After “a great run” with Wild, Bob Kurtz has more than earned his upcoming celebration
Bob Kurtz may have spent much of his life behind a mic, but he’ll step out of his comfort zone Saturday night before the Wilds face the Devils when he’s honored in front of the thousands of fans who listened to him broadcast Wild for two decades Games and years of the North Stars and Twins.
Kurtz, the Wild’s longtime radio play-by-play guy until he retired out of the blue last season and handed the full-time reins to the able, hard-working heir to the throne, Joe O’Donnell, has never sought the limelight.
In fact, there was no farewell tour from arena to arena, no special “Ode to Kurtzie” on his way out.
On January 14, 2022, after a few years of calling fewer and fewer games and planning to share games with O’Donnell the previous season, Kurtz called a 7-3 wild win over the Anaheim Ducks and then exited the Xcel Energy Center for the last time without telling anyone.
“At least I was able to score a lot of goals in my last game,” said Kurtz with a smile. “It was kind of a quiet retirement, and then it took off. I was just looking for an exit and grabbed the exit. I didn’t want the handshakes, the goodbyes, the dropping of the puck for the ceremonial dueling, the showering of gifts and all that stuff.
“Goodbyes are hard. I didn’t want to retire. I don’t like the word ‘retirement’ but it was about time and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
Bob Kurtz’s final goal from his last game on January 14, 2022. He is honored before the #mnwild Face the Devils on Saturday night.
Listen to Wild 7, Ducks 3 – Full Postgame Show @KFAN1003” at
– Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) February 10, 2023
When the Wild announced earlier this season that they would be honoring Kurtz, 75, and giving the first 10,000 fans Saturday night a mini-radio featuring some of his most memorable calls, those who know Kurtz thought they had it on his arm to twist.
“I bet after the game you’re going to see them scattered all over West 7th with people wondering, ‘Who is this guy?'” Kurtz said. “You see, I grew up in a different time. I grew up in a time where you basically showed up and made the games. I’ve always had the feeling that nobody tunes in to listen to a particular station. Once they tune in, you can make their experience better or ruin their experience, and it’s usually somewhere along those lines.
“Hopefully you make it a positive experience for them. But they are not there primarily to listen to you. Hopefully you could contribute to the show, but they are there to watch the game or listen to the game. My career has never been about waving your arms, “here I am, here I am” or “building your brand”. We never had that when I came in, so I figured I’d walk away and hand it over to[O’Donnell]who, after years in Houston and Iowa, earned it. Joe paid his dues and is doing a great job.”
But the opportunity to return to the Xcel Energy Center gives Kurtz a chance to wave and “say a heartfelt thank you” to the crowd and reconnect with people he’s formed relationships with since returning to Minnesota in 2000.
“For some crazy reason, I wanted to work for an expansion team,” said Kurtz, who began his broadcasting career in 1974.
His longtime broadcast partner Tom Reid remains one of his best friends and someone he speaks to and sees regularly. The same goes for Wild Radio executive producer and host Kevin Falness.
But Saturday will be special, especially for his family. His wife Lorri, sons Paul and Dan, daughter-in-law Gina and five-year-old twin grandsons Colt and Max will ride on Let’s Play Hockey.
“I’m sure the little boys are all hooked,” Kurtz said. “I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s cool. It is a honor. But it’s really not something I was looking for. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it a lot more when it’s over, looking back on the whole night.”
He added in typically self-deprecating fashion, “I’m sure they sold out the game in minutes when they announced it.”
Kurtz has great memories from working with Wild games.
He saw Marian Gaborik score the first goal in training at the Parade Ice Gardens in 2000. He played the Wild’s first exhibition game at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon. Some of his favorite goals include Darby Hendrickson’s first Wild goal at home, Gaborik’s five-goal game against the Rangers, Andrew Brunette’s winning streak in Colorado 20 years ago, and Nino Niederreiter’s winning streak against Colorado nine years ago.
“Of course, bad ones stick out, too, like in May 2014, ‘(Brent) Seabrook off the brace to (Patrick) Kane, into the net past (Ilya) Bryzgalov,'” Kurtz said.
And in a business where some broadcast partners, believe it or not, hate each other, he still misses working with Reid, the former North Stars defenseman-turned-channel. Over the years they have traveled to Alaska, Vancouver Island and so many other places together. Remember when they started out they didn’t travel on some fancy charter. They flew commercially, booked their own trips, so they spent many hours together.
“Do you still remember hiking down the Grand Canyon and back in 2004 or 2005 with Tom and our strength and conditioning coach George Kinnear,” Kurtz said. “I don’t think either of us could leave the parking lot right now.”
