‘Ducky’ Drake Takes Flight, Retires as Voice of Cardinal Hockey | SUNY Plattsburgh
The Voice of Cardinal Hockey was nearly stilled long before his retirement this past hockey season.
Alan “Ducky” Drake, who had called home and away games since the 1973-1974 season — first on WEAV then WIRY radio — suffered a debilitating stroke. It hit him in the spring, right after the 1999-2000 season, and, at first, he doubted he’d ever be able to speak again.
But he wasn’t about to give up.
“My voice was how I made my living,” he said. “I had to get it back.”
Getting His Voice Back
As Drake worked to regain his power of speech, SUNY Plattsburgh was there to help, in the form of the college’s Speech and Hearing Center.
Even Coach Bob Emery got into the act. Emery sent tapes of games to the announcer’s Grace Avenue home so he could practice calling the action on the ice.
He was back at the mic in the arena press box early in the 2000-2001 season.
“I felt good. I felt confident I could do it. It was therapeutic for me — doing something like that, something that was familiar to me — was easier than I thought it was going to be,” Drake said.
He had returned in time for a memorable season in Cardinal history, capped by an appearance in the NCAA Championship game.
The Cardinals were up against the undefeated Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, a team that had beaten them 8-2 earlier in the year.
In the end, the Cards won, 6-2, with Drake there to call it.
After that game, Drake publically thanked everybody for help in his recovery from the stroke.
“People came up to me later and said they had no idea I’d had a stroke — my recovery went that well,” he said. “There are still some words that I say that don’t sound quite right to me, but to have people say that made me feel very good.”
A Wrong Turn, Turned Right
Early in his career, the Voice of Cardinal Hockey could just as easily have been the Voice of the Auburn Maroons.
In 1971, 22-year-old Drake was driving to his Barre, Vt., home from a job interview in Auburn, N.Y., when he got lost heading to the Cumberland Head ferry. He wound up in downtown Plattsburgh and stopped in at the now-defunct WEAV radio station, which used to broadcast out of a studio over Woodstock's Bar on Margaret Street.
“Two weeks later, they called and offered me a job,” Drake said
He spent a decade with WEAV then switched teams to work for WIRY, Hometown Radio.
Print Reporter First
Drake didn’t start out to be a sports announcer. He didn’t even start out in radio.
“I was a newspaper reporter,” he said. “I worked briefly at the Montpelier-Barre Times Argus where I covered high school basketball games. I had to go back after the games and type up the story. A friend of mine did radio. When the game was done, he was finished. Wrapped up. Done. I wanted that and thought maybe I’d try radio.”
He started his work with Cardinal Hockey during 1973-1974 season, after then-coach John Corker stopped by the station and asked Drake if he’d like to call some games.
“I did a half-dozen or so that season. … At first, I only did home games, but then I started doing away games 26, 27 years ago. When I look back on it, it went by very quickly.
Drake had never played hockey himself. In fact, he doesn’t even skate.
“Growing up, they had the old table hockey games, you know, with the metal players on sticks you move around and up and down — we all had them. I’d call the game while I would be moving them men up and down,” he said. “I did grow up watching “Hockey Night in Canada,” which is where I learned a lot about hockey, by watching and listening. I’ve always enjoyed the game.”
Some of the things he learned from watching and listening include the catch phrases Drake’s been known to throw out such as “Stick a fork in them, they’re done,” and one he borrowed from the late, great Pittsburgh announcer, Bob Prince, “We had ’em all the way.”
“People seemed to enjoy the catch phrases,” Drake said. “And through all the 40 years, I was wrong only once. I thought we had the win, but it ended in a tie. I think that’s a pretty good record.”
Covered Away Games
Drake became a regular fixture on the Cardinal bus as it headed to the away games he called. But he said he tried very hard to stay impartial, as hard as that was.
“I didn’t necessarily distance myself from the players, but I didn’t want to get too close, either. I didn’t want it to influence the games I called. People could tell when I yelled ‘Score!’ whether it was a Plattsburgh goal or the other team. It couldn’t be helped. I worked for a community radio station that wanted its team to win. But I tried to be fair to both sides,” he said.
It seemed to work. During his farewell road-games tour, Drake was recognized for his impartiality by a roster of SUNY teams, as well as other worthy opponents such as Middlebury College and Norwich University.
“They made note that it was my final year, and they thanked me for being there. It was unexpected and nice,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of stations that cover sports at the Division III level.”
Lauded by Cardinal Coach
“Ducky and Cardinal hockey go hand in hand,” Emery said. “He always was and will always be the Voice of the Cardinals. He is not only known among Cardinal fans; he is very popular among Division III fans across the country.”
During his retirement season, other teams throughout the SUNYAC and the division recognized Drake at their home games. Even Cardinal opponents recognized Drake’s importance to college hockey, Emery said.
In addition, “Ducky was always an extension of the coaching staff,” Emery said. “He was always there for me if I sought him for advice. He was very loyal to the coaching staff and hockey program. He will not be forgotten.”
Time Had Come
While he’s enjoying the idleness of retirement — “I’m pretty happy doing nothing right now,” he said — he knows he’s going to miss his seat in the press box when the season starts again.
“I’ve gone to a few of the women’s games at the end of their season, and I had a hard time not doing the play-by-play from my seat in the stands,” Drake said. “It’ll be most difficult going to the men’s games and hearing someone else calling it. It’s always hard — you’re going to compare yourself to whoever is doing it — but the time had come.”