BY PAM SHEBEST
Although he has been a nomad so far in his professional life, Isaac Berky discovered just what a small world hockey is when he settled in Kalamazoo.
The new Voice of the K-Wings had an instant connection with three local players.
As the broadcaster/public relations person for the USHL Omaha Lancers two years ago, Berky saw several players head off to Division I colleges after their Junior careers.
Two of them, Mike Joyaux and Cole Gallant, are now freshmen at Western Michigan University.
Joyaux’s brother, Matt, is a K-Wing, “So I had Matt Joyaux’s brother in Junior and Matt now,” Berky said.
Finding hockey tidbits is one of the things Berky enjoys.
“I do a lot of game prep,” he said. “I like to know as much about the other team as I can, from the team, the organization itself, to the players. It’s the little things that you find out that are interesting.”
His work ethic is one thing that landed him with the K-Wings.
“Isaac was working with another team in the ECHL (Norfolk Admirals) and had the passion, relationships and experience in hockey that I was looking for,” said Toni Daniels, K-Wings business operations director and governor.
“His work ethic is unparalleled, which is important in this role because it it very demanding at times.”
Nick Bootland, K-Wings director of hockey operations and head coach pointed to Berky’s hockey background as a big plus.
“He’s super committed,” Bootland said. “I don’t want this to sound insulting in any way, but he’s kind of a hockey nerd.
“He played hockey at school, he loves the game, he loves to talk about the game during dinner and on the bus. He’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Die-hard Predators fan
Growing up outside Nashville, Berky has been a die-hard Predators fan since the expansion team located in Tennessee in 1998.
“When the Predators moved to Nashville, the popularity just exploded,” Berky said. “I got bit by the hockey bug and it’s stuck with me ever since.
“I grew up listening to Pete Weber calling Predators games. I’d listen to all the games on the radio and when they were on the West Coast, I’d sneak out of my bed at night and pull my radio close to the bed to listen to the Preds games.”
His family moved to Anderson, Ind., where he played high school hockey, then went to Adrian College to major in media arts.
“I wanted to play hockey still,” Berky said. “They had a really, really good (club) hockey program at Adrian at the time.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play D-I or even D-III (varsity) the way hockey is framed up.”
Berky was a utility player, bouncing from defense to forward, depending on the team’s need.
As for goalie, “ No,” he said, laughing. “I played once. My hat’s off to those guys but I have no inclination to put myself in front of that puck coming at my head.”
At Adrian, Berky honed his skills working for the sports information department, then became involved in live streaming sporting events. He eventually was named sports director at the campus radio station.
When he “realized I wasn’t ready to get a real job yet,” he spent a year at Syracuse University for his master’s degree. While there, he worked as an unpaid intern for the AHL Syracuse Crunch.
“I think that was just about as important for me as my grad school year,” Berky said of the Crunch. “When you’re a grad student, you don’t usually have a normal college student schedule, so I probably worked 40-hour weeks as an unpaid intern
“But just getting to be there every day to be around the players and the radio guy, Dan D’Uva, who is actually in Vegas with the (NHL) Knights now, was one of my big mentors.
Berky also interned with the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, covering the baseball Twins, NBA Timberwolves and NFL Vikings.
From TV to podcasts
Berky’s first “real” job was as the weekend TV sports anchor in Bismarck, North Dakota, for two years.
From there, he worked with the USHL Omaha Lancers and, last year, with the ECHL Norfolk Admirals.
In Norfolk he connected with former K-Wings player Sam Ftorek and his dad, Robbie Ftorek, who coached the team.
“Then this opportunity arose,” Berky said. “I knew (former K-Wings broadcaster Joe Roberts) because all us radio guys kinda shoot the breeze with each other.
“That’s another fun part of game day. Whenever somebody comes in, you sit up there and talk and get to know guys.”
When he heard Roberts took the job with the AHL Utica Comets, “We just bounced a few things off each other and I ended up throwing my name in the hat. Joe, for whatever reason, put a good word in for me and here I am.
“This is a phenomenal organization which is extremely well-respected across the league. It was an opportunity to get back on terrestrial radio for me. It’s not a necessity with so many teams ditching terrestrial radio (actual radio as opposed to internet radio).”
While the ECHL is mostly a bus league, Berky said he does not mind the travel, especially the short jaunts with the K-Wings.
“We flew a little bit last year but that’s because Norfolk’s travel is so brutal,” he said. “The closest team, Reading, is 7 or 7 1/2 hours away.
“We had a lot of 8-, 9-hour bus trips. When we were gone, we were usually gone a week at a time. To get on a bus the day of a game, go down and come back that night, is great.”
One innovation this year is the pod cast. Berky has a list of former hockey guys he has already interviewed as a kickoff to the K-Wings 45th anniversary.
So far, he has talked with former coach Ken Hitchcock, former K-Wings Yanni Gourde, Kevin Schamehorn, Joel Martin and Brett Jarrett plus Joe Roberts and Vancouver Canucks broadcaster John Shorthouse.
“I love hearing all the stories from the guys and I know the fans like that intimate, behind-the-scenes things because so often you just see the person on the ice or behind the bench,” Berky said.
Kalamazoo is a perfect for location for Berky.
“I have a lot of friends in the Detroit, Adrian, Toronto area,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of friends from high school in the Indianapolis area.
“Here I’m near some friends and back to an area I know with an organization like this in a hockey-crazed town, with fans who love their team.”
Roberts was gone for about a month before Berky came in at the start of the 45th anniversary celebration.
“It was jump in with both feet into the deep end and hope you know how to swim,” Berky said. “It certainly helped coming from a team in this league. I already had the background and knew the league.
“Joe did a little bit and he’s been great. He and I face time or we’ve talked on the phone a ton.”
Said Daniels: “Isaac jumped in with both feet. It feels like he has been here much longer than two months.
“He gels well with both the K-Wings front office staff and the hockey operations staff (including the players)."