2009 Outstanding Broadcasting
By Fred Walker
“I feel like a 20-year-old because I’ve finally got the best job in hockey.” After nearly 30-years covering and calling countless sporting events, that’s how B.C. (Fort St. John) native Jim Hughson describes his ascension to the elite ranks of hockey broadcasting in this country. It not that he’s brand new to CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada. He’s been part of the organization since 2005. But now he headlines the lead team on HNIC.
Getting to this position didn’t happen overnight. Hughson says patience paid off but he acknowledges there’s an element of Catch-22 to the whole process.”I think you spend the first 15-years of your career complaining constantly that you can’t get the job you want because you don’t have the experience. You think you’re ready for it and then you get to that 15-year point and you start to look back. You finally realize why everybody was telling you about needing experience and you start telling everybody else that you need experience. But it takes awhile before it kicks in for a lot of the young guys out there learning the profession to understand what experience does for you.”
Hughson’s early career plans never hinted at broadcasting, let alone calling hockey games. “No, not at all. I went to the University of Victoria and entered the theatre department. I wanted to be an actor. When I got to university, I found that acting didn’t pay very well and considered that I would face a lifetime of struggling to find new roles.” He got part-time work at a radio station and wasn’t looking for a sports job but “when their sports guy quit, I was the only one there who knew the difference between a puck and a football . I took the sports job and in the nomadic existence that followed in my late teens and early twenties, I just decided to move from place to place and try and make 50-dollars a month more. Hughson’s early leanings towards the theatre may have a direct influence on how he approaches his call of a game. “I look at a hockey game as a three act play. In the first act, we’re introducing the characters. who is in the game, who plays with whom, who are the most important characters likely to be in this game. You treat your audience as if they’ve not seen the play before. Give them the information they need and a feel for how to watch it. In the second act you develop the plot. What’s happening tonight who’s starting to win the game why are they starting to win it who are the important characters who are the players who are likely to turn this game in one team’s favour or the other?
And in the third act it’s the exciting conclusion. Of all of the characters you’ve introduced and of all of those likely to change the game, who’s done it? Why has it happened?
Then you have your final result and the curtain call.” There is no doubt that hockey is his favourite sport. “Tried them all and played them all, with the exception of football. Loved them all and watched them with great interest. I guess because of my Canadian background, hockey is a game I grew up with. I played from the time I could walk and still play the game today and love it. What I’ve always liked about it is its speed, its ferocity. I grew up with the Fort St. John’s Flyers of the Southeast Hockey League. I grew up in an arena. That’s all we did as kids.
We played the game watched the game watched our local heroes. It’s a game I’ve enjoyed forever. There have been times when I haven’t liked the NHL, and I differentiate between hockey and the NHL. There were periods of time where I loved the game but didn’t like the way it was played at the NHL level. What I particularly like is the way it’s evolved and come back to us as that great game of skill and speed.
There are few games in the world where there is such skill at such a high speed and always a risk of injury, which is a sad sort of thing, but that’s one of the great attractions to the game skating a fine line with every shift, doing so much at such a high speed with always the risk of a collision with another player or the boards. It makes the game a tense game to watch.”
And it’s Jim Hughson who brings that tension and excitement to the viewer at home, sounding like a 20-year old who just happens to have the best job in hockey.