Finding his calling
Every play-by-play announcer has that signature call that stands out above the rest, one which becomes synonymous with their name over time.
When you think of the Vancouver Canucks’ John Shorthouse, what likely pops to mind is his ‘They have slayed the dragon!’ call in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs when Alex Burrows’ overtime goal eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in a dramatic game seven of the opening round series.
Or former Canucks’ play-by-play legend Jim Robson during the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, he said: ‘He will play. You know he will play. He’ll play on crutches!’ about Vancouver captain Trevor Linden following the team’s game six victory over the New York Rangers to force a seventh and deciding game for the Stanley Cup.
Just 24 years old and Brandon Astle may have already had his signature call.
The Langley Rivermen play-by-play produced an epic call back in October during a dramatic last-second Rivermen 4-3 victory over the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings at the Langley Events Centre when Austin Azurdia scored with 0.3 seconds on the clock to bury the winner.
“No he didn’t! Are you kidding me? One of the most amazing goals you will ever see. This kid could run for mayor! Is this actually happening? Toe-drag between the legs, top shelf over Thompson. SportsCentre get ready: that is the highlight of the year!”
The YouTube clip of the goal went viral — at last count, it had more than 105,000 views — as Global, TSN, Sportsnet, ESPN, CNNSI and Yahoo all featured the goal on their websites or broadcasts.
“We have joked a lot about that goal call, but it was just a great example of how passionate Brandon is about the team and about the game,” said Jared Harman, the LEC’s director of business development.
Harman brought Astle on board, first as his colour commentator on Langley Chiefs broadcasts, and then as his replacement in the play-by-play chair.
“He brings an energy; Brandon has great enthusiasm when he does a broadcast.”
Looking back at that goal now, a few months later, Astle admits he did not even remember what he said on air during that climactic moment.
He does remember that Azurdia was having an outstanding weekend as the forward scored four goals and five points, including both game-winners as Langley took two games over Prince George.
“I don’t know what got into me, but I just knew Austin was going to do something special,” Astle said.
“He made that great move and that great shot and I don’t know how it popped into my head. It was totally spur of the moment.”
“I just blurted it out,” he added. “I didn’t know how people were going to react. Thankfully, it was on the positive side.”
Over the past couple of seasons — he began doing broadcast work for Langley in the 2007/08 season — Astle said his traditional call for overtime winners has been ‘boom, baby’ but for whatever reason, ‘this kid could run for mayor’ is what came out when he called Azurdia’s goal.
“It was just a testament to how well he was playing,” Astle explained.
“I didn’t think about it, I just blurted it out. And to be honest, I don’t even really remember saying it until listening to it after the game.
“But the fans seemed to enjoy it (and) it is definitely something Austin and I are going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
Astle has been calling games, in some sort, since he was about 10 years old. It began on a Port Coquitlam cul-de-sac where he and his friends used to play street hockey.
One day, he decided to do commentary as he was playing. His friends saw he had a knack for it and they encouraged Astle to continue, which raised his confidence.
For the next few years, he intently followed broadcasters such as Jim Robson, Jim Hughson, John Shorthouse as well as others from around the NHL.
“Right then and there, I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” Astle said.
Following graduation from Riverside Secondary in 2006, Astle enrolled at Vancouver’s Columbia Academy, completing a 10-month broadcasting program.
Upon completion of the program, he quickly found the job in Langley and has been thriving ever since.
Astle also works as the Rivermen’s media relations officer and ticket manager.
But his heart is in the broadcast.
“I don’t even call it work actually, it is just a blast,” he said.
Not to say it isn’t hard.
There is the countless hours of prep time prior to the games, studying rosters and stats.
Astle admits his memory is not the greatest, but once a player steps onto the ice, for whatever reason, he can recall everything he needs to about that individual. There are also the long road trips and the constant battle to make sure his voice lasts the entire season.
In his time with Langley, Astle has only missed one weekend of games.
One of the keys he shared was to have two or three bottles of water per game, “to lube up the pipes.”
It can also be challenging on those games where he doesn’t have a colour commentator, leaving him alone in the booth.
Astle is also constantly looking to increase his vocabulary by searching the dictionary and thesaurus to try to avoid sounding repetitive.
He also watches or listens to other broadcasters for ideas.
“When most people are watching a sport, they are watching the game, but I am really paying attention to what the commentators are saying and trying to learn from the best of the best,” Astle said.
“I am not trying to copy from them but add their type of knowledge and stuff they say to the broadcast for when I go on the air.”
And as for replicating his Azurdia call — Astle said he is constantly asked how he will top that call — he doesn’t have anything special saved in the back of his head.
“I am not putting that pressure on myself,” he said.
“If something amazing like that happens again, hopefully something memorable blurts out of my mouth.”