Josh Getzoff grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where he was a big Eagles fan, but he always enjoyed listening to Mike Lange calling Penguin games on the radio. Josh got his dream job in 2015 when he became a broadcaster for the Penguins. Now, this self-proclaimed hockey nerd even fills in for Mike Lange on some away games. I caught up with Josh at Banh Mi & Ti in Lawrenceville.
Q: Did you grow up playing hockey?
JG: My dad put me on the ice when I was 2 years old and I cried the entire time. I did not want to be out there. He’s told me many times that I came home that day and I was still crying and he told me, “Next time you’re going to have to beg me to get back on the ice because you didn’t even want to skate.” A year and a half later, I was a little older and a little wiser at the ripe age of three and a half or four. I begged him to get back on the ice and I didn’t leave the ice since. I played all through elementary school, middle school, high school and two years of college. And then I stopped playing in college to pursue broadcasting. I still skate as much as I can.
Can you just throw some skates on and skate around PPG?
JG: Occasionally, we get the ice early in the morning and that’s really cool. But otherwise, in the summer I’ll skate a lot up in the North Hills in Warrendale and Cranberry. I try to go on the ice once or twice a week. We have a pretty good group that plays pick-up hockey out there. And it’s a good way to make yourself believe that you’re staying in hockey shape.
Can you tell me about the sandwiches we’re eating today?
JG: I live in Lawrenceville and one of the great things about Lawrenceville and Pittsburgh in general is the food. Whenever I have friends and family visit, one of the first things they always mention is how unbelievable the food scene here is. In Lawrenceville alone, from where we’re standing, you can get a flatbread pizza, you can get a Banh Mi sandwich and you can get barbecue just by spinning around like a top. There’s a lot of options here and they’re all very good. I chose Banh Mi & Ti place because I like that it’s a healthier option. I live right around the corner and I like the outdoor patio. A lot of the times, my wife and I will get the Banh Mi bowls here, which are delicious but the sandwiches are amazing, too. I got the Classy Chick Banh Mi Sandwich.
Q: You know, I was also tempted to see if I could get a sandwich with Iceburgh (the Penguins mascot) but it seemed complicated.
JG: No, he would love it. You can get a trout sandwich or something.
Q: Doing play-by-play seems so difficult because you have to be so in the moment. You can’t be distracted and you have to be saying intelligent and thoughtful things and remembering all the pertinent names and details. How do you teach yourself to do that?
JG: Most of the time, I have a tough time staying in the moment with all the distractions, like cellphones or thinking about what you’re going to do later. But when I call games, it’s almost like I have blinders on. I don’t know how to explain it. I get in the zone where all I’m thinking about is the play. And it kind of starts as I get to the arena that night. I like to get up to the booth pretty early, usually an hour or so before we go on the air. When the game starts, I’ll throw my phone in my bag and I won’t look at it till at least the first period. Sometimes, after the first period, I’ll call my wife and catch her as she’s getting home from work. We can catch up for a minute and that’s a good way to calm down a little bit between periods. It’s like an awakened meditation, in a weird way. You’re trying to describe how the puck gets from point A to point B and using a different word in three separate situations that all happens in the span of five seconds. I have a list of words – and I stole that idea from Doc Emrick, the legendary hockey broadcaster – he’s got a pamphlet of all the verbs and adjectives he used in his career.
Q: Sort of like a hockey thesaurus?
JG: Exactly! Flings it, shoots it, flips it. I can’t think of them all off the top of my head since I’m two months removed from a game but I will look at those on game day and I’ll say them aloud. And sometimes when they’re warming up before the game, I’ll call it in my head and I’ll use a different word every time to get those words flowing in my brain.
Get ready for hockey season by listening to our new episode of The Scoop podcast, starring special guest @armdog.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) August 9, 2019
Q: What do you remember about the first time you called a game for the Penguins?
JG: I remember it very clearly. I am a self-proclaimed huge hockey nerd. The history of the game is so cool to me. The names, the buildings, the cities – I love that stuff. The first game I ever called was at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. That was a preseason game and I remember getting there and everyone said, “That stinks that your first game is at Joe Louis,” but I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I remember the Red Wings teams of the ‘90s that were so dominant and Penguins fans, of course, remember the 2008 team that won the Stanley Cup but then the Penguins beat them in 2009. So the Pens won a Stanley Cup in that arena, so it was special to go in there. To be able to walk down into the bowels of that arena and think about how many great players have been in there and you can see their names on the wall. And as you go to more buildings in the league, you realize that there aren’t many like that anymore, where the press box is made of wood and you’re attached on a telephone line back to the radio station. To think how many great broadcasters that I looked up to have been in this booth – that’s a very fond memory for me. I’ll never forget that day.
