When the puck drops for the Niagara Predators to begin their first season playing out of Virgil’s Meridian Credit Union Arena, Michael Frena will be calling the shots. And the passes, the saves and the hits.
The 2018 Niagara College broadcasting graduate has been named the play-by-play announcer for the 2021-2022 season of the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League’s local team.
He credits his mother, Tracey, for encouraging him to apply for the position. The games will be live-streamed on the league’s gmhl.tv website.
Frena, who works full time at Phil’s valu-mart in the grocery and dairy departments, can’t wait to put his love of sports broadcasting to work up in the booth.
After graduating from Eden High School, Frena applied to three programs at Niagara College. He chose broadcasting – radio, television and film over both acting and game development, largely because it included an internship.
“I saw that TSN was one of the (internship) places,” he says, “and I thought that would be something I would like to do one day. I always watched SportsCentre growing up, and I always thought it would be great to be on TSN or Sportsnet talking sports and recapping games.”
He ended up interning at TSN 1050 radio in Toronto from February to April, 2018.
Though he didn’t get a chance to sit behind a microphone there, he was put to work supporting announcers such as Brian Hayes, Jamie McLennan and Jeff O’Neil (known as Hayes, Noodles and the O-dog, hosts of the Overdrive show).
“I worked behind the scenes,” Frena explains, “I would listen to Overdrive, the Morning Show, the Scott MacArthur Show and Michael Landsberg. When they had guests on, I would take their answers in their interviews and clip them into shorter segments so they could be used later.”
He also created Photoshop templates to promote upcoming guests via Instagram.
He credits his valu-mart employer, Phil Leboudec, for graciously working around his schedule while he would stay in a Toronto Airbnb for three to four nights at a time during the internship.
While at the college, Frena gained valuable experience doing play-by-play, colour commentary and pre- and post-game interviews for various sporting events. He was able to work a number of Junior B hockey games in Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines as well as a few Niagara College Knights basketball games.
“How they do it in the NHL, these guys make it look so easy,” marvels Frena. “When you get into it, it’s challenging. I enjoyed doing all the different things. I’m not sure which one I like best. But I had a blast doing all of them.”
When Frena graduated from Niagara, he applied for a few broadcasting jobs, but found the industry difficult to break into.
“A lot of these places are looking for people with experience,” he says. “I didn’t give up, but I put it off for a little bit. Then COVID hit, and I found out that a lot of my friends who did have (broadcasting) jobs got laid off.”
This appointment with the Predators is an opportunity to build his resume with some of that valuable experience needed in a changing industry.
“Any experience is a good experience,” Frena says. “It’s a foot in the door. It will be the first step to an even bigger step down the road. I can say I have this on my resume. I’m a little nervous, but excited for this opportunity.”
Frena himself played hockey for many years in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with his father, Mike, coaching him. Once he entered high school he stopped for a year, then got back on the ice with the St. Catharines CYO program.
During his three-year college program he had little time for hockey, between school work and his job at valu-mart. But after graduating he began playing with the Sunday morning Wallbangers league alongside his friend Ben Glauser. He eagerly anticipates hitting the ice again later this month.
The Buffalo sports fan looks to legendary Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret for inspiration as a sports broadcaster. Frena was fortunate to be taught by Rick’s son Chris at Niagara College. He also names Gord Miller, Ray Ferraro, Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson as his favourites.
When asked where he sees himself in 10 years, the 24-year-old NOTL native sees a world of opportunity.
“I’d like to be doing something with sports radio, or hockey analytics,” he says. “Another thing I’d like to do is voice acting, you know, doing voice-overs for commercials and TV. That really interests me as well.”
First thing first, though. Right now he’s looking forward to the challenges presented in taking on his new role with the new hockey team in town. That includes, of course, learning how to correctly pronounce some potentially difficult Swedish and Russian names.
“I’m going to do my best,” he laughs. “I’ll ask them personally. ‘Hey, how do you pronounce your name, because I don’t want to butcher it’. There’s nothing wrong with asking them how to pronounce it. I’m really looking forward to it.”