By Sean Chaffin
With 122 returning for Day 2 of the WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble, assistant tournament director Arley Johnson (pictured) was on the move. Helping to organize the day’s action, instructing dealers, working with staff, and even switching TV channels for the day’s NFL action were all on the agenda.
Johnson, 49, is quick with a smile and laugh as he heads from table to table with microphone in hand – calling the action as another bounty player is all in and in jeopardy. After each elimination, he dutifully doubles back to the lucky player and counts out $2,500 in crisp hundred-dollar bills.
And while he certainly loves his job, Johnson often mans the mic at another venue – Veterans Memorial Arena as the voice of the city’s local minor league hockey team. The Jacksonville Icemen play in the ECHL and are the minor league affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. Johnson calls the action for all the team’s home games.
Originally from Boston, Johnson grew up a big hockey fan cheering on the Bruins. He majored in broadcast journalism from Syracuse University and then launched a career as a minor league hockey play-by-play man, bouncing around to several teams around the country. Some of those included: Nashville, Tennessee; New Haven, Connecticut; and Mobile, Alabama.
After his position was eliminated at one hockey job, a choice had to be made about following his dream or finding something more stable. After getting married, he moved to Jacksonville and worked at the sports radio station that aired the bestbet Poker Show. Tha connection allowed him to help get his wife at the time a job as a dealer. A year later, Johnson lost his job and began dealing at bestbet. He worked his way up and has been with the company for 10 years.
“I love it,” he says. “It gives me a sense of competition, kind of what I’m used to with the sports aspect of things. I feel like I’m always involved with some type of competition where somebody’s trying to win the whole thing.”
Two years ago, however, was deja vu for Johnson. After several years without a hockey team, the Icemen were launched in 2017 to offer some on-ice action for local sports fans.
“They brought a team back here to a league that I was accustomed to from years prior,” he says. “As soon as I found out I started doing my research to find out who the president of the company was, tracked him down, let him know that I’m local and have experience, and that I really wanted to do it.”
Johnson said bestbet management was completely supportive of his new role and he had no plans to leave the job he loves. Most of his work is during the day shift with only an occasional conflict of having to pull double duty during major tournaments.
The play-by-play duties had him at the arena last night to call the season opener, with the Icemen falling in a shootout to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The job with the team and his role at bestbet have merged his talents as a broadcaster and a communicator. He has no aspirations to try again at a career in the NHL and is simply happy that hockey broadcasting came back into his life.
“I think that ship has sailed,” he says of moving on to a bigger hockey gig. “I came out of what amount to a 15-year retirement to do it again. Before the team came back here two years ago, the last time I did it was 2003..”
Since joining the league, Jacksonville has embraced the Icemen. The team finished third in attendance among the league’s 26 teams with about 6,000 per game, and had a sellout crowd of more than 8,500 last night for the opener.
“I think this market was really happy to get a team back,” he says.
His life in poker and hockey even crossed paths last year.
“We had an Icemen charity poker tournament where we got all the players and the coaching staff in here and got the Icemen fans in here for a little cross-promotion,” he says.
When not assisting with tournaments or in the broadcast booth, Johnson enjoys spending time with his 14-year-old daughter and girlfriend. He’s grateful that tournament director Jesse Hollander was understanding and gave him the okay to continue his passion calling the action on the ice.
“I was very transparent with him and told him I had this opportunity once I kind of knew things were going to happen,” he says. “I said I’d love to do both and asked him if there was any way he could let me do it. He did not have to say yes, but said no problem.”
Johnson will be back in the booth October 30 when the Icemen host the Atlanta Gladiators.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.