Q: And Mike Lange is famous for his Langeisms. Do you have any favorites?
JG: When we won the Stanley Cup in 2016, “Get in the fast lane, Grandma. The bingo game is ready to roll,” was his line. I was actually in that broadcast area when that happened and, as someone who looked up to him, I knew that I wanted to be as close as possible to hear what he was going to say. Because this is a Hall of Famer, an icon, and it’s the biggest moment of the year for this team. So I kind of leaned forward and I remember hearing it so muffled because it’s so loud in there. “Get in the fast lane, Grandma,” and he’s pumping his fists as he’s talking and Phil Bourque’s next to him going nuts. That one’s probably my favorite because, when I hear that, I think of that moment. In terms of my other favorites, I’ve always loved “Donna needs a doughnut” because it makes me laugh and I know that’s part of Mike’s deal. He tries to make you laugh a little bit. And, “How much fried chicken can you eat?” is my other favorite because it’s always a funny time to drop that during a game. When a goalie is scored on he goes, “He just lost his liquor license.” That’s a great one.
Q: Are you ever tempted to come up with your own catchphrases?
JG: I think Phil Bourque and I have fun and get loose when we call games but I think catchphrases have to come to you naturally. And that’s the thing with Mike – a lot of his catchphrases have come from hearing someone say it at a bar or conversations with people. And I’m not saying that things like that won’t happen to me but that’s never been my style. I’ll have things I’ll add in, like, if the Penguins win in overtime, I’ll always say, “Lock the door and turn out the lights – Penguins win in overtime.”
Q: Maybe that’s a Getzoffism?
JG: Yeah, there you go! We’ll see if that sticks. We can print the shirts in the Strip District. I’ll say “denied by DeSmith.” Casey DeSmith is our backup goalie so I try to say that if he makes a big save. Matt Murray is “Matt the Magnificent” or “Murray the Magnificent” if he makes saves. So those are the things I try to work in but I wouldn’t say that I have a ton of catchphrases. Mike’s diversity of lines is kind of his thing.
Q: What happens in the offseason for you?
JG: The interesting thing about hockey, and I guess sports in general, is that, when we started that series against the Islanders in April, you’re thinking that they could win this series or even if they don’t, no one thought they weren’t going to win a game in the series. So to go six games from when the playoffs started to having your season be over, that was kind of shocking. It took some time to process for everyone – obviously, the players but also the broadcasters and the behind-the-scenes people at the organization who put in hard work all season. So there’s usually some calming down after that. I take a few days and try to go a couple places with my wife. My wife and I are huge road bikers. We ride in a cancer fundraising ride for cancer research called the Pan-Mass Challenge every August. Her family’s been a part of it for two-plus decades. It’s an 84-mile bike ride through Massachusetts. Because of that ride, she already had the love of road biking and now we bike all the time. We get up early on Saturdays and Sundays to beat the heat and put in 25 or 30 miles and we’ll ride the Great Allegheny Passage. Sometimes, we’ll bike all the way to Ohiopyle.
Q: Any other Pittsburgh activities you’re looking forward to doing in the offseason?
JG: We love exploring new restaurants. We’ve gone to Over Eden, that place over the Tryp Hotel, a couple times already. It’s really good. It’s little small plates. And I love live music. We’ve been to a couple shows in Burgettstown and Stage AE and I’m going to check out the Thunderbird Music Hall at some point this summer. They just reopened. Those summer nights when you can drink a beer on the back patio, those are the things you don’t get to do a lot during the season. But once we get past July 1 and you start to see rosters fill out a bit more, then there’s more prep work that can be done on my end.
Q: What are some of those “pinch yourself” moments that you’ve had because of this job?
JG: The first was in San Jose, being able to lift the Stanley Cup. Aside from getting married, that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. Being able to do it two years in a row was pretty surreal.
Q: And Kennywood just put up the Steelers-themed Steel Curtain roller coaster. What do you think a Penguins-inspired Kennywood attraction would be like?
JG: Maybe a log flume but, instead of a log, it would be a puck and, when you land, it would look like you’re going into the glass and the crowd’s cheering and then water would splash you and you’d hear the goal song and all that stuff. That way, it’s appealing in the summer because you don’t have your hockey in the summer but you can ride your Penguins log flume in a puck and get soaked.
Q: That sounds amazing!
JG: I want the first ride. Let that be on the record.
**This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space**