Hours before the Maple Leafs took to the ice in Sunrise, Fla., to face the Panthers on Saturday, a Twitter user asked radio voice Joe Bowen a question about the weather. It was still cold in Ontario, they said, and they wondered if it was like the Sunshine State.
Bowen responded: “No idea.”
The veteran announcer was also in Ontario. Bowen and longtime color analyst Jim Ralph called Leafs road games from a sound booth in Toronto for two seasons, staying home while the team was away and describing the game to listeners starting in a TV stream.
That won’t change when the playoffs begin next week. In separate statements to AthleticismSportsnet and TSN – which share radio broadcast rights – have confirmed they will not change plans for the playoffs.
In an email, a TSN spokesperson wrote, “Our radio plans for the playoffs are consistent with our radio broadcasts over the past two years.”
“There is no change to how we plan to broadcast radio broadcasts to the public during the playoffs, as it will remain consistent with how games were called during the regular season and the playoffs over the course of the playoffs. the past two seasons,” a Sportsnet spokesperson wrote.
A spokesperson for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment said those decisions are up to the radio stations and “we support them in this process.”
It’s unclear whether the travel restriction will remain in place if the Leafs win their first-round series, something the franchise hasn’t accomplished since 2004.
“After 40 years of playing Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games, if they finally hit the jackpot, it will be very disappointing if we’re stuck in a studio at home when the trophy is presented,” Bowen said Monday. . . “But we will do our best under the circumstances.”
Bowen and Ralph signed five-year deals with TSN and Sportsnet in 2018, and those deals will run through next season. Under the terms of the deal, the pair alternate between Sportsnet 590 The FAN and TSN 1050 during the regular season and playoffs.
When the Leafs go on the road, broadcasters head to Channel Nine Court or One Mount Pleasant Road, the respective headquarters of TSN and Sportsnet, to call the games. It’s a flawed system, as illustrated again when the Leafs were in Florida.
There was a technical problem with the Canadian production truck. For several minutes during the first period in Florida, viewers of Hockey Night in Canada enjoyed coverage of the game in Florida, while the Canadian feed was being restored.
Bowen and Ralph briefly had access to only one camera angle, and that camera was placed too far from the ice to see the action clearly. At one point, their feed switched to a football game, which they relayed to their listening audience.
A survey of Canadian NHL teams suggests that most radio teams still cover games from the road. Ottawa and Edmonton both reported having radio crews on the road, while Montreal reported two – one for the French audience and another for the English audience.
The Flames said they did not have a radio crew on the road, while the Canucks said television and radio coverage on the road was intermittent. (The Winnipeg Jets were the only team not to respond in time for publication.)
As the sport slowly returned after the pandemic hit two years ago, many broadcasters found themselves working from home out of necessity. For weeks, even the hosts of “SportsCentre,” TSN’s flagship newscast, ended up inadvertently showing viewers around their living quarters.
With border closures and associated travel restrictions, the challenge was more acute for play-by-play broadcasters. Citing health concerns around COVID-19, Sportsnet started the 2020 baseball season with its team working remotely.
This year, with the border reopening and restrictions easing, the company still chose to keep play-by-play radio voice Ben Wagner at home. He works at Rogers Center when the Blue Jays are at home, but he works at Sportsnet headquarters in downtown Toronto when they’re on the road.
“I think you’re at a real disadvantage if you’re not with the ball club, so I’m really disappointed that we’re not traveling at the start of the season,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press published earlier this month. “Hopefully that can be looked at further during the season.
“Hopefully with the expectations and the level of excitement around this team, it’s something that’s constantly being reassessed.”
In a recent interview, Nelson Millman, former program director at The Fan, said working remotely on a TV screen makes life more difficult for a broadcaster. They depend on the view provided to them by the television feed and may not have the clearest perspective to convey to their audience.
“I think you miss a certain amount of nuance from the game – and again, no disrespect to the broadcaster,” he said. “I just don’t think you can fully encompass the scope of the game if you’re not in the park.”
Bowen and Ralph have worked together for two decades, and for a long time they traveled with the Leafs on the team’s charter. This simplified planning and travel, and even cut costs entirely for TSN 1050 and The Fan 590, who footed the bill to send them on the road.
That dynamic changed before the 2015-16 season, when Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello kicked the radio team out of the charter. Under the franchise’s new guiding principle, the charter was an extension of the locker room, reserved only for players and staff.
Initially, the withdrawal meant that Bowen and Ralph would call the games on the road to Toronto. The decision was changed following a wave of complaints from longtime listeners.
After two seasons of working from home, many listeners may not know that Bowen and Ralph aren’t on the road with the team unless the TV feed goes down.
(Jim Ralph and Joe Bowen’s Athletic file photo from 2019 courtesy of Joe Bowen)