Broadcasters own a place in Canucks history
Robson, Larscheid are an integral part when detailing the team’s story
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Vancouver Canucks colour commentator Tom Larscheid was a football player for the B.C. Lions in a previous incarnation.