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MEETING ONE OF MY HOCKEY AND BROADCASTING HEROES….

The great Danny Gallivan (L) with longtime broadcast partner Dick Irvin during their heyday at Hockey Night In Canada. (image courtesy: CBC archives)

This piece touches on an aspect of my love for the game of hockey and the craft of broadcasting. I wrote it a few years back when I was working for Hockey Night In Canada and thought I’d post it here. 

As much as I’ve grown tired of Hockey Day In Canada – milking the same old Canadian clichés that it has for years now and, to some, seeming a little worn and tattered around the edges – I still enjoy it to a degree because it makes me think back to when I was a kid and all that the game meant to me. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the game. But, I don’t think you ever really enjoy it as much, or certainly the same way, that you did when it could be the centre of your life. When you were a kid.

I had no delusions of ever being a great hockey player. Park league and lots of pond and road hockey were the highlights of my playing career. But, from a very young age, I wanted to be a hockey play-by-play announcer. Remember that great ad where the little blonde haired kid is sitting calling the road hockey game? That was me, except that I’d actually play AND call at the same time (“Here he comes down the wing….’puff puff puff’……He shoots! What a lucky save by the goalie!”). Like every other play-by-play announcer I’ve ever spoken with about the subject, I grew up with both a “hockey hero” and a “hockey broadcasting hero”. My hockey hero was Guy Lafleur and my play-by-play hero was, for me, the greatest announcer to ever pick up a stick mic or put on a headset: Danny Gallivan. 

Gallivan was the voice of the iconic Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1970s that I cheered for during my Golden Age of Hockey. For me, that age was when I was between the ages of about 10 and 15. I was old enough to understand the game, and life was still such that I had the time to eat, sleep and breathe my passion. It was all about hockey. It was before school, girls and part-time jobs started to play bigger roles in my life. I’d spend hours playing any kind of hockey I could and talking about it with my pals. 

I grew up in Oshawa, Ontario. At that time there was no satellite or cable television. You had a large tv antenna at the side of your house and, if you could afford it, it was an antenna that you could turn to face different directions and pick up different stations. In Oshawa, if you pointed the antenna to the west on a Saturday night, you picked up channel five in Toronto and watched the Leafs (with the great broadcast duo of Bill Hewitt and Brian McFarlane). But if you turned the aerial to face to the east…. well, hello. It was the Montreal Canadiens on channel 12 out of Peterborough. Every Saturday night I would watch Hockey Night In Canada and listen to every word spoken by Gallivan and his broadcast partner Dick Irvin. There was no one else like Gallivan. I was captivated by the cadence of his voice and the different words he sprinkled into his descriptions of what was going on (“cannonading”, “spin-o-rama”, “rapier-like”). For me, he was as big a part of the game and as identifiable with the Montreal Canadiens as Lafluer, Steve Shutt, Serge Savard and the bevy of hockey heroes on the team. Listen to one of his greatest calls, – the famous goal by Lafleur in the 1979 playoffs against the Boston Bruins (aka the “Too Many Men On The Ice Goal”). 

Now it’s January 29, 1991, and I’m in Montreal. I’ve been working at The Sports Network (TSN) for a few years as an announcer and I’m there to call an All Star Game at The Forum between the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. We were seated at a table in a place called The Texan. It’s long gone now but, back then, it was a popular hangout for sports media and hockey types to grab a bite after the morning skate. As we sat there eating our lunch, I glanced over at a group at another table. There he was. My broadcasting hero, Danny Gallivan. Danny had retired several years earlier and it’s not like you saw him at games. I’m still not even sure why he was there that day. I’d never met him; never seen him in person. Do I go over and interrupt his lunch? 

“I can’t do that. I’m a fellow broadcaster,” I thought. “It wouldn’t be professional.”

“Yes, but it’s Danny Gallivan,” I thought again, “you have to meet him.”

Back and forth I went in my head as our lunch continued. In the end I didn’t have the pluckiness to walk over. There is no way he could have missed us looking at him. That was embarrassing enough. As he got up to leave, he was going to walk right by our table on his way to the door. He stopped at our table. He put his hand out.

“Mr Romanuk,” said the voice I’d grown up listening to, “Danny Gallivan. I’ve heard you on some of the junior hockey games. I enjoy your work.”

A smile still spreads from my heart to my face when I think of that moment. This man was my hero. He saw me watching him. Who knows if he really was familiar with any of the work I’d done in my young career? I can’t imagine he would have been. Maybe someone he was with, perhaps an old tv acquaintance, was, and maybe they told him my name. I’ll never know. What I DO know is that HE knew that he could make a young broadcaster’s day and he did. 

I stuttered out some reply. We talked for a few moments. I can’t even remember about what. I was just listening to that voice, the voice I wished I sounded like, talking to me. 

Heroes are figments of our imagination as much as they are real. That day, for me, imagination met reality and the man who was my hero lived up to what I imagined he might. 

I hope that your hero, if you ever meet him or her, provides as pleasant a memory for you as one of mine did for me.

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