Phil Mendel doug moe obit

Phil Mendel — the public address announcer who delighted Badger fans with his "Good evening, hockey fans" salutation — died earlier this month.

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If you were there and heard them, you never forgot it.

Four words, and then an explosion of applause and cheering.

"Good evening, hockey fans!"

That signature introduction — delivered most famously at what was then the Dane County Memorial Coliseum — gave goose bumps to an entire generation of University of Wisconsin men's hockey fans.

Those four words, and their passionate and charismatic delivery, made an unlikely celebrity of a Madison pharmacist and educator named Phil Mendel.

Mendel, who died April 19, at 89, was the public address voice of Badger hockey from 1963 to 1980.

With his quick mind, love of hockey and flair for the dramatic, Mendel was the right voice at the right time in Madison. His arrival here in 1962 coincided with UW hockey's rebirth and rapid ascendance. He forged good friendships with Badger coaches and media members.

And although the four-word salutation would be his legacy — countless fans told Mendel they arrived early just so they would be certain to hear, "Good evening, hockey fans!" — his contribution to the program went beyond the public address microphone.

He helped found the Blue Line Club booster group in 1963 and was its second president. At Badger road games, Mendel served as the color commentator for play-by-play radio announcer Bob Miller, a broadcasting legend (with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) who today is in his 39th season as the voice of the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings.

"He was truly colorful," Miller wrote of his close friend Mendel in an email late last week.

Recalling a series at Colorado College, Miller noted Mendel's description of a Colorado player who played a great first game but fell flat in game two.

"Tonight," Mendel said, after the second game, "he was like a mosquito in a nudist camp. He knew what to do but he didn't know where to begin."

For Mendel, the beginnings were in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood. After high school, he volunteered for the Army infantry. Mendel served in Africa and Europe during World War II.

Back home, Mendel attended the UW School of Pharmacy, graduating in 1949. He then moved to a small city, Marseilles, in Illinois, to work at an uncle's pharmacy. It was a fortuitous move, for there he met and married Doris Redford. The couple moved to Madison in 1962, when Phil took a position with Prescription Pharmacy.

"He always said that if we were ever to move, it would be back to Madison," Doris said Monday. The couple was married for 62 years and had three children. "He said he loved Madison when he was here for school."

Mendel was a hockey fan — he and Doris used to drive to Blackhawks games in Chicago — and his first year in Madison he met an attorney named John Riley, who had his morning coffee at the Park Motor Inn on the Capitol Square. Mendel's pharmacy was in the building.

Riley said he was being recruited to coach a new hockey team at UW, where the sport had been discontinued in the 1930s. The games would be played at the Hartmeyer Ice Arena on Commercial Avenue, starting in 1963, and they needed a public address announcer.

Might Mendel consider it?

"I don't have any experience," Mendel said. "But I'll try."

Doris is unsure whether her husband debuted "Good evening, hockey fans" at Hartmeyer, but it really took off — along with the hockey program — when the games moved to the new Dane County Coliseum in 1967.

With a new coach, Bob Johnson — destined to become one of Mendel's closest friends — Badgers hockey became a happening in Madison.

The games sold out. The national media took notice. By 1973, there was a national championship. Phil Mendel at the microphone was a big part of it all.

I never met him, but we spoke a few times on the phone. He called occasionally after a column. Some he liked, some he didn't. He was never less than forthright in his comments.

I wish I told Mendel how my dad first took me to the hockey games, starting back at Hartmeyer, and how thrilled we both were through the years when we heard him say, "Good evening, hockey fans!"

I can hear him still.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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