‘We connected’: Recalling Sportstalk’s night of Rangers, riots in ’94

ByHarriet

May 31, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An excerpt from Dan Russell’s memoir, which recounts the highs and lows of hosting a call-in radio sports show in Vancouver for three decades.

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In Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk, host Dan Russell recounts the highs and lows of hosting a call-in radio sports program in Vancouver for three decades. Here is an excerpt:

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With the table set, it was off to the Big Apple and Madison Square Garden to cover arguably the greatest Stanley Cup Final in league history. The NHL had divided media seating into five categories, and I drew the fifth location, high above the net where Greg Adams scored the Game 1 overtime goal. It was there that broadcaster Dave Hodge, sitting a few seats away, informed me that O.J. Simpson was a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

Several hours before Game 7 in New York, I bumped into an extra-nervous Sandra Quinn, no doubt “hockey distancing” herself from her husband, Pat. Both of us were lost for words in trying to describe the magnitude of the moment. To pass the time until the 8 p.m. ET start I walked for many hours in the June heat, trying to take it all in. So many scattered thoughts ran through my head. As an adult, I was a professional in the media now. But the boy inside of me, an original Canucks fan, was desperately hoping to witness a Vancouver championship. How lucky am I, having followed the Canucks since I was a young boy … since the day they entered the NHL … and here they are … and somehow here I am … in the world’s greatest city about to watch them play one game to win the Stanley Cup.

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Once again I was in Press Box 5, and with Vancouver down a goal in the third period, I still remember thinking that, in a playoff filled with timely goals, it was only a matter of when, not if, the Canucks would tie it and then find a way to win. That sentiment seemed to be shared by many New Yorkers. Their team had gone 54 years without a title, and during stoppages in play in the final minute I saw fans turn their backs to the game, unable to watch, expecting the worst. Before the game’s final faceoff, I even saw two fans on their knees praying.

We exited after finishing our dressing room interviews and shared an elevator with the long-time Rangers announcer Marv Albert, who was delighted. It was back to the Westwood One radio studios, adjacent to the Ed Sullivan Theatre from where David Letterman did his show every night, to wait for our 1 a.m. ET Sportstalk start on CFMI. While putting the finishing touches to my intro and trying to edit a couple of dressing room interviews, I started hearing through my headphones about unrest in downtown Vancouver. When we hit the air minutes later, it had escalated to the point where I found myself hosting riot coverage that I could hear but not see.

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Police try to quell the rioters at Robson and Burrard streets on the night of June 14, 1994, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Canucks losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final series in New York to the Rangers.
Police try to quell the rioters at Robson and Burrard streets on the night of June 14, 1994, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Canucks losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final series in New York to the Rangers. Photo by Stuart Davis /PNG files

It was riveting, if not scary.

We had a team of reporters, mostly from CKNW, on the streets of Vancouver, but also our own Brook Ward as well as Stephen Snelgrove, who did a live hit while being hit with tear gas. Our riot coverage lasted three hours, then we talked about the game for the next four hours. We signed off at 8 a.m. ET and walked out of the dark studio into an extremely bright, warm and muggy Manhattan morning. The first thing I heard — so similar to what’s depicted in many movies — was a newspaper hawker shouting: “Extra! Extra! Rangers win the Cup … Rangers win the Cup … Read all about it.”

Vancouver Canucks players including Cliff Ronning (in front), moments after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final series to the New York Rangers on June 14, 1994 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Vancouver Canucks players including Cliff Ronning (in front), moments after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final series to the New York Rangers on June 14, 1994 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Photo by Nick Didlick /PNG files

I had been incredibly focused on riot and game coverage during the previous seven Sportstalk hours, and now this was the first time it really hit me — especially the boy in me who had hoped his entire life to see it — that the Canucks did not win the Cup. It was like I was in an emotional tape delay. Now I felt bummed out.

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Producer Scott Woodgate and I went back to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt, grabbed our luggage and headed straight to LaGuardia. Our first flight took us to Toronto. Then, while on the Air Canada connecting flight, we finally saw TV coverage of the riot. After spearheading coverage for hours, this was the first time I’d actually seen any footage. It was worse than I initially thought.

Police at the intersection of Robson and Burrard streets on the night of June 14, 1994, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Canucks losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final series in New York to the Rangers.
Police at the intersection of Robson and Burrard streets on the night of June 14, 1994, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Canucks losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final series in New York to the Rangers. Photo by Stuart Davis /PNG files

Sitting by myself at the back of the plane, I should have been able to sleep, but I suddenly became emotional, nearly overwhelmed, while reflecting on the body of work Woodgate and I had provided through four magical playoff rounds. I took great satisfaction knowing that we had become the biggest gathering spot for Canucks fans on game nights and off nights. I loved extending many of our shows — including seven hours after Game 7 — because I knew the entire province was locked in on the Canucks and tuned in to Sportstalk. I have never felt such pride before or since. It was as if everything I had done — starting when I became hooked on radio as a young boy — had come together to provide a worthy service enjoyed by hockey fans around British Columbia.

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We fulfilled the function radio is supposed to — we connected.

When I reflected back to the lack of Canucks coverage in 1982, which was the impetus for Sportstalk, it nearly brought me to tears. Because, I reasoned, we had successfully filled that glaring void with a program I had created from scratch.


Read more excerpts from Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk:

• Excerpt 1: ‘Sportstalk, go ahead’: Starting a Vancouver radio talk show juggernaut
• Excerpt: 2: ‘Thanks for having me on, Dan’: Brian Burke as Sportstalk’s best guest ever
• Excerpt 3: With ‘McKeachie-isms … you never know’: A dear, maddening friend to Sportstalk
• Excerpt 4: ‘Critique so stinging, so biting, so brilliant’: ‘The Pauser’ called some shots on air, and off, at Sportstalk
• Excerpt 5: ‘We connected’: Recalling Sportstalk’s night in ’94 riven by Rangers and riots

For more information, visit danrussellsportstalk.com.

Cover of Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk.
Cover of Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk. Photo by Tellwell

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By Harriet