So excited to celebrate Bob Kurtz on Saturday night @XcelEnergyCtr. Ceremony honoring Kurtzy for two decades from @mnwild Broadcast excellence happens just before the puck drops and full coverage is available @KFAN1003. I hope you can join us! pic.twitter.com/TIYmzno5lq
— Kevin Falness (@RadioFalness) February 10, 2023
Kurtz attended Michigan State and was keen to get into broadcasting, but didn’t know anyone in the industry.
One day Kurtz met legendary sports information director Fred Stabley and the rest is history. Kurtz worked at the school and from there went to Lansing and then hopped around until he got his first big break playing Michigan State hockey, baseball, basketball, and soccer games at his alma mater.
That was until the late ’70s, when the Twin Cities TV market took a major turn.
Kurtz dreamed his whole life of working in Detroit, where he was from, but for some reason he loved Minneapolis when he traveled here with the Spartans. He loved it so much he subscribed to the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. There was no internet back then, so Kurtz received the newspaper three days after it was first published in Michigan.
“I was interested in what was going on there,” Kurtz said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can find a core around here somewhere.’ As it turns out, there was a little story in esports one day where they had this massive TV move. Channel 9, which had been an ABC affiliate, lost its affiliation. ABC went over and grabbed Channel 5. Then NBC grabbed 11. Well, Channel 11, then WTCN, had all the North Stars games.
“So they left the North Stars and the Twins and all midseason for the North Stars. And I’m looking at this thought, ‘There could be a job opportunity here.’ So off I went. And in the end I got the job.”
A Michigan State English professor named Jim Cash, who later wrote screenplays such as Dick Tracy, Top Gun, Turner & Hooch, and The Secret of My Success, helped Kurtz produce his audition tape.
Don Swartz hired him and eventually liked Kurtz enough to offer him the job with the Twins, which he held for eight years before joining NESN in 1989 to host and direct Red Sox games. He was there 11 years before returning to the Twin Cities to work for the wilderness.
Kurtz began working on North Stars games in 1979, then first teamed up with Reid at McNichols Arena in 1980 when the Rockies happened to play the North Stars in referee Kerry Fraser’s NHL debut.
“I’ve always had my own rule that Bob is in charge of the show and I’m secondary,” Reid said. “I mean, the play-by-play guy has to be the one making the decision and he has to be focused on what’s going on and I try to follow him. And we had pretty good timing. I knew when to get in and when to get out, and gave him enough time to set up the scene again. “And he also gave me some time if he wanted me to say something, or I could tap him on the shoulder if I wanted to say something. I think it’s just held up well over the years.
“He was so professional. He’s never been afraid to put in a lot of work to make sure it’s a good show. And in the press box, when this team was on the ice at 6:30 a.m., you can’t get around Bob Kurtz because he needs to watch those 15 minutes of pre-game skating to make sure he’s got everything covered, the names, the numbers and things like that.”
Kurtz was a brilliant broadcaster and had many influences as a child growing up in Detroit on the Canadian border. This enabled him to watch Hockey Night in Canada and learn from television legends such as Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan and Bruce Martyn.
“To tell you how far back we go, those Hockey Night in Canada games when I was a kid, they didn’t start until the second half because they didn’t televise the first half for fear of missing the live Gate to hurt,” called Kurtz. “Yes, that’s why I say times were different.”
Kurtz is excited to return to the arena in St. Paul because he’s missing a lot of stuff living 70 miles away in Pepin, Wisc.
“You miss the laughter,” Kurtz said. “I will always miss this part of the road. I no longer miss actually going through the road trips physically. Once the game started it was always fun.
“I mean, even to the last. What is unique about hockey is that most games are one-goal or very close games. Even sometimes, if suddenly someone jumps up at three and you think it’s over, they’ll sink a few and it ends up being a nail biter. The pace of the game is great. They don’t have 90 million timeouts, they don’t spend all their time watching instant replay. It’s a great game.”
Kurtz was also incredibly cynical. One of his standard jokes when someone walked into the press box was to tell that person how many periods were left in the season.
Kurtz doesn’t have to count them anymore, although you can bet he knows there are 93.
Saturday night, hopefully he’ll take in those special three during a game where he gets his deserved honors beforehand.
Whether he thinks listeners wanted to hear him or not, Kurtz certainly deserves it after all the memories he’s bestowed on Wild fans over the years.
“I think he’s enjoying his retirement, but I think he’s also missing it,” Reid said. “He’s always up to date on what’s happening. Bob had a great run here. He’s one of those guys, it was never about him. It was always about the game. And he wanted to make sure the fans got a good picture of it.”
(Top photo by Bob Kurtz, Left: Courtesy of Michael Russo/The Athletic)
https://theathletic.com/4180164/2023/02/11/minnesota-wild-bob-kurtz/ After “a great run” with Wild, Bob Kurtz has more than earned his upcoming celebration