John Garrett Reflects on 30 Years as NHL Broadcaster
A Long List of Accomplishments
Over the 30-plus years he worked as an NHL broadcaster, John Garrett figures he worked with 40 different play-by-play guys. The who’s-who of the broadcast world. Chris Cuthbert. Jim Hughson. And my longtime partner here, John Shorthouse,” Garrett, 71, said Friday before boarding the Vancouver Canucks’ charter flight to Dallas, where the team will face the Stars on Saturday.
End of an Era
Garrett has been working Vancouver Canucks games since 2001 for Sportsnet but announced on Thursday night his time covering Canucks games is coming to an end. He’ll still work here and there for Sportsnet, but Canucks fans will have to get used to a new voice working alongside Shorthouse.
A True Team Player
Working with host Dan Murphy, producer Greg Shannon and Shorthouse over the past two decades — Shorthouse took over as TV play-by-play man in 2008 from Hughson, who became Hockey Night In Canada’s lead voice — has been nothing but a delight, he said. “We’ve always considered ourselves a team,” he said. “A lot of broadcasters, it’s individual and they’ve never played on teams. It’s, ‘This is what I do. I’m the play-by-play guy. And how am I regarded?’ And all this kind of stuff and you look at Shorty and there’s no diva in him. We’re a team. And I think that’s the best part about it.”
A Perfect Fit
His connection with Shorthouse, he said, was immediate. “Most play-by-play guys — and I worked with so many — you’d have to raise your hand and stick it in front of their face so you could get in to saying something,” he explained. With Shorthouse, he never had to throw his hand up.
More Room for Discussion
Unlike listening on radio, where the play-by-play man has to truly build a mental image for the listening fan, the fan watching on TV is watching along with you, the commentator. “So you don’t have to talk all the time and the colour guy can get in and talk about why things happen. And he’s (Shorthouse) very, very good at what he does,” he said.
Leaving the Canucks’ booth and the rhythm of the regular season isn’t going to be easy, he admitted. “You still feel OK. But you’re a certain age,” he said, his voice trailing off. Always ready to sign cards and chat, he’ll miss interacting with the Canucks’ many fans, at home and on the road.
The Future of the Canucks
He does see a bright opportunity for the Canucks, though. “Quinn Hughes and Elias (Pettersson). And you’ve got Thatcher (Demko). You’ve got a great goalie and you’ve got a rookie-of-the-year elite centreman and you’ve got your stud defenceman, but you have to surround them with some other guys.”
When he first started, HNIC producer John Shannon gave him a piece of advice that he’s always stayed true to: Just be yourself. “You don’t have to model yourself after anybody. Just be yourself.”
A Talent for Hockey Analysis
“He said, ‘You played for 15 years in every league. You’ve seen it all. You’ve seen the great players. You’ve played with Gordie Howe, you played with Dave Keon and played with Bobby Orr, you played with Ron Francis,’ ” he said. “He said, ‘You’re the guy that is the why. You know why plays happen and that’s your job, the why, and the play-by-play guy is who and where.’ ”
Moments he will Never Forget
The high point was the Sedins’ final game. “You couldn’t have written it any better. I mean, an overtime were two of the greatest players that I had ever seen, win the game? Henrik and Daniel, to watch them grow and to watch them mature,” he said.
The low point wasn’t the Bertuzzi-Moore incident — Garrett was actually in the studio in Toronto and Ryan Walter was working alongside Hughson, he pointed out — but rather two eye injuries, to Bryan Berard in 2000 and to Manny Malhotra in 2011.
An Affinity for Classy Players
Garrett admitted to a fondness for classy, soft-spoken defencemen like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and, from his early days, Paul Coffey. “They’re really down-to-earth. They know that you’re not going to skewer them or anything and just talk to you like a former player. Like you’re one of the alumni and they forget you’re media and that’s what you do. I really like those guys,” he said.
Garrett also had an affinity for goalies, of course. “Grant Fuhr. I always enjoyed talking to Mike Vernon. He was cockier but a little goalie and back in the era when little goalies were stars,” he said. “Wayne Gretzky. I got to know Wayne pretty well. He was a WHA guy and I had an affinity for the WHA guys. They were young guys when I was 10 years older than they were. Michel Goulet, who I played with in Quebec, just a real nice guy.
Remembering the Minnesota Fighting Saints
Of all the teams Garrett played on, the team he most often mentioned was the Minnesota Fighting Saints, where he played his first three big-league seasons. “It was Slap Shot in person. The NHL had the Broad Street Bullies in Philadelphia, and in the WHA, they had the Fighting Saints, who were known by their final season, 1975-76, as one of the toughest outfits going. And we said, OK, we’re going to be the Minnesota Literally Fighting Saints.”
Adventures Across the States
New York has always been his favourite city to visit. “Boston is such a fun city in the spring, all the history and you walk on the Paul Revere Trail and down where all the restaurants are. It is a beautiful city in the spring. Chicago in the spring. Drive up-and-down the river there and wander around the Million Dollar Mile and it’s always nice,” he said. “In the wintertime it’s always good to go to Miami or Tampa or Arizona. L.A. is so-so but it’s always