Broad­cast­ers own a place in Canucks his­tory

Rob­son, Larscheid are an in­te­gral part when de­tail­ing the team’s story

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - ED WILLES

Jim Rob­son pre­pared for each game by writ­ing down the talk­ing points he wanted to hit dur­ing the broad­cast.

Most were pre­dictable — in­juries, hot streaks, lineup changes — and they would change ac­cord­ing to the op­po­nent. But, in 30 years of call­ing play-by-play for Van­cou­ver Canucks NHL games, there was one con­stant to the notes Rob­son metic­u­lously pre­pared for each game, one en­try which had noth­ing to do with the game but ev­ery­thing to do with the man and his au­di­ence.

He’d write down “shut-ins,” and ev­ery night, usu­ally in the sec­ond pe­riod, he’d say, “a spe­cial hello to all the hos­pi­tal pa­tients and shut-ins, those of you who can’t make it out to the game.”

“Some peo­ple thought it was corny, but it did get a re­ac­tion,” says Gen­tle­man Jim, now 85.

You might say. Those in­car­cer­ated in some of Bri­tish Columbia’s finer pen­i­ten­tiaries would rat­tle their bars with tin cups when Rob­son said hello. Crews on fish­ing boats in the Pa­cific would cheer. Over the years, Rob­son got thank-you notes writ­ten in Braille. He got one from the On­tario health min­is­ter, one from a nun in North Van.

He was asked if he ever thinks about his sim­ple mes­sage when he and his wife Bea cheer on the COVID-19 front line work­ers each evening from their West End bal­cony.

“I don’t know,” he says. “This is so dif­fer­ent.”

But over in Rich­mond, one per­son makes that con­nec­tion.

“I do, ab­so­lutely,” says Tom Larscheid, Rob­son’s long­time colour man.

Over the last sev­eral months, our two pa­pers ran a se­ries on the Canucks’ 50th an­niver­sary, chron­i­cling the events and per­son­al­i­ties which shaped the fran­chise. Great play­ers and notso-great play­ers were pro­filed. Highlights and low­lights were re­called. But, some­how, we missed Rob­son and Larscheid, two of the most revered fig­ures in

Canucks his­tory. Two men who tran­scended the nar­row con­fines of the broad­cast booth and came to mean so much to the Canucks con­gre­ga­tion.

There were any num­ber of lean years in their time to­gether. There were a cou­ple of high points, most no­tably the 1994 play­off run. But al­ways they were there, pro­vid­ing the sound­track to Canucks games, a sound­track which lives on in the col­lec­tive mem­ory of the faith­ful even if they were a study in con­trasts.

“Tom was the trum­pet player,” says Rob­son.

And Rob­son, with his unerring play-by-play, was the rhythm sec­tion.

“If there’s a yin and yang, we were it,” says Larscheid.

Which also ex­plains why it wasn’t al­ways easy.

Look­ing back, the won­der isn’t that Rob­son and Larscheid be­came syn­ony­mous with the Canucks. The won­der is they lasted the first cou­ple of years with­out killing each other.

Rob­son was a ra­dio lifer who worked his way from Port Al­berni to Nanaimo to the big time and CKWX where he called B.C. Li­ons, Van­cou­ver Moun­ties and WHL Canucks games. He picked up hello to the shut-ins from Cal Ge­orge, an­other CKWX per­son­al­ity.

When the Canucks landed an NHL fran­chise in 1970, Rob­son moved over to the rights holder, CKNW. For the first seven years, he worked alone on the ra­dio — that’s pre-game, postgame, be­tween in­ter­mis­sions, the game, ev­ery­thing — be­fore CKNW boss Ted Smith thought it would be a keen idea to team him with Larscheid.

“They were try­ing to save Jim’s voice,” Larscheid says with a cackle. “He’d lose it ev­ery Jan­uary. He lived on a diet of Fish­er­man’s Friends.”

Good line. It just didn’t re­flect the early ten­sions be­tween the two men.

Larscheid took his own jour­ney to the booth. He was an all-amer­i­can run­ning back at Utah State — dude av­er­aged 8.4 yards a carry in 1960 — and played two sea­sons with the Li­ons be­fore tear­ing up his knee, then be­came Jim Cox’s colour man on CKNW’S Li­ons broad­casts.

Through the Li­ons, Larscheid built up his own fol­low­ing with his en­thu­si­as­tic work. There were just a cou­ple of prob­lems when he joined Rob­son in 1978: 1) No­body asked Rob­son if he wanted a part­ner and, 2) Larscheid didn’t know much about hockey.

Loved it. Just didn’t know much about it.

“You could sense there was some fric­tion there,” says Larscheid.

“Tom and I had dif­fer­ent philoso­phies,” says Rob­son. “He said we’re in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. I thought we were re­port­ing on a sport­ing event.”

Both were right. It just took them some time to fig­ure that out.

The odd cou­ple stum­bled through their first years to­gether and Larscheid said the sup­port of CKNW’S man­age­ment was crit­i­cal in the early go­ing.

“(Smith) said I can get any schmuck off the street to read stats,” Larscheid said. “But I can’t get any­one with your per­son­al­ity who can con­nect with peo­ple.

