By Dan Walton
Even though the local arena wasn’t even built when John Shannon grew up in the Town of Oliver, he still managed to become a hall of famer through his career in broadcasting.
Until the Oliver Arena opened up in 1971, the Penticton Memorial Arena was his closest rink. His grandma lived just a short walk away from it, so him, his parents and two older brothers visited regularly to get their fix of Junior B hockey.
“Our family was a sports family. We loved the Lions, we loved the Canucks, we loved watching baseball,” he said. “In many ways part of the love affair with hockey was the old Penticton Memorial Arena.”
Shannon spends most of his time nowadays in Toronto working as a broadcaster for Rogers Sportsnet, but he’ll be back at the (new) home of the Vees later this year to get inducted into the British Columbia Hall of Fame.
“It was special,” he said about the news of his induction. “Particularly that the ceremony is going to be in Penticton, so close to home. Both of my brothers will be there; my family will be there.”
The ceremony takes place on July 28 at the South Okanagan Events Centre. The other 2017 inductees are former Vancouver Canucks Thomas Gradin and Tony Tanti; former general manager of the Canucks and Leafs Dave Nonis; linesman Brad Lazarowich; and Ron Togo, owner of the Vancouver Giants. The 1996-97 Allan Cup Champion Powell River Regals will also be inducted on the 20th anniversary of their victory; all 24 players were B.C. born.
In the mid-1970s, Shannon went to university in Vancouver for a year before heading out to Toronto to pursue a degree in broadcasting. Shortly after finishing school, he was hired onto the team at Hockey Night in Canada.
He started broadcasting playoff hockey in 1977, and he began regularly producing the Stanley Cup Championships by 1980 – the beginning of the New York Islanders dynasty.
“(Bob) Nystrom scored in overtime in game six,” to win his team the playoffs, Shannon recalled.
It was also an era when Western Canadian hockey teams were extra hot.
“The Oilers and Flames were two of the best teams of the decade.”
He remembers the old Winnipeg Jets were also having a strong decade, though their efforts were eclipsed by Edmonton and Calgary
“Broadcasting’s a passion so I’ve never really had a job. I love both sides of the camera and microphone.
“There are challenges but every day is fun. Every day you get excited. I get to meet tons of people, get to travel. There’s really no downside. I always tell people I play in the sandbox of life.”
By the mid-1980s, Hockey Night in Canada was in search of a new host, and it was Shannon’s job to look for legendary talent. He knew of an impressive weather man from Red Deer named Ron MacLean. From their first meeting, Shannon told MacLean that the position was essentially his, though there would still be a hiring process.
And as history goes, MacLean went on to become one of CBC’s most prominent co-hosts.
Asked what he saw in MacLean as a weatherman, “It was the same thing as now, he has the ability to make you feel like you’re a part of his storytelling,” Shannon said. “That’s what he does so well and why he got the job.”
During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Shannon was broadcasting for NBC.
As the lone Canadian on a crew of Americans, he was responsible for broadcasting the gold medal games for men and women’s hockey.
It’s no surprise that Shannon was rooting for Team Canada, though he wasn’t allowed to show any bias as a broadcaster.
“You try very hard not to become emotionally involved and become a fan.”
Afterwards, Shannon and a few dozen of his teammates at NBC were awarded Emmys for the Olympic coverage.
Since 2009, he’s been a member of the team at Hockey Central.
As the game of hockey evolves and becomes faster, Shannon says it’s made the game better. Two issues he does have, however, is that the goalie equipment is too big and there could be a little more hitting, he said.