With the National Hockey League playoffs hitting the ice this week, the journey toward a Stanley Cup has begun for hundreds of players.
And for the broadcasters, too.
The long grind – the first games are played Wednesday and a champion won’t be crowned until mid-June – is one that South Surrey’s Jim Hughson knows well.
For Canadian television viewers, the Crescent Beach resident has been the voice of the postseason for more than a decade, as the lead play-by-play broadcaster on the Hockey Night in Canada team.
“There are years where I’m out doing the playoffs and I haven’t got home for 35 days,” the 62-year-old Hughson told Black Press Media’s Indulge magazine in late February, during a rare day off between broadcasts.
“It’s a solid two months. If your series ends in four or five games, then maybe you get a chance to come home for a few days… You dump everything out of your suitcase, put some new stuff in, you see your family, your dog and then you’re back on your way.
“But these last few years, every series has been going six or seven games, and when that happens, you’re just going on to the next one. You don’t even get a chance to repack.”
If it sounds like Hughson is complaining, though – he isn’t.
“It’s fantastic, there’s nothing like it,” he said of the playoffs.
And though Hughson has been behind the mic since the late 1970s – he would fill in for Jim Robson on Canucks radio broadcasts when he was still young enough to have been in university – he insists that the job itself never gets tedious or boring.
“Because it’s never the same. Every year is different – different teams, different cities,” he said. “It’s the excitement of the championship. That part never gets old.”
Being on the road so much, however, is not without its challenges. An avid runner, Hughson says he has preferred jogging routes mapped out in each NHL city, but admits that it can be tough to fill the rest of the hours while living hotel-to-hotel, away from his family.
“It’s the greatest drawback… the creative use of spare time is extremely important,” he said. “You just hope you’re in a good city where just walking around is interesting.”
Hughson said he’s also blessed to work with a talented crew of people – both on-air personalities and behind-the-scenes workers – which helps make the long playoff road trips easier to deal with.
“They’re the best in the business, and really good people, and they’re away from their families, too,” he said.
Hughson knows his travel schedule could be made lighter if his family chose to live back east – closer to most of his broadcast locations – but after spending a decade-and-a-half in Toronto earlier in his career, he relishes the opportunity to live in his home province, having moved back in 1994.
A few months from now, after a group of exhausted, playoff-bearded hockey players have lifted the Stanley Cup over their heads in celebration, Hughson, too, will take a much-deserved break. However, he admits that he doesn’t get burned out from the game – or from sports in general – and during the offseason often finds himself in front of the television at his summer home near Naramata, watching some competition or another.
“I just like sports,” he said. “Football, baseball – I’d watch Tiddlywinks if I didn’t know the result.”
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