Once upon a time, hockey had its own golden era of television. A time when the worldwide leader, ESPN, was committed to televising hockey and in doing so, brought us some memorable hockey broadcasters – John Buccigross, Steve Levy, Dave Strader and the perennial mullet man, Barry Melrose.
But the crème of the crop of ESPN Hockey announcers was Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. As color commentator, Bill Clement walked that fine line of giving you true hockey insight without talking down to you and without inserting his own ego. And to me, he’ll always be the shirtless guy in a tent full of mosquitos in the Backwoods Off commercial.
But it was Gary Thorne on play-by-play that made the duo so memorable. Thorne’s voice was smooth and steady. It had a pitch and cadence you would want from someone talking you through dismantling a bomb, landing a plane or delivering a baby in the back seat of a Mitsubishi Eclipse. Who doesn’t remember his famous call after Gretzky set the Most Goals Scored record? ”He did it! He did it! The greatest goal scorer in National Hockey League History!”. If that call doesn’t bring chills to you today, you are likely a soulless zombie.
The argument for greatest hockey announcers will always be highly contested, especially when you throw CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada into the mix, but that is an institution all to itself. As for American broadcasts, you can still find some of the ESPN greats out there while surfing your Center Ice package on a Saturday night. But you won’t find Thorne and Clement and it saddens me. Thorne is still around, but you won’t find him doing much hockey, except for the NCAA Frozen Four. And for Clement, I believe he’s still in that tent somewhere engulfed by mosquitos.
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