Simpson on NHL: Happy homecoming

It’s good to be back.

As I walk through the halls here at Sportsnet for the first time in three years, it feels like I’ve come home again. Some of you may remember me as part of the crop of on-air newbies back in 1998, when what was then CTV Sportsnet first went on the air. It was my first big network job. I’ll never forget the mixture of pure excitement and sheer terror I felt that inaugural season.

Hockey had long been in my blood. I grew up with hockey-playing brothers. In my professional career, I’d served as marketing manager of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the first in-arena host of the Toronto Maple Leafs, back in the days when they called Maple Leaf Gardens home. So I knew the game of hockey, knew most of the people in the game, and knew what questions to ask in an interview.

It was the “TV stuff” I had to learn on the fly. How to edit a story, write a script, shot-list a tape. It made for some nerve-wracking marathon sessions in the edit suite with some very understanding editors and producers.

But as I learned the ropes and the fear subsided, I realized how much I loved my job. I loved telling the stories of those in the hockey world. I was amazed at how people would open up about their successes, failures, triumphs and tragedies.

Then, after 10 years of storytelling, in 2008 the network’s focus shifted and I decided to leave. So what have I been doing for the past three years?

Well, my world has still revolved around hockey, but I’ve spent much of my time working south of the border as rinkside reporter for the U.S. cable network Versus, as host of Captains on the NHL Network, and last season as host of New Jersey Devils broadcasts with MSG Network.

Here in Canada, I was lucky enough to experience the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver — my first Olympics — working at Molson Canadian Hockey House, interviewing hockey’s greatest legends daily on stage. I was part of the wildly successful CBC show Battle of the Blades — helping recruit former NHL players and turning them into figure skaters.

I even got the acting bug when I snagged a part in my first feature film, the horror flick SAW 3D, playing talk-show host Donna Evans. I’m not sure which was scarier: watching the movie at its Hollywood premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or seeing myself in 3D.

I’ve had some amazing experiences over the past three years. But when I got the call from Sportsnet asking if I’d be interested in returning, it didn’t take long for me to say yes. You see, it’s a special group of people I’m coming back to. Many are part of that inaugural crew that began in ’98. Some are great additions who have joined the Rogers family over the years. And others, both in front of and behind the camera, are like me — coming back because there’s a renewed sense of excitement building in the hallways of One Mount Pleasant.

It’s much like the excitement we all felt back in 1998 when we realized we were part of something special that was going to surprise everyone. I’m thrilled to once again be bringing you the stories of your favourite athletes, showing sides of them you don’t see at the arena. And I’m thrilled to be doing it at the place where it all started for me.

Already, it almost feels as if I never left.

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