Sudbury mourns the loss of a legend
For nearly 60 years, Berk Keaney's voice boomed out over the public address system at the Sudbury Arena. His voice became synonymous with hometown pride in the Sudbury Wolves. It added colour, character and spirit to each home game.
On Oct. 10, Keaney passed away at the age of 90. While his voice will no longer bounce off the wooden walls of the Elgin Street barn, the legend he created will continue to echo in the hearts of those who had the privilege to cross his path, or hear his voice.
"Welcome to hockey night in Sudbury."
It was the Berk Keaney calling card. It was the way OHL games started in Sudbury since Nov. 16, 1953 — the first time Keaney sat down behind the microphone.
On Dec. 2, 2011, Keaney called his very last game. As the final buzzer sounded on the Wolves' 4-0 defeat of the Brampton Battalion, fans rose in their seats cheering and players lifted their sticks in a salute to show their appreciation for Keaney's 59-year devotion to hockey in the Nickel City.
On Jan. 22, 2010, former mayor John Rodriguez proclaimed the date Berk Keaney Day in Greater Sudbury. Keaney was shocked and humbled by the recognition.
“When you do something you enjoy, you don't expect to be rewarded for it," he said at the celebration.
Announcing the Wolves games fulfilled a passion Keaney had developed for being on the air, while still allowing him to maintain his full-time job at Inco's Frood Mine. But he never thought he'd be announcing games for the next six decades.
“When I started this job, I said I would retire when the Wolves won the Memorial Cup. As you can see, gentlemen, I'm not getting any younger,” he said, with a laugh.
Sudbury Wolves general manager Blaine Smith knew Keaney since the 1980s when Smith first came on board with the Sudbury Wolves. He said Keaney's passion, enthusiasm and positiveness for the team rubbed off on the community.
"Anytime you'd go up (to the announcer's booth), his discussion was always about the players and the community's reaction to the team," Smith said. "He cared deeply about the players and how they were being recognized by the fans."
Smith said Keaney always referred to the hockey fans in Sudbury "as being the best hockey fans in the world."
"I feel we were very fortunate to be able to listen to certainly the best hockey announcer in the world for the past (59) years."
... it was always a proud moment to have Berk announce your name when you scored a goal. His excitement was our excitement, and the fans' excitement.
former Wolves player, head coach
Mike Foligno, the former head coach of the Wolves, as well as a former player, beamed when he spoke of the man who was known as the Voice of the Sudbury Wolves.
“I know from the time I used to play for the Wolves many years ago, it was always a proud moment to have Berk announce your name when you scored a goal,” Foligno said in a previous interview with Northern Life. “His excitement was our excitement, and the fans' excitement.
“Many years have gone by, but the one constant has been his voice,” he continued. “Berk has an uncanny ability to use his voice to announce and give proper recognition to those athletes that should be applauded for a job well done."
Aside from making the players glow, Keaney also brought the refs under scrutiny at times, simply by the tone of his voice.
"I remember playing there and sometimes when we got a penalty he didn't agree with, he would say the player's name, followed by the infraction — but the infraction would sound like a question, as if to say 'You actually called that tripping??!!" Dave MacDonald, a goalie for the Wolves from 1993-1996, posted on the Sudbury Wolves' Facebook page.
Stew Kernan, who calls the play-by-play for Wolves games on KFM 95.5 and Eastlink television, has commonly been referred to as the Voice of the Sudbury Wolves. However, he's quick to clarify that he is "the radio and TV voice of the Sudbury Wolves."
"There's only one voice of the Sudbury Wolves and that's Berk Keaney," he said.
Kernan first heard the legendary voice in December 2002. People had told him there would be something that would make him feel at home as soon as he entered the arena.
"My first game, one of the first things I remember was hearing that voice telling the teams that warm-up was wrapping up to allow for ice resurfacing," he said.
"Berk had his own unique style of announcing. My favourite was when the Italian accent came out when he made the announcement when a Foligno scored."
Kernan said Keaney quickly became a valuable source of information on the Wolves.
"I often would head up to his booth before games for a quick chat and to get some information on former Wolves players," he said. "That became part of of my routine on many game nights. It always amazed me the last couple of years how Berk could still pull memories out of the air without even having to think about it."
Throughout his life, Keaney was a fixture in the Sudbury sports community, as a player, coach, referee and announcer. But above all else, he was a loving and devoted family man, his obituary stated.
Dan Keaney, one of four children in the family, said the door at their childhood home "was always open to friends that we would bring home, and occasionally, the odd stranger."
"My dad was always one to give to others without question. That's what Dad was all about."
Dan recalled spending countless hours with his dad and brother, Berk Jr., in the announcers booth at the arena.
"There was always such tremendous pride and excitement," he said. "It would be a revolving door up to the booth. Right up to the end in his 59th year, he'd always have people coming up to the booth and visiting, saying hi, and exchanging stories."
"You'd always stand back and look at this giant of a man and just think 'Wow, what's this all about? How come he's so popular? How come he's so well-loved?'" Dan continued. "As you grow through life you start to realize, 'Ah, that's why.' It's because he always gave time to anybody who would stop and ask a question."
Dan said the most important value his father instilled in his four children was the importance of family.
"You celebrate together. You worry together. You cherish together. You go through all the good times and the bad times together. You do that as a family.
"As much as it's a sad time, it's also a time of acknowledgement and a celebration of Dad's life."
Keaney is predeceased by Nora, his wife of 56 years, as well as his seven siblings. He is survived by his four children — Berk Jr., Maureen, Cathy and Dan — his 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A visitation will be held Oct. 12, from 2 to 9 p.m., at the Lougheed Funeral Home, and parish prayers will be held at 3 p.m. The funeral will be held Oct. 13 at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Hope Church, 591 Brennan Rd. Donations to the Sudbury Food Bank or Infant Food Bank in lieu of flowers would be appreciated.
Keaney was featured in an episode of CBC's Hockey Day in Canada. Watch it here.