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The 'voice of the Griffins' credits others for his success
But the Griffins’ vice president of community relations and broadcasting, who is also president of the team’s youth foundation, readily admits that if it wasn’t for Doug Soetaert, he probably wouldn’t have ever met Griffins majority owner Dan DeVos.
Or won those awards for radio broadcasting excellence.
Or helped local nonprofits raise nearly $2 million since 2000 through the American Hockey League franchise.
The year was 1991. Kaser was in his second season overseeing community relations and broadcasting games for the Kansas City Blades, an IHL team that Soetaert managed. Kaser’s father had moved in with him the previous year because he was suffering from lung disease and his medical bills had devoured his savings. But just before the Blades’ season was to begin, his dad died, and the impact of his death took a heavy toll on Kaser.
“I was running into a lot of financial and emotional issues, to a point where it was really affecting the way I was doing my job. A lot of heartless people probably would have let me go, not really understanding what I was going through,” said Kaser.
“Doug Soetaert was our general manager at that time. He not only stuck with me, but helped me financially. I can’t even say enough good things about him. I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for Doug. I was at a crossroad and I wasn’t handling things very well, and Doug pulled me out of it,” he said.
“He gave me nine more years in Kansas City, which were nine of the greatest years of my life. And now I’ve added nine more great years to my life here in Grand Rapids.”
Kaser met his current boss when DeVos and his wife, Pamella, bought the Blades in 1997, a year after the Griffins began playing here. Anytime a struggling business gets new ownership, employees become nervous about their futures. But Kaser said DeVos quickly showed that he didn’t buy the franchise to clean house.
“Dan stuck with most of the people there. He recognized that we had talented people there and he endeared himself to everyone down there. That’s his personality. He poured his heart and soul into that thing,” he said.
DeVos tried to shift the franchise to Oklahoma City and Kaser served as the unofficial point man for that move, constantly traveling to talk with city officials about the benefits of having the team there. The city council nixed the idea of letting the Blades relocate there and chose to remain pat with its Central Hockey League team, despite the promise of the IHL franchise becoming the primary affiliate of the Dallas Stars.
Company: Grand Rapids Griffins
Title: Vice President of Community Relations & Broadcasting; President of Griffins Youth Foundation
Kaser got into radio broadcasting because of his love for the game. He started in Flint when he was a young guy of 21, doing play-by-play for the Generals in the old IHL, where fans were more likely to count the number of punches thrown in a game than goals scored.
So after describing so many power plays and empty-netters, what does he consider his most memorable moment in his lengthy career?
“It was probably in 1992, when the Blades won the Turner Cup. It’s about the only championship I’ve been part of in 28 years of doing this. I was so close to that team, and with what I had been through that previous year and for Doug to stick it out, keep me around and help through the tough times …,” he said.
Being a part of the IHL championship wasn’t the only thrill Kaser experienced in 1992. That was also the year he married Rosalie, the goddaughter of Marc Boileau. Boileau was the coach of the Quebec Nordiques when the team won the World Hockey Association title and also the general manager in Flint who gave Kaser his start.
About five years later, Boileau moved to Seattle and later to France. When Kaser went to Seattle, he lived in Boileau’s home while he was overseas. Out of the blue, Rosalie called Boileau to catch up with him and got Kaser on the line instead. They talked a few times after that call but didn’t stay in regular contact.
A few years later, when she was living in Salt Lake City, Rosalie sent Kaser a Christmas card thinking he was in Flint. By then, though, he was in Kansas City, and the card arrived in late January. As luck would have it, Kaser and the Blades went to Salt Lake City two weeks later for a game and the two got together.
“I have no idea what she saw in me. We just clicked and we maintained this long-distance relationship for eight months before we decided to get married,” he said.
Rosalie is a substitute teacher who earned her degree from the University of Oklahoma and is about halfway through earning her Master’s in teaching at Aquinas College.
“She is so popular in East Grand Rapids. Everybody knows her. She is far more popular than I am. That’s pretty cool to see.”
Kaser was born in Kalamazoo, but spent many of his formative years in Flint. He and Rosalie live in East Grand Rapids with their two sons, 14-year-old Charlie and 11-year-old Sam — who both, by the way, play and practice hockey under dad’s watchful eyes.
When he’s not at an ice rink, Kaser likes to read about U.S. history, especially books on the Civil War, watch University of Michigan football, play golf and catch movies at home with the family.
“Living in Grand Rapids has clearly been a blessing for me and my family. I’ve always considered Michigan home, and being able to come back is even more than I expected,” he said.
Kaser has spent much of his career on the road, traveling from one hockey city to the next. Most trips were by bus but a few were by sea planes and ferries. Those trips have taken him across the U.S. and into the far reaches of Canada. He said he often gets asked how many miles he has logged and he always answers that he has no idea because the number would be staggering. But if there were such a thing as frequent-rider points, Kaser would likely own the fleet by now.
During the winter, not all those long hauls are pleasant. A recent bus ride that had the Griffins returning from a game in Rochester, N.Y., qualified as one of the less-than-appealing ones. It was a few days before Christmas, and the team was headed home in a blizzard.
“We got to Buffalo and it was just a whiteout. You couldn’t see anything, and we were contemplating that this isn’t worth it. We’re going to go all the way around the lake, and it’s going to be like this for a long time. We couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of us. And all of a sudden, we saw that the truck that was in front of us was a gas tanker,” he said.
“We decided it was time to pull over. You don’t want to run into the back of one of those things, nor do you want one to run into the back of you. It was supposed to be an eight-hour trip that turned out to be a 19-hour trip.”
Kaser has spent most of his time here with Larry Figurski as his broadcast partner on WOOD AM-1300 and as his close friend. Figurski, who works at WOOD TV, suffered an unexpected heart attack late last summer, but is doing well and is back in the booth. Kaser said much of the credit for the three AP awards the broadcasts have earned should go to Figurski for the stellar job he has consistently done.
“Larry is just such an eloquent guy. He has a way of putting things that is very articulate,” he said. “He is a wonderful human being and easily the best partner in radio I’ve ever had. I love the guy.”
As for what he wants his immediate future to bring, Kaser has one thing on his list.
“Hopefully, a championship for the Griffins — for Dan (DeVos), (General Manager) Bob McNamara and (Vice President) Tim Gortsema, the people that have been here since Day One. And the fans,” he added. “I hope that comes true for these people.”