Former Roanoke hockey fan working his dream job in Atlanta

Chris Treft, formerly of Roanoke, is the team broadcaster for the Atlanta Gladiators, a minor league hockey team competing in the ECHL. Entering his third season with the team, Treft, a lifelong hockey fan, says he’s working his dream job.
Chris Treft, formerly of Roanoke, is the team broadcaster for the Atlanta Gladiators, a minor league hockey team competing in the ECHL. Entering his third season with the team, Treft, a lifelong hockey fan, says he’s working his dream job. Photo provided.

Originally published Aug. 24, 2017.

Chris Treft was 18 months old when he attended his first hockey game.

His grandfather, Harold Treft, took him to see his beloved Komets, Fort Wayne’s longtime minor league hockey team. While the elder Treft loved his infant grandson, he also loved the perks that came with having a diaper bag to carry into the Komets’ arena, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

“My grandpa was a cheap guy, so he hated paying concession prices,” explains Treft. “He went to the gas station and bought some beer and peanuts at normal price, put them in my diaper bag. That was before they checked bags, right? So, he walked right in with my diaper bag, just full of beer and peanuts, and he enjoyed the game.”

Harold Treft managed to keep this routine going until his grandson was 4 years old. By that point, he’d finally pushed his luck with Coliseum employees.

“Then the ushers were like, ‘Why are you bringing a diaper bag? The kid’s walking,’” says Treft. “They finally caught on to his trick and he had to go back to paying normal prices.”

While the elder Treft’s days of skirting the rules had ended, the younger Treft’s days of loving hockey had just begun. He and his grandfather continued following the Komets together, both in person and on the radio, and Treft’s interest in the sport grew with every game.

“When I was younger,” recounts Treft, “my mom always joked, ‘Man, all this kid does is talk and play hockey. Wouldn’t it be funny if he was a hockey broadcaster?’

“And I took it to heart.”

When Treft attended Komets games, his attention would be split between the ice and the press box high above it, where team broadcaster Bob Chase would call games for a rapt radio audience.

“My grandpa always said I’d be at the games, looking up at Bob Chase and I’m like, ‘That’s what I want to do! That’s what I want to do!’ And my grandpa’s like, ‘You can do anything you want, as long as you put your mind to it,’” recalls Treft.

Treft took that advice to heart. Today, the 27-year-old Roanoke native is the team broadcaster for the Atlanta Gladiators, a minor league hockey team that competes in the ECHL. About to enter his third season with the team, Treft’s road there was long and hard.

Treft got his start in broadcasting as a student at Huntington North High School. At the time, the school’s student-run radio station, WVSH 91.9 FM, only broadcast football and basketball games, which didn’t interest Treft. As a sophomore, he petitioned the station’s manager, Nick Altman, to expand that lineup to include baseball, which did interest him.

“I pretty much begged him,” says Treft.

In time, Altman relented. Treft set up shop behind a microphone to serve as Viking baseball’s play-by-play man.

“My grades were probably terrible the second I started broadcasting baseball … All day long, in every single one of my classes, I wasn’t paying attention,” says Treft. “I was prepping for the games. I was practicing. I was preparing. This was what I wanted to do.”

Treft broadcasted baseball for three years at Huntington North. While he enjoyed the experience and showed improvement each year, broadcasting hockey remained his goal. To that end, Treft sought and received permission to start broadcasting high school hockey games in Fort Wayne. He also approached the Fort Wayne Federals, a junior hockey team, and began calling their games as well.

While Treft gained valuable experience behind the mic, he attended Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and studied media commun- ications. During his time there, the most important project he worked on was a documentary film about a day in the life of a minor league hockey player. Treft’s subject was his friend, Kaleigh Schrock, who played for the Komets. Treft labored over the film for three months, devoting at least four hours to it every day.

The hard work paid off. Treft not only got a high grade in his documentary filmmaking class, but managed to get the Komets’ attention with the film. Impressed with his work, the team offered him an internship. While the position was intended to center around creating video content, Treft made it known that he was interested in getting broadcasting experience, too. The Komets said he might get an opportunity to serve as a color commentator during telecasts of away games, but that nothing was guaranteed.

