INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. — Playing in the always-competitive Metro East Conference, the Simley High School boys hockey team is no stranger to a “big game” atmosphere. Their conference schedule includes both of Minnesota’s 2020 state champions, Hill-Murray and Mahtomedi, along with private school power St. Thomas Academy and neighborhood rival South St. Paul.
But the Spartans and their fans’ first assurance that a big game is ahead comes not from the schedule or from what happens on the ice, but from the speakers suspended from the low ceiling inside Veterans Memorial Community Center. That’s from where the voice of Brian Sweeney emanates. Sweeney, 49, has recently been named the best in the nation at what he does.
In late September, Sweeney was given the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers award as the top high school public address announcer in the country for 2019-20. The award is named for legendary New York Yankees p.a. man Bob Sheppard, who was behind the Yankee Stadium microphone for 57 seasons and was nicknamed “the voice of God.”
Sweeney, who works in the transportation service industry full time, has voiced Simley games for the past six seasons — boys and girls hockey, baseball, football, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball and dance. He also can be heard at University of St. Thomas men’s and women’s hockey games, Minnesota Vixen professional women’s football games, along with a host of other fill-in duties for Concodia-St. Paul, Minnesota Gophers hockey, the WCHA Women’s Final Five and even the NCAA Women’s Division III Frozen Four.
“With the energy that he brings and the connection he makes with the Simley athletes, he’s really part of the team, and somebody you love having around the rink,” said Simley boys hockey coach Austyn Kryzer, who was one of the people nominating Sweeney for the Bob Sheppard P.A. Announcer of the Year Award. “The extra energy he brings our team is very noticeable as a coach, and he’s been around so long that you notice it when he’s not there.”
After earning a degree in broadcasting from Brown Institute in Minneapolis, Sweeney worked in production for a few Twin Cities radio stations in the 1990s. He got his start behind the p.a. microphone on a bit of a whim in 2009 when a co-worker’s son raced watercross boats in western Wisconsin and an event was in need of an announcer. Knowing Sweeney’s background in radio, the co-worker asked if Sweeney would fill in. Sweeney admits he fell in love with it.
“I emulate a lot of what I hear. When I go to a game, either locally or out of town, I pay more attention to the announcer than to what’s going on in front of me,” said Sweeney, who also admitted he is thankful for a former Madison Square Garden p.a. announcer who listened to recordings of Sweeney calling a game and offered a professional critique. “I’m always listening to the music and thinking about whether I could use that song, or listening to the way they call a goal or how they introduce somebody.”
He tries to bring the atmosphere he hears at college and NHL games to high school venues.
“My main thing was to always give every one of those kids what I feel they would get if they ever got to the professional level or the Division I college level,” Sweeney said. “Since so many of them will not get there, why not give them that love now? Why not make it special for them and their parents?”
The only bad news for Simley fans is that 2020-21, whenever the season gets underway, will be Sweeney’s farewell tour with the Spartans. With St. Thomas men’s and women’s hockey moving up to the D-I level, he is a realist and understands that future college announcing schedules will prevent the 40 nights of high school games that Sweeney has been averaging.
“They’re going to be jumping up from 11 home games to a minimum of 13 to 15,” Sweeney said of the Tommies men and women. “You’re looking at 30-plus games not counting any preseason or tournaments or postseason. To add another 40 high school games would keep me out of the house too much.”