At a hockey dinner a few years ago, I introduced the legendry Dick Irvin as “the dean of NHL broadcasters.”
The affable Hockey Hall of Fame Foster Hewitt Award honoree from 1988 responded by remarking, “The reason Peter called me the dean is because I’ve been around for a long time.” And the former Hockey Night in Canada star is still around keep very active.
In semi-retirement, Irvin is a member of the HHOF Selection Committee, he does special assignments for HNIC, assists John Kelly and I in our duties as secretary-treasurers of the NHL Broadcaster’s Association, makes public appearances and if the NHL was in operation he’d attend Montreal Canadiens games. Just a couple of weeks ago, he drove by the Bell Centre at 6:30pm on which would have been a game night. You can image the thoughts that must have been going through his mind with the parking lots empty, the street totally deserted in an area where on a game night, 22,000 people would be gathered.
My career, isn’t, and won’t ever be as storied or as illustrious, as Dick, but as the most experienced of the Rogers Sportsnet stable of play-by-play broadcasters I qualify to answer a question we often get from fans, “which is the best building to broadcast from?”
Right now, considering the work stoppage, we’d take any one of the 30.
Personally, the Montreal Forum was my favourite arena to work out of. It had a great broadcast location, history and atmosphere. It also happened to be where the team I broadcast radio games for, Calgary Flames, won the Stanley Cup in 1989.
My younger Sportsnet play-by-play colleagues all list the building Dick Irvin recently felt drove by on what would have been game night, as at least one of their favourites. Dean Brown (Ottawa), John Shorthouse (Vancouver), and Rob Kerr (Calgary) all list the Montreal Canadiens’ current home as No. 1 in their books. Kevin Quinn (Edmonton) ranked it No. 2 behind the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“It’s the over-hang location giving a great view of the ice in Montreal plus the great excitement in the building,” says Kerr.
Brown likes the vantage point, too, “You are right over the ice and don’t get closer to the action with so much space in the booth, as you have in Montreal.”
Shorthouse has an added reason for liking the Habs’ home building, “the buzz is second to none, the sight-lines are excellence and ‘chien chauds’ (hot dogs) are merveilleux.”
Quinn likes the Canadiens’ home but only as the second best, “My fav is Los Angeles for the booth location with the fans below and behind you.”
I don’t rate the current booths in Montreal and LA as highly. It has more to do with my physical make up. Since I’m short, Montreal is the only arena I stand to do play-by-play. In LA, an air conditioning duct is directly above where I sit, its constantly blowing cold air on my head (I’m bald).
The familiarity factor, or the home rink advantage, if you will, helps make the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary my present-day favourite. In fact, Alberta’s two NHL buildings offer the best vantage point to broadcast from by my assessment.
The Saddledome and Rexall Place in Edmonton are among the oldest arenas in the NHL. Both have broadcast booth from catwalks, which hang out over the seating bowl and ice surface.
In the old days, some of the now demolished NHL buildings were particularly appealing to call games from. The Montreal Forum, Boston Garden, Winnipeg Arena, Chicago Stadium and the old Detroit Olympia offered great views to the ice capturing the speed and intensity of the action below. Most had crammed working quarters, however.
The more modern structures offer more spacious workplaces and updated facilities, but most are situated well away from the action. At these levels, the game appears a bit slower and the passion isn’t captured as easily.
No complaints. It’s an honour to broadcast games in the world’s greatest league. We all find ways to make it work for the audience regardless of surroundings.
There are no bad locations, just some better than others.