“Who knew that the game on March the 6th against Lethbridge would be the last time we’d be at the rink? At least I didn’t anticipate that happening. It only gives me more resolve to get back and we can do it all again.”
Bill O’Donovan has grown accustomed to hearing his voice resonate in the Sandman Centre, formerly Interior Savings Centre when he began volunteering as the public address announcer in 2007. Nearly three months after Connor Zary’s empty-netter sealed a 6-3 victory over the visiting Hurricanes, O’Donovan’s sentiments now reverberate beyond the arena.
For the Kamloops residents that missed O’Donovan’s signature sign-off call that evening, you may have heard his voice at CFJC where he serves as TV news anchor and producer. As expected, the pandemic has dominated the headlines since early March.
“The first two weeks were the most hectic just because there were so many things happening when they first declared it a pandemic. There were various changes and closures, but I found that once we got past those first two weeks, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. For instance, the daily updates we would get from the province in regards to how many cases and where they were.
“The ideas, in terms of news stories, were mostly dominated by COVID but they were all related, whether they were cancellations or businesses that were staying open but changing how they were going to do things. There were so many different ideas and so many different ways of doing things — everything from schools to businesses to sports to how the city was managing it — there were just so many different news stories and you realize how important it is to get that information out to people.”
The Williams Lake native graduated from Cariboo College’s media broadcast course, making stops in Dawson Creek, Williams Lake, and Penticton before returning to Kamloops in 1979. O’Donovan dug his foot into the Kamloops sporting scene that year, working alongside CFJC’s current sports director, Earl Seitz.
“One of the highlights was when junior hockey came back to the city for the WHL. I got to do radio play-by-play for the junior Oilers in the playoffs in 1983 and then did the regular season and playoffs in the 83-84 season, and that was the year they won the Western Hockey League championship and went to the Memorial Cup, so that was a really exciting year.”
The O’Donovans then called Regina, Sask., home from 1986-2001 while maintaining a strong link to Kamloops through the traveling Blazers.
“There was always that sort of connection with them, mostly through the coaching staff. I knew Don Hay and Ken Hitchcock because they were both here when I was, so I kept up with them throughout the years. And then Kelly Moore, at the time, was doing play-by-play and I knew Kelly for a long time because he worked in radio as well here.”
Kamloops came calling once again, and, albeit some years later, so did the Blazers.
“It wasn’t until the fall of 2007 that [former director of sales and marketing for the Blazers] Dave Chyzowski approached me and asked if I would be interested in the public address position. The fellow that had been doing it had moved away and they were looking for someone. My son Tim, at that time, was working part-time with the Blazers. He mentioned to Dave that I might be interested. Dave spoke to me and I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to get involved.’ I’d always loved hockey and liked going to the games. It took a little bit of time to sort of get your rhythm, so to speak, because it’s so much different than what I was used to, but I appreciated the opportunity and I’ve really enjoyed it ever since.”
Tim has since moved into a full-time role with the organization as director of hockey operations. Pat, the eldest sibling, has volunteered as an off-ice official since 2014 and joined Bill between the penalty boxes as a scorekeeper in 2017.
“On a personal level, it’s just nice to work with somebody who you already have that level of comfortability with and that you kind of get how the other operates,” added Pat. “It’s kind of a family event. We’re talking and we see each other on a regular basis during the hockey season.”
For Bill, family has been a bonus during Blazer games.
“Our daughter isn’t there all of the time but she does come to some of the games. She grew up going to so many games as a kid because of Tim’s involvement, and when he was playing hockey, we always traveled as a family to tournaments. Otherwise, the grandkids are there, the daughters-in-law, my wife, so it really is a family affair and it’s a lot of fun.”
The entertainment factor reached its peak in the spring of 2012 when the Blazers and Portland Winterhawks squared off in an epic seven-game series. Like just about anyone in attendance, O’Donovan is delighted to recall the memories of what Blazer fans now refer to as “Game 6.”
“I think the one that comes to mind first is Bronson Maschmeyer scoring the goal against the Winterhawks in 2012. In particular, I think that was the game that, in my time here, would stand out in terms of dramatics and a goal. There was just so much excitement throughout that whole series because Portland just could not put them away.”
Ultimately, the Blazers were put away in game seven, as were their dreams of returning a championship to a city that had been spoiled with banners through the 80s and 90s. This past February, the Blazers provided the fans an opportunity to celebrate those individuals and teams who contributed to the organization’s success.
“It was just an overall great feeling to see a number of people that came back and enjoyed the visit. It was a tremendous weekend. I just couldn’t get over the number of fellows that were able to make it, and from what I understand, how much they enjoyed that weekend.
“It’s a place that so many of those players enjoyed playing and, for the most part, so many of them had a lot of success and I suppose like anyone, you have such fond memories of those years and the city in which you played, and even though you may not be from there, how it was like a second home.
“I didn’t want to just say the name, I wanted to make sure I could add a little something about them, whether it was what they were doing now, where they were from, just a little bit. I think the thing that I enjoyed afterward was I saw the video later on and how they had cut away, for instance, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan were the last two fellows out, and the smiles on their faces and the reaction they got. I couldn’t see that at the time but I did enjoy seeing it after. The organization itself should be very, very proud of the weekend they put on because it was just tremendous.”
In the middle of a bitterly cold February, the festivities were a much-needed reprieve for Blazer fans. After all, if the rink has anything to offer, it’s comfort.
“Normally, for myself, sports are a great detractor or a great place to forget about work and get away. But with hockey and the start of the baseball season, those weren’t available.
“To be honest, the hardest part of this whole thing is we didn’t see our grandkids for almost two months, and then when we saw them it was on FaceTime. Finally, we got to sort of see them in person on Mother’s Day. That was the toughest stretch was not being able to see our four grandkids.”
Hockey’s absence, however minuscule in comparison to the grander sacrifices we’ve made, is still present in us, ranging anywhere from irritating to excruciating, depending on the day. But if there’s one thing learned in the past couple months, it’s not so much the game that we miss as it is its subtleties, the tranquil moments between the events that comprise the entire experience itself.
“I get such a good feeling as I’m on my way up to the media room, going up to their booth where they work to drop off the starting lineups so that they have that material ready to go when we do the introductions. I always get this — I wouldn’t call it nerves — it’s this excitement that just kind of builds as I leave there, get up to the top, come down and get into position down at ice level. It’s an excitement that I find is there every game, and even more so in the playoffs or prior to a big night, big game, or big presentation like we had when they were celebrating all of their Memorial Cup teams. That’s the whole thing, there’s just so much — it’s so comfortable, I just feel so comfortable, at home — when I’m at the rink.”