- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ryan Mill is more than halfway through his fifth season as the Penguins’ public address announcer. This means that many fans of the team believe he has just arrived.

“People still think he’s the new guy,” said his father, Bob Mill.

Ryan Mill chalks it up to the nature of a city that hugs history and tradition with a full-body squeeze. He figures he has “about 10 more years” before the newness wears off. Then, again, he’s had a tough act to follow.

For 36 years, Mill’s predecessor, John Barbero, filled Mellon Arena, the Igloo, with his smooth delivery and signature calls (“Mario Lemieuuuxxx!”). He was a familiar, even beloved figure. The label, “iconic,” has been applied.

John sounded like your kindly uncle, your kindly neighbor, a guy you wanted to mentor you,” Mill said. “He was unlike any other announcer because he wasn’t yellin’ and rantin’ and ravin’.”

Which, he added, “I got flamed for.”

Critics charbroiled Mill, proving again it is better to be the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy. Barbero was definitely the guy. In the minds of many, he still is.

“Replacing a legend is never easy,” said James Santilli, the Penguins vice president of marketing. “And John Barbero was a Pittsburgh legend.”

Mill is different. He wants to be different. He is more animated. There is yellin’ and ravin’. But he has a polished, professional voice, spawned by a long career in radio. He started out at 14 spinning polka records in Greensburg. He makes a nice living at his day job as a voice talent reading commercials, voiceovers, narrations and anything else that requires skillful speaking and varied intonations.

Yet he continues to draw unfriendly fire. That comes with the job. Also, he simply is not John Barbero. He gets that.

“If someone had asked me if I wanted to work for the Penguins, I would have said, ‘Absolutely,’ ” he said. “If someone had asked me if I wanted to replace John Barbero, I would have said ‘No, I’m not interested in replacing John Barbero. No one’s replacing John Barbero.’ “

But Mill’s esteem is rising. According to Santilli, regular fan surveys and meetings with season-ticket holders reflect that he is “growing in the hearts of Penguins fans. He’s really growing in popularity.”

Mill is a hockey lifer. At 42, he still plays in an “old-guy league.” As a kid growing up in McCandless, he liked to trace over a Penguins license plate, vainly attempting to improve the logo. He cut out pictures of his heroes from the paper. Later, working as the food services supervisor at Mellon Arena, Mill got to hear Barbero regularly. Bob Mill even covered the Penguins for three years as a newspaper reporter in the 1970s.

In February 2009, Barbero became ill with what turned out to be a brain tumor. He kept working through the season, and it was assumed he would be back, but the Penguins hired an assistant PA announcer after Mill blazed through two auditions. With Mill filling in, Barbero missed the 2009-10 season and died the following July.

“When I was hired, I wasn’t hired to replace him,” Mill said. “Going into the new building (Consol Energy Center), I knew they’d do more sales things. It’s a big building to support, so there would be more sales announcements than what John was doing before. I thought maybe that’s what I’d do. I’ll just do the ads all night long and John will do the game stuff.”

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