In 1944-45 – as the world neared the post-war era – I was six years old in Grade 1 at the Temperance Street School in New Glasgow.
I was telling people I wanted to be like my cousin Larry McDorman, a sportswriter at The Chronicle Herald. I was already looking at the pictures on the sports pages every day and looking to see Larry’s name on stories.
I got excited every time a hockey game was on the radio and the play-by-play announcer was Foster Hewitt. I loved hearing his voice and often repeated things he said.
“He shoots, he scores” became a somewhat favourite shout.
I loved the nights (usually Saturday nights) when Hewitt came on the radio and began with another favourite, “Hello, Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.”
In the last week, as the Super Bowl approached and the hockey teams returned from their so-called all-star break, why was I thinking of hockey long ago?
I was reading this Hewitt paragraph in one of his books: “Late one afternoon in March 1923, when I had ended my day’s work and was about to go home, the radio editor stopped me in the hall and said, ‘I have a job for you tonight. You’re to go to the Mutual Street Arena and broadcast a hockey game.’”
Hours later, Foster Hewitt was making his debut, doing what we now call play-by-play.
Check the date. It was 100 years ago next month. A time to reflect on the man widely considered the greatest hockey voice ever.
No, I wasn’t listening that night.
But by the late ’40s, Foster Hewitt had me hooked for life.
Though my passion was to write sports forever, I appreciated and admired legendary sportscasters as much as the leading sportswriters.
I’ve always been happy to hand kudos to those guys in radio and television, just as I’ve done for those whose work lands in newspapers.
Foster Hewitt was huge in my youthful mind when I listened to his radio broadcasts from Maple Leaf Gardens.
I never stopped loving that voice.
Even after my own career began, I was thrilled to death one night in the early 1960s when I was attending a Leafs game at the Gardens. I was scouting Nova Scotia for the Leafs at the time and was ushered to the media area high above the ice.
There was no seat remaining among the reporters, so the usher took me a bit further and offered me an empty location – right next to Foster who was broadcasting the game on radio that night. For three hours, I was able to watch the action below, while listening to Foster’s words, and all I was told, don’t speak when he’s on the air.
When the game ended, he and I chatted briefly, simply exchanging pleasantries and personal data. I never saw him in person a second time.
On April 21, 1985, the voice I enjoyed so much was silenced.
Even now, 38 years after his death, I can still close my eyes and imagine I’m hearing him doing a game.
No other play-by-play announcer – even in a hockey league that has grown almost six-fold – ever equalled Foster Hewitt in my mind. Of course, being a lifetime Leafs fan was likely the reason.
But, okay, there was one pretty darn close.
Danny Gallivan had some things over Foster: he was a Nova Scotian, a graduate of St. Francis Xavier, a man I chatted with many times. And I always admired his broadcasting abilities.
He may never have used the term “he shoots, he scores” as often as his Toronto counterpart, but he sure made unusual sayings popular, things like “cannonading drives” and “scintillating saves.”
Danny was the voice of the Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada for 32 seasons. He passed away 30 years ago and it’s hard to realize he’s been gone so long.
He and Foster must be having a whale of a time replaying their hockey phrases in the big arena in the sky.
And now there’s another interesting play-by-play guy in the booth.
I’m sure Pictonians and Advocate readers know all about Dan Robertson, the Trenton native who’s now doing Winnipeg Jets broadcasts on TSN.
And he’s sounding great.
If anything, he’s a late bloomer. He’s 52 years old, not having gotten into sports announcing until he reached his early 30s.
That’s fine. Many people become masters of their trade regardless of when they launched a new chapter in life.
He wasn’t born until after I left the county, so I didn’t know him until he started doing Halifax Mooseheads games on Eastlink Community TV.
But, boy, his voice caught my attention at the opening faceoff. He’s really damn good.
Back in Pictou County, he taught himself, spending many Saturday nights in his home doing his own “broadcasts.”
Like many young people, he grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada on television while doing his own play-by-play.
“Either the (play-by-play) was in my head or I might do it out loud a little bit. I wonder if most of the guys who do play-by-play in the NHL, maybe they got started that way? I would think that’s probably the case.”
He was a great ambassador for the Mooseheads with his obvious knowledge of junior hockey.
The Eastlink job led to his becoming the English radio voice for the Montreal Canadiens, and he quickly became popular with Habs fans.
When the Winnipeg Jets came calling before this season, he didn’t take long making a decision. His Montreal assignment was on radio. The Winnipeg gig put him on TV.
One night recently, I was channel surfing and found the Jets – and Dan – doing their thing. He impressed me again.
So are we seeing the beginning to another play-by-play career? Maybe so – and he’s Pictou County bred.
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