When the St. Louis Blues brought in Darren Pang in 2009, it was met with a little skepticism by a certain portion of the fan base. Pang was an outsider and “replacing” a team legend.
Bernie Federko had spent the most recent time as the Blues color analyst, but while he was fine, he did not have the pedigree of Pang. Also, as we have learned from his varying duties with the team’s broadcasts changing, Federko wanted to spend more time with his family and all the time necessary to prepare for broadcasts takes away from that.
Pang came to the Blues from the Arizona Coyotes, but also spent several seasons as one of the commentators for ESPN’s coverage of the NHL. Of course, what many had an issue with was Pang being a former goaltender of the Chicago Blackhawks.
How dare the Blues bring in a former enemy to analyze their team. Am I right?
Pang quickly put those fears to rest. In his 15 years with the Blues, he was just enough of a homer to satisfy the hardcore fans while giving fair analysis that would still benefit a neutral.
You forgot, almost immediately, that Pang played for our rivals to the north because of his affable and jovial nature. Often, the only time you remembered it is when the staff for Fox Sports Midwest and then Bally’s Midwest would bring up highlights of Blues players scoring on Pang to poke fun at the former goalie.
Panger always took it in stride and had a wonderful laugh that made you want to laugh with him, never at him. Frankly, he will go down as one of the best color commentator’s in team history.
I have not been following this team as long as some, but the only color commentator that can hold a candle to Pang would be Joe Micheletti. Their styles are vastly different, but Micheletti was equally as knowledgeable and was also the analyst during my formative years alongside the wonderful Ken Wilson.
For me, John Kelly will never reach the level of Wilson. However, I’m not sure anyone will be able to live up to what Pang brought to the television broadcast.
The reason I loved Wilson was the reason I loved Pang as a broadcaster. They both brought a post-season kind of energy to a random game in January that had no bearing on anything.
If you were having a bad day or the team wasn’t quite doing too well, they both still had that energy. I can tell you as a broadcaster myself, that is not easy.
It is actually far easier to allow the quality of the team to affect you. I used to broadcast for a championship junior hockey team, but when they were inconsistent and playing below their ability, it would sometimes change my own mood.
Pang rarely let that happen. Even as bad as things got early in 2018-19 and almost all of the season in 2022-23, he gave a sense of reality sprinkled with whatever optimism he could conjure.
Frankly, it was needed. Though Facebook often got on his case for being too rosy, you can’t have someone yelling at the sky for an entire broadcast. It gets old and would grate much more than someone trying to be positive.
What most of those kinds of fans fail to realize is just how good an analyst Pang is too. There’s a reason he has been one of the top analyst for three, different national networks on spectacle games like the Winter Classic and also many Stanley Cup Finals.
Looking forward, I have no doubt whoever the Blues bring in will be fine. The most likely candidates right now seem like Jamie Rivers (if he wants to spend the extra time and effort) or moving Joey Vitale over to TV from the radio side.
Both are pretty good, but it just won’t be quite the same. Pang might not be big in stature, but he is certainly going to leave an enormous hole to fill.
The fact he is going to the Blackhawks to be their new commentator is irrelevant, quite frankly. Sure, it has less than stellar optics, but he could have gone to broadcast for the Ottawa 67’s and it would have still stung as far as the loss to the Blues broadcast team.
What sucks is feeling this could have been avoided. While nothing has been stated, I feel this has to do with the current financial state of the company that owns the Bally’s regional sports networks, i.e. basically being bankrupt. We will never know now, but if given the same financial deal, I could have seen Panger retiring in St. Louis.
I wish Pang the very best. I just now have to hope he has many years of calling games for non-playoff teams is all.