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ESPN host John Saunders dies at 61

On-air personality was longtime part of Stanley Cup Playoff coverage

by Cutler Klein @CutlerKlein / Staff Writer

Longtime ESPN on-air personality John Saunders died Wednesday. He was 61.

Saunders, who was born in Canada, joined ESPN in 1986 and became a mainstay on many of its programs. He hosted ESPN and ABC's coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1993 to 2004, and Rendez-Vous '87, a two-game series between NHL All-Stars and the Soviet Union national team.

Saunders was scheduled to be a studio host for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which begins Sept. 17. ESPN will televise the games in the United States.

Tweet from @NHL: The NHL family mourns the passing of John Saunders, a genuine friend of hockey. We send comfort to his loved ones and many friends.

Saunders did play-by-play for college basketball and the WNBA, anchored studio coverage of the NCAA football national championship, was a studio host for ESPN's coverage of Major League Baseball, and anchored "SportsCenter." He was host of "The Sports Reporters," a Sunday roundtable of sports journalists, since 2001.

Before beginning his broadcasting career, Saunders was a standout hockey player in the Montreal junior leagues. He played hockey at Western Michigan University from 1974-76 before transferring to Ryerson Polytechnical in Toronto. His brother, Bernie Saunders, played 10 games for the Quebec Nordiques from 1979-81.

It was at Ryerson that John Saunders took an interest in broadcasting. He provided news reports on CHOO Radio in Ajax, Ontario.

When not on the air, Saunders worked with The V Foundation for Cancer Research as a founding member of the board of directors. He also worked to inspire young people to pursue journalism, speaking last week at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Washington, D.C.

Tweet from @WMUHockey: He played 1 game for @WMUHockey but he always gave a tremendous amount of support to the program. Rest in peace John

"John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades," ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement. "His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen.

"More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research. He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time."

Saunders is survived by his wife, Wanda, and two daughters, Aleah and Jenna.

Tweet from @NYRangers: Our condolences go out to the family and friends of John Saunders.

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