You can see where players are going with the puck, or watch as scoring chances and breakouts develop. This is where Mark Lewis has been perched, high above the Edmonton crowd, for the last 35 years, his voice ringing through the rafters and raining down on the fans.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the ice YOUR Edmonton Oilers.”
For 35 years Lewis has had the opportunity to sit on the catwalk and share his enthusiasm for the game and the Oilers with fans. The long-time public address announcer for the club now looks to the next leg of his journey: retirement.
“It has been absolutely outstanding to be associated with a first-class organization like the Edmonton Oilers and just to have the opportunity to watch some hockey and really enjoy 35 years of winter time,” said Lewis.
His voice is synonymous with historic Rexall Place. It carried through the concourse when the building was called Northlands Coliseum, and Skyreach Centre. It has called out so many game-winning goals, overtime goals, playoff wins, and championships. As the Oilers say farewell to Rexall Place, moving to a new home next season, they also say farewell to a legend.
|Mark Lewis poses for a photo the night he announced his retirement. Photo by Jeff Nash | Edmonton Oilers. |
“The first word that does come to mind is ‘legend’,” said Oilers Director of Event Presentation Rich Meyers.
“Mark has been a part of the fabric of the Oilers and Rexall Place for 35 seasons. I only have a season and a half under my belt, but from day one he has been a class act. He’s always come to work early, ready to go, and he does everything you want. He does his research, he does his homework.”
Lewis could be labeled as a creature of habit, but that kind of routine also comes with longevity. After 35 years, your nightly schedule and responsibilities become second nature. That’s a good thing for Lewis, who has become efficient in preparation, giving him a chance to really soak in the game. It gives him the opportunity to soak in the hockey in front of him, and after so many years of watching the sport he’s still excited to watch every game.
“By being organized with what is your role within the game, it gives you a chance to watch hockey. On this team here, we’ve got some very good hockey players,” said Lewis.
The Oilers PA announcer arrives early to the rink, partakes in the media meal and mingles with his fellow voices and personalities. He’ll often chat with the television guys, going over pronunciations of new and opposing players. He checks over the game notes and reads his highlighted script.
While Lewis is trying to prep for the night, there are some laughs. Former Oilers enforcer turned television personality, Louie DeBrusk, has some fun with the man who once announced his name from above.
“One guy I find quite amusing is Louie DeBrusk. He’ll come over and tell me the wrong pronunciation,” said Lewis.
DeBrusk kids with Lewis, because not only has he been a fixture of the organization for nearly four decades, he is well-liked amongst his peers. Lewis comes off as humble, grateful and very friendly. A welcomed addition to any conversation.
Perhaps that is another reason for Lewis’ longevity. Players have come and gone, rosters have turned over, coaches have changed, but one voice has been constant.
Lewis took over for Gord Ross in 1981. A broadcaster by trade, Lewis was looking to do something different. He had dabbled as a DJ, music director and program director, managing a radio and television station as well. He came to Edmonton in 1976, and immediately gravitated toward the Oilers.
Lewis attended as many WHA games as possible, often 25-30 a year he says. When the PA announcer gig came available, he called up Bill Tuele with the public relations department and requested an interview.
Tuele hired him, and he began his PA announcing career with the Canada Cup in 1981.
“35 years later, here we are.”
There weren’t any nerves when Lewis took over those duties 35 years ago. He borrowed from his broadcast experience. It was just a matter of getting the enthusiasm right, reading the crowd.
“It was about getting into a routine and finding out what I was comfortable with and giving the Oilers what they wanted, which was professionalism and some excitement,” he said.
“The Edmonton crowd is very knowledgable about hockey. I think when they view the hockey played at Rexall Place, they can have a critical eye and they’ll let you know what they think of plays on the ice. Whether that’s positive or negative. After all these years, it’s almost automatic how I react to Oilers goals or to the penalties.”
Some nights are more easy to bring the energy than others.
“The other night when the Oilers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 in overtime, you saw the building explode and you saw the fans going absolutely wild. You have to match that enthusiasm,” said Lewis.
35 years is a long time to do one thing. To have that kind of career, one has to enjoy what they do and be good at it. One of the things that Lewis has enjoyed the most over the years is watching the kind of players that come through the NHL. He has also been a part of championships, with the first being a top memory.
“May 19, 1984 was the night the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup, here at Rexall Place,” said Lewis. “The arena went absolutely wild. The city just bubbled over with enthusiasm. We had been in the league five years and the owner at the time, Peter Pocklington, said on a Hockey Night in Canada interview in year one or year two, that this team will make the Stanley Cup within five years. They didn’t believe it and they laughed at him.
“That was a special night.”
|Photo Provided. |
More memorable moments for Lewis include the old days of the Battle of Alberta.
“All the times the Calgary Flames came into the Northlands Coliseum… those were very entertaining, hard-fought, rough games. There was so much about the 80s that was so positive.”
Lewis rattles off his highlight reel of memories, from the playoff games to the players watched, to traveling on behalf of the NHL to call games in cities without teams.
As Rexall Place retires from the NHL scene, it is fitting if not poetic that Lewis’ voice in the rafters goes with it. For Lewis, it’s all coincidental. He promised his wife he would retire after 30 years, but his passion for the game carried him to 35. It’s just time.
After announcing he would retire at the end of this season, Lewis was honoured at an Oilers game as part of the organization’s Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler campaign, in association with their Farewell Rexall season. Hearing the crowd’s ovation was fitting recognition for the long-time announcer.
“I’m really happy he’s receiving the recognition this week, because he’s great person and an iconic part of Rexall Place,” said Meyers.
Former Oilers player and Edmonton native Jason Strudwick tweeted out after the announcement that he used to go to games and listen to Lewis announce the names of his idols.
“It was special to hear him call mine,” said Strudwick.
Oilers Entertainment Group Vice-Chair Kevin Lowe shares Strudwick's sentiment.
“Through my 35 years in the NHL, I wouldn’t say there are a lot of people that stand out when it comes to PA announcers and hosts, but Mark is right up there as one of the truly recognizable voices around the League in the last three decades,” said Lowe. “As a player, hearing your voice being called out for your first game and goal in the NHL is a memory that sticks out, and his voice will always be remembered by our players, past and present.”
“That’s a compliment,” said Lewis. “I’ve heard that from several players. Those are very kind words and very complimentary words and it’ve very nice to hear them from players. There’s a number of players from the 80s, the 90s and even through the 2000s that I’ve heard say (they associate my voice with these memories). That’s quite a compliment hearing players grew up hearing my voice or heard it when they were fortunate enough to play professional hockey in Edmonton. For them to say that, that’s quite a compliment back to me.”
Yes, Lewis has been around many years, has seen a ton of hockey. He speaks fondly of what he witnessed in the past, but can hardly contain his excitement when he talks about the future. Lewis is just as excited to see what the next group of Oilers players and the new arena hold for the franchise moving forward, as the fans who have listened to him for decades.
A legend leaves the Oilers, but he will always have a place in the press box and a place in the memories of the fans.