It’s always the same for me at this point of the summer. The World Championships are long over, the EIHL Playoff weekend a far away memory, and the Stanley Cup is on a tour around the globe with the Kings’ players and staff.
It’s the time of the summer itch! Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy the time off after hockey finishes. It’s nice to have a look at other sports – I love Wimbledon and the British Open. And, here in Ireland, I enjoy the Gaelic Football and Hurling. But after that month, I start to think about the frozen sights, sounds and smells of my favourite game.
I start to get in the mindset of calling hockey games on TV again, I start to look over rosters and contemplate the various contenders of the leagues I cover. But, most of all, I just miss the game, and the people who work around the greatest sport on earth.
So, to make me a feel a bit better, and to get rid of this itch in my hockey brain, I will have a look back and some highs, lows and strange moments from last season across the Olympics, World Championships and the EIHL.
Moving Up the Ladder
It was the 19th of October and the Cardiff Devils were in Coventry to play the Blaze. It was to be the pilot shoot for Premier Sports EIHL TV coverage. Benn Olson (injured) and I would be calling the game, and to get to the studio we had a strange set-up in the Skydome. Our position was in the corner on top of a coffee shop, and the only way to get up there – a rickety old ladder straight up 30 feet – while carrying a laptop and other notes! Not to mention spectators walking underneath and past the ladder.
Olson and I both thought the producer was joking. I let Benn go first of course – he’s a lot bigger than me, and I thought if he survived the climb then I’d be fine! People think TV is glamorous – let me tell you climbing ladders and hanging off a roof top to call a game is more scary than glamorous. It also made bathroom breaks more of a myth than possibility that night. Luckily, we survived to tell the tale – and the EIHL Game of the Week was off and running on a season long journey on Premier.
1-for-3 House Rules, you Kidding Me!?
February in Sochi was an interesting month in my career to say the least. Magnificent and strange rolled into one. Covering the Olympic hockey tournament is an honour and I loved every minute of it. It was a busy time – so not much in the way of a social life over there. I did get out for a pint on a Tuesday evening, and had a “let’s just get out of here” moment. A few colleagues and I stopped in a local cafe for a beer. We were the only non-Russians in the place. We had decided that it would be good to go where the locals go. After ordering two of the local cold ones a bill came that seemed strange. It was certainly more than I had expected. My colleague was a star at converting to the local currency and quickly realized we had been charged for six beers not two. He also foolishly questioned the bartender, who called over his friend who blocked out the sun, and had no neck! He asked if there was a problem in broken English – at this point I sprang into action – said there was no issue and gladly paid for the six while we downed the two. I was never so relieved to get out of a bar. Great fun though – and a life lesson – know the landscape and know the exit strategy!
The heart of a Giant
I have a huge amount of respect for Giants Captain Adam Keefe. I actually would have felt safe in that Sochi cafe had Keefe been with us! The guy blocks shots, fights, plays the game the right way – and above all else – leads by example. The Giants were magnificent in winning the EIHL title with a month to spare last season – and Keefe was instrumental in that. When it came down to the Playoff Final Weekend though, the Captain in teal was not right. A knee injury was apparent. He could not walk – let alone skate and hit the way he wanted to. I remember rehearsing on set for the Grand Final for Premier Sports that Sunday April 6th, and out of the corner of my eye the Giants arrived and headed into the dressing room area. There was no sign of the Captain. Three minutes later he limped in, straight legged on the injury and strained. His face more hurting than his knee. He knew he would not be a factor. He knew that at this moment when he was needed most, he would not be allowed to exert his will, his leg betraying him. Most players would not put their equipment on. Most would be in a suit and tie. Keefe dressed though, was on the bench for his team in full gear, and shouted encouragement and made himself a part of that Grand Final. Adam Keefe is a warrior, and great leader – an example to all about the respect of the game.
Redemption for the Great Eight
It was sad to see all the bad press that Alex Ovechkin got in Sochi. He had the weight of a nation on his powerful shoulders – and when his team failed to deliver the coveted Gold Medal on home soil – Ovie felt the daggers. I remember calling that Russia versus USA game in Sochi – when TJ Oshie became a shootout legend – but more distinctly I remember Vlad Putin being in a private box up above my commentary position. I remember looking back and seeing his gaze at the Russian team when they lost to the Americans. Fast forward to May 25th – a Sunday in Minsk. Ovechkin and his Russian teammates would play or Gold at the World Championships. I was calling the game for Premier Sports – and I won’t remember the score, and I don’t remember all the finer details of that win over Finland, but I’ll never forget the toothless grin on the face of Alex Ovechkin as he received his Gold Medal. He looked like a man who had just been set free from so much disappointment. He looked like a kid who had rediscovered his love of a game, and at the same time, a man who regained his pride in playing for his country.
Golden Baby, Golden
Back to Sochi. For every strange and terrifying moment, I was also given strange and terrifying opportunities! To be informed that I’d be a part of the commentary team for both the Male (Feb. 23) and Female (Feb. 20) Gold Medal games sent my head reeling. I had called ten Olympic games at that point – but to be appointed to the finales of both tournaments was an honour I’ll never forget – or take lightly. As a Canadian – it was a dream come true. But celebration would have to wait, there was a job to do for the Olympic Broadcasting Service – and I had to be impartial, and the most professional preparation had to be completed. Let’s just say I had never been more nervous – but also strangely calm and ready at the same time. I can remember every moment from both of those games. I remember my pride that Canada had won two Gold Medals – but more importantly I remember that I had done my best and really felt great after both calls. I still pinch myself about those few sunny February days along the coast in Sochi – the Bolshoy Ice Dome will forever be one of my favourite places.
I am fortunate that I have many more memories from last hockey season. It was truly an honour to commentate on over 45 TV games across so many different leagues and levels. The above are a few things that stand out both on, and off the ice! Here’s to many more memories ahead, and here’s to the 2014/15 season.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, and see you at a rink somewhere this winter!
You can follow Murph on Twitter in the upcoming season here: @MurphOnIce