Treft, however, eventually got his wish. On Nov. 24, 2013, upon arriving in Evansville for a Komets game against the IceMen, Tommy Schoegler, the Komets’ play-by-play announcer for telecasts, pulled Treft aside.

“We literally get down there, we get off the bus, and Tommy looks at me and he’s like, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to put you on the air today.’ And I go, ‘What?’ He’s like, ‘I’m going to put you on the air today!’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’

“Because we got there two hours before the game, right? And I’ve been prepping for him – but I have nothing for myself. So, I’m in a panic, because I am a meticulous prepper. So, I sprint up to that press box and I am just frantic.”

Treft, however, composed himself. And he seized the sterling opportunity in front of him.

“So, I get on there and I killed it. I did great,” says Treft, proudly. “And they asked me to do it whenever I could. So, every chance I had from there on out, I broadcast the games on color.”

Treft served as the color commentator for, he speculates, seven or eight games during the Komets’ 2013-14 season. While he was unable to continue serving in that role during his senior year of college due to insurance reasons for the Komets, Treft was able to parlay the experienced he’d gained into a broadcasting internship with the Adirondack Flames, an American Hockey League team based in Glens Falls, NY.

Treft scraped together enough money to make the move to New York and worked for the Flames during the 2014-15 season. While the position was unpaid and routinely involved working 18-hour days, often on things that didn’t involve broadcasting, he never lost sight of his desire to get behind a mic. Treft worked his way up with the team rapidly; in the span of four games, he went from handling pregame duties to securing a spot as the color commentator on the team’s broadcasts.

“Called the game, did a great job and the rest of the season they put me on color for all home games,” says Treft.

By season’s end, Treft got to fulfil his ultimate goal: serving as the play-by-play announcer for a broadcast, exactly like Bob Chase. He even started getting paid.

Unfortunately for Treft, the Flames decided to relocate to Stockton, CA, the following season. The experience he’d accumulated in New York, though, inspired him to start applying for full-time broadcasting gigs.

But instead of getting his career off the ground, Treft experienced a steady stream of rejection.

“I’m literally so depressed out of mind,” he says of that time period.

After getting passed over for ECHL jobs in Cincinnati, OH, and Kalamazoo, MI, not to mention jobs in the collegiate ranks, Treft was skeptical of his ability to land a broadcasting gig when he saw the Atlanta Gladiators post. In a big-market city with great weather, Treft figured that the competition would be fierce and he wouldn’t have a shot.

Despite his reservations, Treft decided to apply for the position. Much to his surprise, the team called him for an interview.

Treft aced it. That led to a second interview – and he aced that one, too.

A few days before he was expecting to be contacted for a third interview, Treft got a call from the team president. Informed that he was a finalist for the position, Treft passionately made his case for why he was the right man for the job.

“I said, ‘You know what, Joe? There might be people that are more qualified. The other person I’m going against might have more experience. He might have a flashier résumé. He might be more qualified for this position. But I just want you to know, that no one has more passion for the game of hockey than me, no one has more passion for succeeding than me and no one is going to work harder than me. I can guarantee you that, 100 percent.’

“And he literally goes, ‘Well, I’d like to offer you the position.’”

That was August of 2015. Treft has been with the Gladiators even since. He’s the team’s play-by-play announcer, as well as its media manager, in charge of the team’s visual and written content.

“It’s a lot of hard work, because I do a ton of stuff… But it’s a dream. It’s an absolute dream come true,” says Treft.

One might think the day he got the job was the best of his life. But that day didn’t come until four months later.

On Dec. 21, the Gladiators traveled to Fort Wayne for a game against the Komets. Over 40 of Treft’s friends and family members attended the game.

While his grandfather passed away in 2009, Treft made sure his presence was felt.

“I got an extra ticket for him, next to my mom,” he says.

And that’s not all he got. During the game’s first stoppage of play, the puck was scooped off the ice and saved for Treft as a memorial for his grandfather.

Treft witnessed that and every other moment in the game from his seat in the press box, where he sat just 10 feet away from Bob Chase, his inspiration so long ago.

“Every single special moment in my entire life happened in that building,” says Treft of the Coliseum. “And I always looked up in the press box. Every single event. From probably age 5 until I was 22. Every time I was in that building, I looked up at that press box and said, ‘One day that’s going to be me.’

“And on December 21, 2015, that happened.”