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Hughson honored to receive Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from Hall of Fame

Voice of 'Hockey Night in Canada' pays homage to broadcasting trailblazers with 'He shoots, he scores!' goal description

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Jim Hughson crouched in front of Foster Hewitt's plaque at the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this month and asked a question many of his peers have pondered for decades.

How did Hewitt, the man who pioneered hockey play-by-play, come up with the famous phrase, 'He shoots, he scores?' It's a phrase Hughson, the lead announcer on 'Hockey Night in Canada' uses to this day.

Hewitt became a groundbreaker in hockey broadcasting when he called his first game on the radio in 1923. He would become the voice of the sport for the next half century, primarily on Toronto Maple Leafs games.

"I always wish I'd been at that rink with him the day that he did that first broadcast," Hughson said of Hewitt, who died in 1985. "Because I wonder if he was thinking beforehand: 'What am I going to say when the puck goes into the net?'

"How did he come up with that? Did he talk to his family and say, 'Should it be, He shoots, he scores? Or should it be, A shot and a goal?'

"I would have loved to have that conversation with him."

Hughson will never have that opportunity, yet he still pays homage to the broadcasting great every Saturday night during the NHL season by using those same four words.

It's yet another reason why Hughson is so deeply honored to be the recipient of the 2019 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame to members of the radio and television industry who make outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of hockey during their broadcasting career.

The award winners are selected by the NHL Broadcasters' Association.

"Foster should be the mentor for everyone that is on this board," Hughson said, pointing at names like Danny Gallivan, Jim Robson and the others on the Hall's Broadcasting & Media Wall of Honor.

"He created this terminology that was really simple, and it worked. Other guys have developed their own outstanding styles because it works for them. But I need to do what works for me. And for me, why would I say anything else other than 'He shoots, he scores?'"

Why indeed? After all, it's part of the recipe that has worked for Hughson in his four decades of calling NHL games.

Hughson's journey to the Hall started as a boy growing up in Fort St. John, British Columbia, a town in the province's northeast corner near the Alberta border. At that time, hockey and acting ruled.

"I was a center in hockey and a center in the drama club," he said.

His goal of an acting career fizzled at the University of Victoria upon discovering there were more wannabe actors than roles.

Hughson left school and began doing hockey play-by-play for various leagues around the province. He landed at CKNW, the flagship radio station of the Vancouver Canucks, where Robson was in the midst of a legendary career.

Hughson had the job of interviewing players between periods. During the game, he would stand in the rafters of Pacific Coliseum, the Canucks' home at the time, practicing his broadcasting skills by calling the play-by-play into his pen.

"I wouldn't go onto that catwalk now for a million dollars," Hughson said with a laugh. "I'd be terrified by it. But back then I'd be all by myself practicing. I didn't need to record it or anything. I just needed the reps."

Adopting Robson's meticulous habits of research and preparation, Hughson soon found himself calling NHL games, first for the Canucks local broadcasts, then for TSN in Toronto. He became Sportsnet's national play-by-play man in 1998, the same time he got to know analyst Craig Simpson.

It was the start of a two-decade on-air partnership that remains strong to this day.

"That first year with Sportsnet they had a seminar for all of us prior to the season in Toronto," Simpson recalled with a chuckle. "Jim's plane was late so I left him a message about the restaurant I was at. Two hours later, I saw Jim walking in. I assumed he'd gotten my message. Nope. He just wanted something to eat and happened to come to that place. That's the connection we have.

"Jim's strength is his preparation. He works tirelessly at it. He wants the viewer to be as educated as possible."

Hughson's famous pipes have also given him notoriety in the offseason. He's served as a play-by-play man in the movies "MVP: Most Valuable Primate" (broadcasting a chimp playing hockey), and "Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch" (broadcasting a dog playing baseball).

"You don't get roles like that unless you're an acclaimed actor," he joked.

Hughson also was the first play-by-play voice in the EA Sports NHL Hockey video game.

"I've had parents tell me to get out of their house, they're tired of having me in their living room because their kids play the game so much," he laughed.

For more than a decade, Hughson's voice has been welcomed into living rooms all over Canada on Saturday. Not only has he called Stanley Cup Finals in that span, he also broadcast the Canada-Sweden gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

He still considers it an honor every time he puts on his headset to call a game. Now comes the ultimate honor: to be enshrined in the Hall with the likes of Hewitt and Robson.

"What I have a tough time getting my head around is when you look at this wall and all these people, and I know them all, I'm going to have a plaque there," Hughson said. "And long after I'm gone, it'll still be there.

"That's pretty cool."

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