Jim O'Donnell: Acclaimed broadcaster Pang will join Blackhawks booth next season

INDIANA JONES FACED FEWER PERILS than the one Darren Pang is apparently about to take on.

Multiple sources are reporting that the acclaimed NHL broadcaster will join the Blackhawks TV booth for the 2023-24 season.

The former Hawks goaltender became available when negotiations for a new deal in St. Louis with struggling Bally Sports Midwest broke down.

Since beginning his broadcast career with ESPN close to 30 years ago, Pang, 59, has blossomed into one of the game's very best.

He's currently working the Las Vegas-Florida Stanley Cup Final for WBD / Turner. Game 3 is Thursday night (TNT, TBS, truTV, 7 p.m.).

OF EQUAL IMPORTANCE for a Chicago franchise riddled with toxicity both on and off ice in recent seasons, Pang is almost universally regarded as one of the friendliest, most personable presences in hockey.

"Chicago is one of the greatest professional hockey towns in the world," Pang once told a roving sports & media columnist. "Even if the city is suffering a little with the Hawks right now, I really think they'll be right around and back up where they belong."

Those archived words - spoken 25 years ago - again have loft.

The Blackhawks have not made the NHL playoffs since 2020. But foxhole fans have been buoyed in recent weeks when the organization notched the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. That choice is almost certain to be Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old British Columbian phenom, unless his beloved Vancouver Canucks come up with a continent-quaking save.

PANG WILL ALSO BE heavily leaned upon to restore both national-caliber pizzazz and equilibrium to a Blackhawks broadcast scheme that was band-aided in 2022-23.

That resuscitative effort became necessary when team overseers Danny Wirtz and Jaime Faulkner forced the retirement of Hall of Fame play-by-player Pat Foley following the 2021-22 campaign and the enormously popular Eddie Olczyk responded by skating away to the Seattle Kraken.

Olczyk's exit couldn't have come at a worse time for an organization still reeling from public revelations of a decade-old sex scandal in 2021.

This past season, the patchworked booths included Chris Vosters on NBCSCH along with rotating color men Troy Murray and Patrick Sharp. John Wiedman handled play-by-play on WGN-AM (720). Murray is expected to return to radio full-time with Sharp designated for reassignment.

Gone from the plan is studio analyst Colby Cohen. The two-season flyby tweeted Wednesday that he was returning to Philadelphia to prioritize family matters.

PANG IS FULLY EXPECTED to maintain his star ties with WBD/Turner. The Blackhawks accommodated Olczyk for his frequent network work with "The NHL on NBC."

The markedly engaging Pang has consistently shown a life skill of turning adversity into triumph.

After wading through five seasons as a 5-foot-5 goalie, mainly in the Blackhawks farm system, Pang caught a break when head coach Bob Murdoch tabbed him as a recurring starter during the 1987-88 NHL season.

Despite flashing crisp potential and being a reporter's dream in the locker room, Pang's stock dramatically dipped when the unpredictably demanding Mike Keenan took over as head coach the following autumn.

Keenan elected to start 19-year-old Jimmy Waite in goal for the Blackhawks season opener. He then pulled Pang out of goal in-game no fewer than six times in the next four months. That professional disconnect reacher a nadir when Pang was yanked to the bench 1:28 into the first period after surrendering two goals in a game at Pittsburgh.

A knee injury effectively ended Pang's playing career in 1990.

BUT A CHUNK OF ADVICE from Bob Pulford - then the oft-maligned Hawks GM - set the Ontario native on what has proved to be a golden broadcast path.

"Pully told me, 'Think Johnny Morris,'" Pang said, referring to the Chicago mainstay who parlayed a star career with the Bears into a three-decade run as one of the greatest TV sportscasters in the history of the local medium.

"I immediately grasped all of its implications. He was suggesting to me all of the possibilities a young fellow with designs on a professional sports career as a broadcaster could have if he seized the connections he could make in Chicago. It gave me pause. And then I like to think that I've skated with it ever since."

No one can question that Pang has. His 14-year run with the Blues (2009-2023) began by replacing franchise all-timer Bernie Federko as analyst alongside John Kelly.

Pang's network experience started with ESPN in 1993. As many sports talk producers and sports writers can attest, his personal brand management and quick accessibility have always been of platinum-gold rank.

THE HOCKEY EXPERTISE flows as naturally as any dimuntive goaltender who touched the big-time primarily on resolve and awareness.

Now he enters the West Madison Street temple of recent hockey doom.

Pang may want to track a few Indiana Jones happy endings before he officially signs on.

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