“I loved hockey. It was gen­uine. I wanted peo­ple to con­nect with what I was watch­ing. It wasn’t man­u­fac­tured. I felt it.”

Slowly, Rob­son felt the same thing. It helped that Larscheid worked on his craft, talk­ing to hockey peo­ple, learn­ing the game, build­ing up con­tacts. They also started meet­ing 90 min­utes be­fore puck drop at the Pa­cific Coli­seum’s old me­dia lounge to pre­pare.

“I was meat and pota­toes,” Rob­son says. “I like to think I helped him with prepa­ra­tion. He cer­tainly loos­ened me up.”

One day they looked at each other and de­cided they no longer needed the meet­ings. Then the magic took over.

Af­ter a tour as sports direc­tor at CFUN, Larscheid re­turned to CKNW in the late ’80s as Pat Quinn was lay­ing the ground­work for, to that point, the best-ever Canucks teams.

There was ad­ven­ture along the way. In Que­bec City one night, Larscheid raised his arms cel­e­brat­ing a Canucks goal and put his hand through a grill which cov­ered the light in the booth.

“There was blood ev­ery­where,” Rob­son said.

Those were also the days of com­mer­cial travel, which pre­sented its own kind of fun. Rob­son re­mem­bers the time in the mid ’80s when the Canucks were fin­ish­ing off a road trip in Hart­ford and their pri­vately owned plane was sent to Florida for main­te­nance.

The plane was sold while it was in Florida, which meant the Canucks en­tourage had to make their way home from Hart­ford, ev­ery­one go­ing in 15 dif­fer­ent direc­tions.

Try to tell to­day’s play­ers that one.

The Rob­son-larscheid part­ner­ship reached its apex in the glo­ri­ous run to the Cup fi­nal of 1994. There are at least three calls from that spring — Pavel Bure’s Ot-win­ner in Game 7 of the first-round se­ries against Cal­gary, punc­tu­ated by Larscheid’s “Yes!!!”; “Greg Adams, Greg Adams”; and “He’ll play. You know he’ll play” — that will live for­ever in fran­chise his­tory.

In New York, they were forced to broad­cast the game from the up­per tier of Madi­son Square Garden, sand­wiched among a French-lan­guage crew, a Swedish crew and USA ra­dio with a young Kenny Al­bert han­dling the play-by-play. They were also ex­posed to the fans, MSG’S in­fa­mous Gal­ley Gods, which made for some in­ter­est­ing in­ter­ac­tion with Larscheid, who doesn’t back down from any­one or any­thing.

Ac­cord­ing to Rob­son, there were four big guys in Rangers jer­seys who sat in front of the Van­cou­ver play-by-play team all four games in New York. In Game 5, and af­ter some colour­ful backand-forth, the Rangers scored three straight goals to erase a 3-0 Canucks lead. The Rangers fans ex­pressed their glee to Rob­son and Larscheid in the time-hon­oured New York tra­di­tion when Larscheid whipped off his head set and said, we’re para­phras­ing here: “Don’t count your chick­ens,” about the same time Dave Babych scored the go-ahead goal in a Canucks win.

“I told Jim af­ter that run, ‘We had as good a year as any broad­cast­ers could ever have,’” Larscheid says. “We were right on top of our game.”

Game 7 marked Rob­son’s last game as the Canucks’ ra­dio voice. He was suc­ceeded by Jim Hugh­son, who gave way to John Short­house — an in­cred­i­ble run of tal­ent, like play­ing lead guitar for The Yard­birds — but con­tin­ued to work TV with Darcy Rota and Ryan Wal­ter as his colour men. He re­tired in 1999, about the time Larscheid was start­ing to work with Short­house.

“I think the best broad­cast team in Canucks his­tory was John Short­house and Tom Larscheid,” says Rob­son.

Pos­si­bly, but you never for­get the orig­i­nals.

Larscheid, as it hap­pens, cel­e­brated his 80th birth­day on Mon­day. The two men re­main friends, maybe not bo­som bud­dies but their shared his­tory has cre­ated a bond.

“He texted me on my birth­day,” Larscheid said. “He wrote, ‘You’ll never catch up to me.’”

He con­tin­ues: “I thought, where have the years gone? I started think­ing of the peo­ple I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had. I’ve been so lucky.”

Larscheid and his wife Les­ley have just spent 14 days in quar­an­tine af­ter re­turn­ing from Palm Springs. At 7 p.m., ev­ery night, they put on masks, ven­ture out of their condo and cheer for the front-lin­ers with neigh­bours.

In down­town Van­cou­ver, his friend, who used to say hello to all the shut-ins, does the same.

Re­mem­ber that. We should all take time to say hello to the shutins these days. ewil­les@post­media.com

KEN OAKES/FILES

CKNW sports­caster Jim Rob­son, seen here at the Pa­cific Coli­seum in 1989, worked alone for his first seven years do­ing play-by-play for Canucks games.

B.C. LI­ONS

Van­cou­ver Canucks colour com­men­ta­tor Tom Larscheid was a foot­ball player for the B.C. Li­ons in a pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion.

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