The bus life of a WHL play-by-play announcer

Buzzing The Net

From Brandon, MB. to Portland, OR. — Western Hockey League play-by-play announcers' jobs entail traveling throughout four provinces and two states with their respective teams on a charter bus.

"It's part of the job description," says the voice of the Prince George Cougars, Dan O'Connor. "Obviously there are better ways of transportation than a bus, but there's not a lot of money in junior hockey, so this is the best option available. Traveling on a bus isn't one of the bright spots of the job, but you get comfortable with it over time."

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The WHL's longest road trips involve traveling over 4,000 kms in total. These long and grueling trips would be more durable if they led to a hot, sunny beach rather than a cold hockey rink. Nonetheless, as O'Connor said, it's part of the job description. Every announcer knows it's included in the lifestyle when they sign up for calling hockey games rather than working a real job.

"It definitely wears a guy down mentally and physically," says former Regina Pats play-by-play announcer Dan Plaster. "The ride there is usually exciting; everyone is pumped up for the game. The ride back is a different story though. A lot of people are grumpy and everyone can't wait to get back home."

Teams' success or lack thereof has a real effect on the mood of the bus. As a rule, it also determines whether movies and/or music are allowed on the bus to help pass the time.

"There is a huge difference between a winning and a losing road trip," says the voice of the Swift Current Broncos, Shawn Mullin.  "You can't wait to get off the bus after a losing road trip, everyone is down or mad and it's just a bad atmosphere. While it is just the opposite after a string of wins. There are lots of smiles and laughs when they win. Winning also means you can watch movies. It always sucks when you can't watch any movies on the way back, time goes by really slow."

Even though the majority may not admit they secretly cheer for their radio station's team, the benefits of a win for the bus ride home is enough for one to think all announcers have their fingers crossed for a road victory.

"As a professional, you try and call the fairest game possible," says Mullin. "However, every announcer is hoping their team wins. A road win equals a happy bus. It's just human nature to hope for an upbeat bus ride home."

Sleep appears to be the main attraction of spending countless hours on a bus for play-by-play announcers. There are bound to be some announcers who struggle to sleep in a crowded bus; nonetheless, the majority seem to take advantage of these long road trips by catching up on some sleep.

"I have no problem sleeping on the bus," says Plaster. "I try and get as much sleep in as possible on the trips. Players seem to have trouble sleeping, but not radio guys. I remember when I was colour commentator with Rod Pedersen, he would be out like a light before we even go out of our parking lot."

Despite there being a usable toilet on every bus, relieving oneself on the bus isn't very popular. One would not only have to take the walk of shame from the front of the bus to the back with everyone knowing something's not right in Texas, but one would also make the trip a little less comfortable by leaving a less than pleasant lingering odour.

"No one ever wants to get diarrhea on the bus," says Plaster. "You definitely watch what you eat on the road trips; try to avoid stomach aches at all cost. For us No. 2s are prohibited. I think the majority of teams have that rule. You have to take advantage of the rest stops. If you don't, it could mean a really uncomfortable drive."

The bus is one of the best places for announcers to get interesting inside information. There are often several conversations on each road trip that makes one perk up their ears. Nevertheless, the unwritten rule of "what happens on the bus, stays on the bus" stops these stories from being repeated on air.

"You learn a lot about players and hear a lot of stories on the bus," says O'Connor. "But those stories stay on the bus. They would make for a really interesting broadcast, but any professional broadcaster knows not to repeat what you hear on the bus in a broadcast."

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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