I thought I had experienced it all. Over my 23 years in the Western Hockey League, I’ve pretty much seen everything imaginable. In my first year behind the mic in 1995, I called a brawl involving the visiting Swift Current Broncos and the Lethbridge Hurricanes. All I remember was how overwhelmed I was in identifying who was fighting who. Bodies were pouring over the benches as tempers started to flare. It was like a volcano erupting as players came flying over the boards and started punching one another. I looked to my far right and it was total mayhem. I glanced to my left and mayhem ensued in that direction. The one thing that stands out for me that night was little Tyler Willis, as scrappy as they come, in the middle of it all and genuinely loving it.
I’ve experienced a bomb scare at the old Medicine Hat Arena. With no colour analyst beside me, during a stoppage of play, I began to give some random statistic as I waited for the two teams to arrive at the face-off circle. Typically, you can hear the public address announcer mumble something over the arena speaker system during stoppages, but it’s background noise to me. On this night though, as I wait for the two teams to resume play, the fans directly across from my broadcast location began to stand up and leave for the exits. At this point I am not sure what’s going on, but I continue to throw out statistic after statistic not knowing that danger is possibly lurking in the building. Suddenly, the two teams leave the ice surface and head for their respective dressing rooms. I finally clue in that something the public address announcer said was of utmost importance. A member of the Tigers staff, Dave Andjelic, came running into my broadcast booth out of breath, with a concerned look on his face and he blurted out, "There could be a bomb in the building, you need to leave now”. Not knowing how to handle the situation, I resumed broadcasting back to the listeners in Swift Current, telling them the situation and that I would have to leave immediately while officials determine if a bomb indeed was present in the building. I didn't know if the game would continue momentarily or if it would be postponed. I quickly left my broadcasting gear in the booth, put my winter jacket on and ran for the exit. The game would eventually be postponed to the next day.
Roll'n, roll'n, roll'n:
In my first year of calling games at the WHL level, I had the privilege of doing a game at the home of the Calgary Hitmen, the Calgary Saddledome, also the home of the Flames. I was pumped to be broadcasting from an NHL arena. But when you are green and new to the job, sometimes you are unaware of your surroundings. While I made it successful up to the broadcast booth to call the game, I wasn’t sure exactly how to get down quickly in order to meet the team bus afterwards. At the conclusion of the broadcast, I quickly packed my gear and headed down the elevator in hopes of finding the closest exit to the bus. Back then, being the last person on the bus was frowned upon and often verbal barbs would be thrown at you, specifically if the team was waiting for you after a loss. As I exited the Saddledome with my laptop case strung around my neck and two hands full of radio gear, I realized that the exit I took was directly at the opposite end of where the bus was situated. Panicking, with the fear of being late, I ran as quickly as I could around the exterior of the building before locating the bus, with everyone aboard, waiting for my late arrival. Seeking a shortcut to the bus, I elected to jump over a five foot handrail and walk down a modestly slopped concrete retaining wall that led to the door of the bus. Hey, it was the quickest way to get there. But as I attempted to leap over the handrail, the strap on my laptop, which was hanging around my neck, broke, and the laptop, like a tire rolling unimpeded down a hill, went painfully end-over-end-over-end down the retaining wall before meeting its fate by crashing to the ground near the bus door. Devastated at the prospect of my laptop being destroyed, I made the slow decent towards the carnage, picked up the vital piece of technology from the pavement and humbly entered the bus looking like my dog had just died. On this occasion, nothing was said to me as I slowly made my way to my seat, but those who witnessed it first hand, must have been laughing inside.
Did I ever mention the time an opposing WHL general manager grabbed the microphone that I was using to call a playoff game and ripped it out of my hands in frustration? At the Civic Centre in Swift Current, the visiting team's management sat up in a press box which was right beside the home radio broadcast location. When the Broncos would score a goal, fans below the press box would often celebrate by banging on the side of the wooden structure, sending the sound reverberating higher to those sitting above. With tensions on the ice escalating and the officiating tilted towards the Broncos, the home team scored a series of power play goals. The GM (I won't mention who) after hearing the banging, assumed it was me and quickly got out of his seat to confront me. I remember looking to my left and seeing a red faced man peer from the other booth with an angry scowl on his face. He proceeded to say a few unkind words to me, before grabbing the stick mic out of my hand and tossing it on the table in front of me in frustration. Shocked, I picked the mic up, went about my business of calling the game while slowly coming to grips with what had just happened. My main fear was if the Broncos scored again, and the banging from below started, would the angry GM peer over from the other side and punch me in the nose this time? Thankfully that never happened. Neither a punch was thrown nor a Broncos goal was scored. An apology from the offending GM came later.
Say hello to my little friend:
Despite all of the things I’ve experienced both on the air and off it, I have never been forced to use my cellphone to call a hockey game. Never! I have heard horror stories of others dealing with broadcast equipment not working or phone lines dying with no recourse but to use a cellphone to keep the broadcast of the game ‘on the air.’ I often thanked my lucky stars that it had never happened to me. I felt fortunate to be one of the lucky few for this mishap not to happen…until it did Wednesday night! Calling a game at the Toyota Center, the home of the Tri City Americans, I heard a click in my headset microphone about six minutes into the first period. Quickly, I looked down at my broadcast equipment, with the monitor saying ‘dial tone lost’. Not good. It also isn’t good when the station operator in Kelowna texts you back saying the phone-line I am using in Kennewick rings busy. He can't call me back nor can I contact him. I was told by someone in the press box at Toyota Center that the supplier of the phone line and the Internet inside the building, not only in my location but throughout the building was out. After searching quickly on Twitter, Internet service impacted residence across Kennewick and Richland. According to some tweets, it happens often in that area. I had no other option but to use my cellphone to call the rest of the game.
Your average person would classify this situation as ‘no big deal’, but it is like riding a bike but instructing you to do so without the use of pedals. It isn't easy. It is uncomfortable and the broadcast suffers greatly. But hey, it was a one off...right? (gulp)
What do I come away with after this latest experience? A roaming charge phone bill that will exceed 70 minutes of airtime and a memory that will last a lifetime. It is always an adventure in my world with never a dull moment.
Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way!