SEEN UP NORTH – Top player turns analyst
Ice hockey is to Canadians what cricket remains to Barbadians and other fans throughout the Caribbean: a passion.
But unlike cricket, a sport with a history of more than 300 years, in hockey, one of the oldest and fastest sports anywhere, only a handful of Blacks have made names for themselves in a game that injects billions of dollars into the Canadian national and provincial economies every year and maintains a magnetic hold on Canadians.
Much of the appeal can be traced to the role of radio and television broadcasts across Canada.
Kevin Weekes, the son of Barbadian parents, is a product of the Canadian hockey system and now that his playing days are over as a top flight professional, he has become an iconic figure in another aspect of the game, the broadcast commentator’s booth.
After playing for 12 years in the National Hockey League, Weekes retired in 2009 and joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s television commentary team. Hockey Night In Canada and NHL
On The Fly have such a hold on Canadians, that when they are on the air covering games, for instance, they seemingly put their lives on hold to hear about the matches. As a matter of fact, on hockey night, you don’t dare interrupt with a telephone call to some people’s homes.
These days, Weekes, who once kept North American hockey fans spellbound with his efficiency in goal for several different NHL teams, is doing something that until now wasn’t considered possible: a black man behind the microphone and in front of the camera reporting on hockey.
At one stage, Weekes, 35, the quintessential professional on the ice during his playing days which began in 1997 when he first appeared for the Florida Panthers, was among about five sons of Bajans who played at the highest level.
Through it all, Weekes retained the aura of a gentleman who never failed to credit his parents for much of his success.
What makes him so special to so many Canadians are some important qualities: thorough knowledge of the game; clarity of his commentaries as a colour analyst; and being the first black to be hired by a national television network for the job.
The Vancouver Sun, a national paper, focused on Weekes’ Bajan ancestry in an article on former players who “are finding success adding colour to broadcasts” now that their playing days are over.
“The son of parents who emigrated to Toronto from Barbados, his upbringing made him a natural fit” behind the microphone,” said the British Columbia-based daily.
He said being a goaltender gave him both the focus and perspective to be a broadcaster.
“Although you are so focused because you want to make every save, you are reading the play,” he said. “You are processing everything that happens from the far end.”
Unlike other former players, he isn’t longing to be back on the ice and that’s true despite being paid a handsome sum every year as a top flight player, while as a broadcaster he receives much less.
“It’s like being a thoroughbred,” he said. “You come to the track in the morning. You have a great workout. You are flying around the track. You are good. You are pumped. Then once the race time comes around while all the other horses go out on the track and run the races, you are still in the barn.”
Still, there are adjustments one has to make on moving from a goalie to a TV analyst.
“It might be as subtle as the angle of a player’s stick before he shoots the puck or a player’s hand position before he passes the puck or being able to read a player’s eyes if he is telegraphing who he is passing the puck to,” Weekes observed.