Austin Bruins' broadcaster TJ Chillot on the move from NAHL to AHL's Charlotte Checkers

Jul. 12—AUSTIN — When TJ Chillot first set foot in Riverside Arena three-plus years ago, he paused and looked around.

For a brief moment, he wondered what he'd gotten himself into.

After calling Southern Professional Hockey League games in an 8,500-seat arena in Southaven, Mississippi, everything about his new job was different.

"I was like 'Oh, boy. This is small. Did I make the right decision?'" Chillot said with a laugh last week.

Once the 2018-19 season started and Chillot experienced his first game at the charming and intimate 2,500-seat home of the Austin Bruins, it didn't take long for the Allentown, Pa., native to know he'd made the right move, joining the Bruins as the Director of Broadcasting and Sales Operations.

Chillot's next move also feels like the right one — and one he's still pinching himself about, just to ensure it's real.

The 33-year-old announced late last week that he has accepted a position as the Director of Broadcasting and Corporate Servicing with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. The Checkers, who play in the 9,600-seat Bojangles Coliseum, are the top minor-league affiliate of the Florida Panthers and, for this season, the expansion Seattle Kraken.

"I'm pumped about being able to call games in the American Hockey League," Chillot said. "I got my start as an intern in the American Hockey League w/the Lehigh Valley (Allentown) Phantoms. The Phantoms and Checkers are in the same division, so the prospect of traveling back home for a handful of games every year, that excites me a lot."

Chillot, the fourth announcer in Bruins' history, called nearly 200 games for the Bruins. He carried on the franchise's tradition of annually having one of the best — if not the best — broadcasters in the NAHL.

That dates back to the team's inception in 2010, and its first play-by-play man, Jim Lilledahl, who is still in the NAHL, calling games for the Richfield-based Minnesota Magicians; and it includes John Peterson, now the voice of the Kalamzoo Wings in the ECHL, and Mike Keeley, who now calls games for the ECHL's Maine Mariners.

"All of us in this role, we want to advance, we want to go as high as we can," Chillot said. "I didn't think the AHL was attainable right now, for where I was, with my experience, but I wasn't going to limit myself. I took a shot in the dark and hit something.

"I'm excited about getting down there and getting started."

Chillot's duties with the Bruins carried far beyond calling play-by-play and setting up interviews for the team's players and coaches with local media outlets. From sales to ticketing to game-day operations, he did it all. And if not for that broad range of experience under Bruins' owners Mike Cooper and Craig Patrick, Chillot said he likely wouldn't be getting called up to the AHL.

"Everything for a short period there came through my desk and they trusted me with their franchise," he said. "Because of that, when it came time to interview with other teams and they ask, 'what else can you do?' I rattle everything off and ... those things will be a big part of that new role.

"I couldn't have made this move without Austin. I think back to my time in Mississippi, if that team didn't fold and I was there for the past three years, I'm not going to the AHL. ... Without Austin, I wouldn't be going to the American League."

And he couldn't be happier that he made the move to Austin and the tiny but charming Riverside Arena back in 2018.

"It's one of those classic style arenas that I love calling games at," he said. "It has so much character."