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Walling: Remembering play-by-play announcer Connolly

Alex J. Walling
11/29/2012 12:49:45 PM
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Pat Connolly got his first play-by-play lesson from Foster Hewitt in 1945 as an 18-year-old and Danny Gallivan got him the Halifax job when he went to cover the Montreal Canadiens in 1952.

Connolly was one of the finest hockey play-by-play men I've ever heard, and that's included in the same class as Gallivan and Hewitt. Connolly even had a better voice. A golden voice.

He passed away this week at 84.

Many people in Atlantic Canada know of Pat as he spent most of his life here. There was a seven-year span where he worked in London and Chatham, Ontario doing - what else - hockey games for the London Knights and Western Mustangs and Chatham's hockey teams of the 1960's. But for the most part, he was a Maritimer who started his career in a Sydney newspaper.

I first met Pat when I came to Halifax in 1972.

He was the play-by-play voice of the Nova Scotia Vees and called the game when they became the first Canadian team to win a Calder Cup in 1971. As soon as I heard him, I said that man belongs in the NHL doing play-by-play.

Connolly had two chances to go to the NHL, one with the Chicago Blackhawks and in 1969 - when Bud Poile called him and offered him the Philadelphia Flyers broadcasting job.

"I said no at the time for different reasons," he once told me.  "One is that I had a very young child and another is I never aspired to a big city. I had been in Halifax and I loved it here."

How big was Pat in Maritime Canada?

He was the first ever CBC TV sportscaster in the Maritimes back in 1954.

There are two daily papers in Halifax and Pat wrote for both of them.

He worked at many radio stations, but his biggest strength was hockey.

He loved the sport and had many friends in hockey, including NHL people.

He would often go up to Montreal or Toronto for meetings and ended up in Maple Leaf Gardens or the old Montreal Forum.

I've been around sports for a while, and Pat was the best hockey man I knew.

He served on the selection committee for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and knew just about every hockey general manager on a first name basis.  Now the Hewitt story goes back to 1945 when the Sydney Millionaires made it to the Allan Cup in Toronto. Connolly ran into Foster, who invited him to broadcast from the Gondola.

"You're not bad kid," he told Connolly after one period. "Slow down a little and always be a second or so behind the play."   How many guys get instruction from Foster?  For nearly 25 years he called the AHL games for the Vees, the Nova Scotia Oilers, the Cape Breton Oilers and the Halifax Citadels.

He lived hockey.

In 1994, the Halifax Mooseheads were formed. From the first game through to 2009, Pat was behind the microphone as the team's public address announcer.

When he retired in 2009, the Mooseheads named the press box after him and put his name on the rafters with a banner showing his name and microphone - a nice touch.

He was also the voice of the Saint Mary's Huskies for many years.

And he was the voice of any sports group who wanted him, as he was one of the best emcees around and would volunteer his time to do events. He hardly charged, saying, "someone gave me a great voice if I can use it for good things, and then I will."  Polished, poised and professional is what he was in everything he said and did.

I have never heard anyone in 40 years say anything bad about him (not one) and let me tell you in this ego driven business that is rare.

He was involved in sports in other ways. He was the chairman of the Nova Scotia Hall of Fame from 1982 to 1998, which caused a problem because as chairman he would not allow his name in for membership. A year after he distanced himself he was inducted to the Hall. In other words, they had to get him out as chairman in order to get him in the Hall.

I knew him for most of the 23 years that the AHL was in the Maritimes. Some of those Vees teams were so strong they could have played in the NHL and made the playoffs.

"We had great teams," he said. "The first team that came here in 1971-72 had Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson on it. The 1972-73 club that (Montreal Canadiens GM) Sam Pollock had featured four first-round draft choices. They were talented teams."

How good was Connolly? To me, the only voice that's better was the NFL's inaugural voice - John Facenda. Now, that's exclusive company.

Indeed, the golden voice of sports and a Maritime legend was silenced this week.

For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J Walling.

Alex J. can be reached via email at: ajw@eastlink.ca




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