The iconic broadcaster, 55, reflects on Red Deer, Hockey Night in Canada and almost three decades beside Don Cherry
The thing I miss most about Red Deer is the outdoor ice. I grew up with two outdoor rinks within earshot. Both were five feet from my door, it felt like. I could tell if it was a good morning for hockey when I rustled out of bed around 9 because you could hear somebody was on there shooting pucks. You knew it was a good hockey day.
It's like I've been training for Hometown Hockey my whole life. Growing up understanding that a Yukoner and a Maritimer and a BCer and an Albertan, all these different folks who think they've got the greatest spot in the world, were all the same. It was really great training, just the fact we moved around. It taught me not to be so parochial.
My mom was quick with a retort. My dad came to it much more gradually – and usually much more correctly. Patience would be the thing my dad gave me. Together they both taught me to be wrong is okay. They weren't big on consensus. That sort of freed you to be curious, to investigate. I really think they gave me that.
A life not examined isn't worth living. I was getting that lesson whether I knew it or not.
Being an only child just makes you feel like your family is the entire population of the globe. You don't feel so tied to roots. I always say roots are really temporary.
I wasn't what you'd call a good athlete, but good at everything. Fine skater. Always the captain of my hockey teams. I was the captain more so because I could yak than, you know, play.
I was too timid. I wasn't raised with siblings. I wasn't having to compete with mom and dad for attention. To compete for toys or dinner or anything. So I always wanted to share everything. I felt like I got so much. That's what I would do.
When I was young I broke my clavicle three times, so I know what Connor McDavid's feeling.
The Canadian Press
I have really, really great memories of sunrises and putting a song on the radio and being able to say 'It's going to be clear and hot.' I loved the incredible feeling of putting on songs like Morning Dance by Spyro Gyra, Spandau Ballet's True – any of these songs that had kind of a real groove – and a sunrise. What a feeling. It was like you were going to make someone's day with that simple forecast and a good tune.
There were lots of things that were horrible. Now I'm a voracious reader. I should have been doing that back when I was 18, 20. I was just too busy drinking beer.
I wanted to be a teacher. But I got the [broadcasting] bug. I had to overcome a lot of anxiety and a lot of doubts and even detractors. But deep down I knew that teaching, being a doctor or certainly broadcasting are vocations where you get a chance to make someone's day. That was for me for sure.
A lot of the people I looked up to – whether it was Dave Hodge or Wes Montgomery in Edmonton – were very different from me. There was no sense trying to be those folks.
I felt bad about what happened to Dave. I fell into the same crosshairs that George Stroumboulopoulos now finds himself. I was just in the middle of a corporate decision. I think what Dave had done had offended somebody – directly – and they were going to get him. I felt awkward falling into the position sort of backdoor that way. It was not a comfortable time.
The only thing that saved me was the shock of it all. The fact that ignorance is bliss. I was just trying to get on and function. There's nothing like the red light on a camera to take all those thoughts out of your head.
Being a weatherman was great training. You're absolutely naked up there. You have nothing to throw to. You've got to fill the time yourself. When you're young, and prone to anxiety as I was, it was a lot of nights where I would start and there would go my heart rate. I thought 'How am I going to get through this?' It was just a matter of will.
The most important thing you can be is fit and rested. Prep's nice, but rest trumps it. I had to learn that. You can't do it if you're tired.
My perspective has changed so much. You're not trying to prove anything anymore. You're definitely in a place you always wanted to be. You're here to try and help somebody else look good and do well. Which is a really nice state of mind to be in.
Wisdom is eternal. Scotty Bowman was a great coach right up until the end, well past his 'freshness' date, so I don't even worry about that. You only get stronger as you get older.
The show I feel strongly about. I'm not at all unhappy to be in a different version of the same job.
Grapes was a TV junkie. An absolute fiend. He was almost a recluse who wanted to go watch movies in his hotel room. Inadvertently, he was training his whole life to know how to dress, how to light, how to set the scene in order to be a TV guy.
We once were nominated for a Gemini and lost to Bob Izumi's fishing show. And that was the end of Don allowing his name to be put up for awards.
If you're not beholden to the almighty dollar, you're beholden to politics. One or the other influence is always going to be there potentially corrupting the source. That's why we need non-mainstream media to help hold us accountable. And you need people within mainstream media to try and do the honourable thing all the time.
My idol is Lewis Lapham, who was the long-time editor of Harper's Magazine. He didn't want to have somebody regurgitating. He wanted somebody to step back from the herd and think for themselves.
I'm 55. I figure I have – knock on wood – a decade of good beer league left in me.
I think doctors are having the ultimate vote in whether fighting survives. It's really hard sadly to justify. I say sadly because I do feel like the McDavids of the world are far more vulnerable without that policeman in the game. The fact is you just can't justify guys throwing haymakers.
- As told to James Mirtle