some outside investors. He just loves the game, he loves to play it, he loves to watch it. He just does it the right way.”
Tickets to Saturday’s ceremony can be purchased by calling 314-583-3403 or on-line at www.stlamhhof.com.