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Canucks Wrap: ‘Hockey the Musical’

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Vancouver Canucks, Bakersfield Condors
The Bakersfield Condors are presently a Pacific Division rival of the Vancouver Canucks AHL farm team in Abbotsford.

This evening’s contribution shouldn’t be called Vancouver Canucks Wrap, it should be called Vancouver Canucks Break, as it’s a bit of an old creative writing diversion from the norm’, just for fun. It’s a slice of hockey life and it really did exist.

Bart Hull, son of Bobby, brother of Bobby Jr., Brett, Blake, and Michelle, and my colour commentator back in the late 90’s calling hockey in the ‘double-A’ pro’ WCHL (“Western Cocktail Holiday League”) came up with the Broadway-style moniker for the rink reality in Bakersfield, California.

It just so happens there’s a current connection to the Vancouver Canucks and their ‘triple-A’ affiliate in Abbotsford, as their rival is now the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. We’re frequently reminded of our small hockey world.

We occasional had some very good times in ‘Bako’, and a lot of it happened at the bizarre theatre turned arena.

Hockey the Musical

Prior to the name change to Condors and moving to the 10,000-seat Centennial Garden in 1998, the franchise in “Bako” was known as the Fog, which based on their record they often played in, while skating at the Civic Auditorium. It was a 3,000-seat theatre. The ‘Great One’s’ little brother Keith Gretzky was the head coach, or the maestro, or the director if you will.

See, when I say they played in a theatre, I really mean they played in a theatre. My broadcast partner Bart Hull and I, who called the games on TV and radio for the Idaho Steelheads, used to refer to matches in Bakersfield as “Hockey the Musical”.

The crowd sat down in their seats as if they were about to watch a movie. Remarkably, there was a hockey rink ON the stage, with curtains drawn to either side. The rink was built from the front of the stage, where one might otherwise sing a solo, all the way backstage to the loading doors in the rear of the building. The end boards were made of glass, so the people in the theatre seats could see down the ice while eating their popcorn.

They were essentially looking at a net, the rear end of a goalie, and a two-dimensional hockey game. To get to our broadcast position, we had to walk backstage, climb a steel ladder to the catwalk, and then manoeuvre our way behind a table that sat in one of those spotlight positions about twenty feet directly above the visitor’s bench.

This was double-A hockey so fights were plentiful, line brawls not uncommon. And once things got out of hand, naturally certain players were ejected. In what was one part Shakespeare, one part Slapshot, players who were tossed would leave the ice via a gate right in the front of the audience, right behind that goalie.

When Pat Clement of the Steelheads left the ice first, he walked off stage left to a chorus of boos. He was pelted with popcorn, candy wrappers, whatever was handy yet not dangerous. Clement walked along, head down, giving the fans the “ahh, get outta here” wave with one hand. Moments later, Jodi Murphy of the Fog exited the gate.

They might as well have been tossing flowers, the cheering crowd on its feet as Murphy, two hands clenched above his head, touting himself as champion, made his way off stage right.

No Lady Byng, but maybe a Tony.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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