Jim Prior, 85; was voice of BU hockey games for 30 years
At the end of January, just before Jim Prior was honored for his 30 years as public address announcer at Boston University home hockey games, he shared a quiet moment in Agganis Arena with Jack Parker.
“Jim talked about how proud he was to have been the voice of BU hockey all those years,” said Parker, the Terriers’ head coach from 1973 to 2013, “and I could sense he loved every minute of those years here.”
That night, BU presented a symbolic No. 30 team hockey jersey to Mr. Prior, whose familiar refrain — “the teams are ready . . . so let’s play hockey” — also was heard before the opening faceoff at the Beanpot, Hockey East, NCAA, and MIAA hockey tournaments.
The ceremony, which brought tears to Mr. Prior’s eyes, was among several honors he received, including being inducted into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame and presented with the Hockey East Founders Medal, in 2013.
Mr. Prior, whose rinkside announcing began in 1978 when he was the hockey voice of Arlington Catholic High, and continued at Arlington High School, died Saturday of complications from a stroke. He was 85 and had lived in Arlington for 49 years.
Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna said the Founders Medal is given “only on special occasions, and Jim deserved it for bringing his own brand of professionalism and grace to every game.”
In a 2013 interview, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Mr. Prior told the Globe that “for me, it’s about the players. Even at BU if an opposing player gets his 100th career point or first college goal, I’ll make that part of the announcement because their parents or friends might be in the stands.”
He noted that “what never changes is when I go into a restaurant and order, someone occasionally recognizes my voice and asks, ‘Are you the hockey announcer?’ ”
Mr. Prior’s tenure at BU began in the 1980s, when the Terriers needed a substitute announcer for one game, and he obliged at Walter Brown Arena.
“Ben Smith, my assistant coach, had also heard Jim announcing for Hockey Night in Boston over the summer,” Parker recalled. “Ben said, ‘We’ve got to hire this guy,’ and of course, Jim became an institution at BU.”
Dan Shine, head hockey coach at Arlington Catholic, said Mr. Prior had asked to become the team’s public address announcer in 1978, Shine’s first year behind the bench.
“He was persistent,” Shine added. “I said, ‘sure,’ and he was with us for more than 25 years, and never took a dime for doing it. His ‘so let’s play hockey’ started with us and he made it into an art form. Jim wasn’t just an announcer, he was part of our team and he made our players feel special.”
Mr. Prior, who also had announced for Wentworth Institute and Salem State University, worked as many as 100 hockey games a season, occasionally at high school and college contests on the same day.
“Jim was thorough,” said Ed Carpenter, a former BU sports information director. “He would arrive early and get the scoresheets, then meet with the visiting coach to make sure he pronounced the opposing team’s names correctly. He wasn’t just the voice of BU hockey. He was the much-sought-after voice of college hockey because he did his job so professionally.”
Boston College coach Jerry York said Mr. Prior “went from rink to rink at every level of hockey, and that fascinated me. I’ll always remember his preparation, intellect, and captivating voice.”
Parker said that Mr. Prior’s presentation was never better than when he introduced defenseman Peter Ahola, who played for the Terriers from 1989 to 1991 before turning pro.
“Jim really loved to pronounce Peter’s hometown of Espoo, Finland, and he’d announce it slowly as ‘Espooooo,’ ” Parker added. “I think he was upset to see Peter leave.”
Mr. Prior also was a fill-in announcer for the Boston Bruins and a close friend of the team’s fulltime PA announcer, Joel Perlmutter, who died in 2001.
Shine said that because Perlmutter’s closest relatives at the time resided in Florida, Mr. Prior asked Shine if a memorial gathering could be held for Perlmutter, who was Jewish, at Arlington Catholic.
“That’s the type of person Jim was, remembering and honoring a friend,” Shine said. “Despite a snowstorm, people from all walks of hockey life came to the memorial at our school, some from as far away as Maine.”
A 1947 graduate of Cambridge High and Latin School, James A. Prior Jr. joined the Navy in 1949, serving in the Atlantic and Mediterranean in supplies as a chief petty officer until 1969. He was an accounts payable administrator at Stone & Webster engineering from 1972 to 1992.
Through mutual friends he met Antoinette Ferraro, who is known as Chickie, and they married in 1962.
“He loved hockey and he loved his family, and it was important to him to provide for us,” said their son Dennis of Springfield, who played hockey at Malden Catholic High and Assumption College. “Dad was a perfectionist and a hard worker, and he passed those traits on to his children and grandchildren.”
In a 2002 interview with USCHO.com, Mr. Prior recalled that when Dennis’s team played at Arlington Catholic, Shine jokingly told him, “Remember, you’re my announcer,” and Mr. Prior said “it was just a thrill” to announce his son’s name.
In the interview, he said his trademark introduction was intended to “add a little bit more to the game, for the kids. Once the official checks that the goal lights are working, that’s when I start. It’s all on cue.”
Mr. Prior, who had been secretary-treasurer and scheduling coordinator for the former Eastern Junior Hockey League, also was honored by the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League, where the 12-and-under division is named for him.
“Jim was a man of character and fairness, and I could always count on him,” said Dan Esdale, the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s former commissioner.
“He set high standards in everything he did and was one of a kind.”
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Prior leaves another son, Michael of Arlington; two sisters, Katherine Murray of Belmont and Mary Ann of Weymouth; and four grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in St. Agnes Church in Arlington, where Mr. Prior was a parishioner. Burial will be in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Arlington.
“Jim was our guy, as much a part of Terrier hockey lore as anybody, and a quiet, kind, and unassuming man with an engaging voice,” Parker said. “We loved him.”