From a catwalk high atop Maple Leaf Gardens, the first of three generations of a Minnesota hockey broadcasting family got his big break.
That’s when Al Shaver, then working in Toronto, took a tape recorder and a microphone, climbed onto that catwalk and made a play-by-play audition tape of a Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup Final game in 1967. His target for that tape: the expansion Minnesota North Stars.
“It was a very thin catwalk,’’ Shaver remembered. “Fortunately, it had a railing I could lean on. I trusted the railing.’’
Fifty-one years later, Shaver, who got that WCCO Radio broadcasting job doing play-by-play of the North Stars and rode it to a Hall of Fame career, is 90, retired and living with his wife, Shirley, in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia. Meanwhile, his son, Wally, and grandson, Jason, carry on the family’s broadcasting heritage. Wally, 65, just finished his 17th year as radio play-by-play announcer for the Gophers and his 44th year as a hockey broadcaster, while Jason, 45, is in his 10th season as TV play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
“It seemed to be the family business,’’ Jason said, “much like you’d see three generations of plumbers or mechanics.’’
With the NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center this week, Wally quickly recalled one of his career highlights — calling the Gophers’ 4-3 overtime victory over Maine in the national championship game at the X. He won’t get to do that this year — the Gophers didn’t make the NCAA field — but he’ll still be involved in the Frozen Four as communications director for the Hobey Baker Award and producer of Friday’s award presentation event.
‘He shoots, he scores!!’
Growing up with a hockey announcer as his dad, Wally was bitten by the hockey bug early. Through stops in Edmonton, Montreal, Tecumseh, Windsor, Toronto and, finally, Minnesota, he played the sport — and still does in a senior league — and was immersed in its culture. In high school, he decided to follow his father’s career path. He first studied at Southwest State College in Marshall, Minn., then worked for minor league teams in Saginaw, Mich., and Wichita, Kan., before landing a position with the North Stars in sales and TV broadcasting.
Wally embraces his dad’s signature goal call — “he shoots, he scores!!”
“If I have an opportunity to say, ‘He shoots, he scores,’ that’s what I’ll do,’’ Wally said. “And he was a really good fight announcer, back when there were a lot of fights. He could’ve been a boxing announcer.’’
Wally is most proud of his dad for a career that led to induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
“That really speaks loudly of how successful he was,’’ Wally said. “It’s something as simple as — and I run into this frequently — ‘Oh, I remember listening to your dad, going to bed with a little transistor radio.’ Because that’s exactly what I did. … He was always very descriptive, so I tried to pattern myself after that. Why not? He’s a Hall-of-Famer.’’
Said Al of the Hall of Fame induction: “I’m very grateful for it. It was the piece de resistance of my 26 years with the North Stars.’’
Al ended his career with the North Stars in 1993, when owner Norm Green moved the team to Dallas. “There was absolutely no way he was going to Dallas,’’ Wally said.
The third generation
Jason Shaver was a goalie at Augsburg in the early 1990s and decided to go into broadcasting, too. But an experience at Waterloo in the U.S. Hockey League soured him. The team’s owner couldn’t make payroll on time, and employees had to wait days for their paychecks to clear. That prompted him to take a sales job with General Electric.
But six years later, a trip to Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild was naming the press box in his grandfather’s honor, prompted Jason to get the itch again. “That sparked my interest in getting back in broadcasting,’’ he said. “I really missed it.’’
Like his grandfather on that catwalk, Jason recorded audition tapes by doing his own at-home play-by-play of the Wild’s 2003 playoff run. Stops in Beaumont, Texas; Houston; and Iowa led to his current job with the Chicago Wolves.
Jason said his style is more like his grandfather’s than his father’s.
“He was so good at driving the excitement as Neal Broten was bringing the puck up ice from his own zone, and building that crescendo,’’ he said of Al, “and I try to emulate that.’’ But, he added, “My favorite broadcaster is my father; it’s who I grew up listening to.’’
For Al, the fact that his son and grandson followed his lead brings a smile to his face.
“It’s wonderful,’’ he said. “I’m so happy they got involved in it.’’