Milton W. "Milt" Ellis, the Memorial Auditorium voice of the Buffalo Sabres for 27 years and a member of the hockey team's Hall of Fame, died Saturday in DeGraff Memorial Hospital, North Tonawanda. He was 81.
For generations of hockey fans going back to the old Buffalo Bisons, the voice of Milt Ellis was part of the Aud experience. He acknowledged in a 1991 interview with The Buffalo News that he seldom intoned phrases beyond "second Buffalo goal" or "last minute of play in this period."
But the story also pronounced that "Ellis reads it like no other."
"Milt Ellis' booming voice was an integral part of Buffalo Sabres games in the old Memorial Auditorium," said Michael Gilbert, the Sabres' vice president of public and community relations. "Last March, he was honored and proud to be a part of our 40th Anniversary Alumni Weekend celebration. A member of the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame, Milt will be missed by everyone within the organization."
Budd Bailey, who worked alongside him as part of the Sabres staff from 1986 to 1992 and is now a sportswriter for The News, recalled that Mr. Ellis' deep voice and longtime devotion to his faith earned him the nickname of "the voice of God."
"The word 'gentleman' isn't used much these days, but Milt was that in every sense of the word," Bailey said. "He was always in a good mood, always friendly to everyone he encountered."
A moment of silence in memory of Mr. Ellis was observed at Saturday night's game between the Sabres and the Phoenix Coyotes.
Born in Buffalo, Mr. Ellis graduated from Kensington High School in 1948 and earned a bachelor's degree from Syracuse University in 1953 -- starting a lifelong devotion to his alma mater and its sports teams.
He served as a corporal in the Army from 1953 to 1955 before eventually launching a 41-year career as sales manager for WDCX Radio, retiring in 2004. He also served as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Hockey Bisons and the Buffalo Baseball Bisons, retiring from the Sabres just as the team left the Aud for what is now First Niagara Center.
In a 1979 profile in The News, Mr. Ellis recounted tales of dodging flying pucks and shielding his microphone from the profanities of the adjacent penalty box. But he also outlined his devotion to Christian radio like WDCX, where he started as an intern in 1963.
"I'm sold on the potential of radio for spreading Christianity," he said then. "From the time I was a teenager, I only had one desire -- to get into Christian radio. I love this job, and I have from the first day I started here."
A longtime Town of Tonawanda resident, he was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame in 2008 along with former Sabre Dave Andreychuk.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, the former M. Alicia Young; two daughters, Terry Simson and Kathleen Szewczyk; and two sons, Ralph and Nelson.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Amherst Alliance Church, 3915 Millersport Highway, Amherst.
News Staff Reporter Robert J. McCarthy