John Ashbridge, the public-address announcer for hockey’s Vancouver Canucks for more than three decades, was an unseen but omniscient presence.
From his perch high above the ice, he announced goals, assists, penalties, lineups, attendance and the “last minute to play in this period” in a baritone so rich it was compared to that of James Earl Jones, a basso profundo. On august occasions, he recited the accomplishments of star players. Sometimes, he scolded fans for throwing debris or otherwise misbehaving.
Mr. Ashbridge, who has died three days before his 72nd birthday, served as the Voice of God for hockey fans on the West Coast, fulfilling a role in an elite fraternity whose membership has included such revered figures as Paul Morris in Toronto and the late Claude Mouton in Montreal, a bilingual broadcaster after whom a street has been named not far from the Olympic Stadium.
Mr. Ashbridge’s stentorian tones were a familiar part of the experience for patrons at the Pacific Coliseum and GM Place (now Rogers Arena). He was also the voice of the Vancouver Giants junior hockey team and served as a hockey announcer during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In the 2004 movie Miracle, which starred Kurt Russell as the coach of underdog American collegians who defeat stern Soviet skaters, Mr. Ashbridge played the role of “American Announcer,” providing play-by-play for scenes filmed on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum. “Talk about being typecast!” he quipped in mock outrage.
The announcer was known for rarely flubbing his lines, though a goal in 2007 by Milan Lucic from Wacey Rabbit and Michal Repik proved to be a tongue-twister. On a second try, the announcer properly enunciated the goal by MEE-lan LOO-sihk with assists to WAY-see RA-biht and MEE-kahl REH-pihk.
For his part, Mr. Lucic, who was born in Vancouver and currently plays for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League, said hearing his name called by Mr. Ashbridge was a dream come true.
John Edward Ashbridge was born on June 8, 1946, in southeast England in the town of Hastings. “As in Battle of,” he liked to say. The former Florence Elizabeth (Betty) Sparks and Edward Ryder Ashbridge, a carpenter, immigrated to Canada before the boy’s second birthday. They lived in Ontario before settling on Vancouver Island, where he attended school in Lantzville, Nanaimo and Victoria.
As a 13-year-old Victoria High student, he hung out at radio station CJVI where he was an unpaid gofer for two years, often assisting engineers with small tasks and on occasion being allowed to operate the board. He was still an underclassman when he got his first on-air experience at station CFAX, where it was his job to offer live updates to the time and weather against a sing-song recorded track. He also had to enunciate without error the sponsor’s name, Miss Frith Millinery, a challenging combination of consonants.
Just days after his high-school graduation, Mr. Ashbridge moved to Vancouver at age 17 to read and report news for CJOR, a radio station with studios in the basement of the Grosvenor Hotel on Howe Street. A year later, he was hired by CKNW in the suburb of New Westminster, a popular news-and-talk station which accurately billed itself as Top Dog in the Vancouver market.
CKNW would be his home for almost four decades. He spent an ill-fated three months as news director at rock station CFUN and a more successful three-year stint in the same role at CJCI in Prince George.
In 1980, he emigrated to Australia because he felt he had reached his professional peak in Vancouver and did not want to work elsewhere in Canada where “they have 10 months’ snow and two months’ ice,” as he told a Sydney newspaper. He found a job reading the evening news for radio station 2CH, including a 10-minute bulletin at 10 p.m. The station received complaints about his accent, which was mistakenly described as American. He then bounced over to Seven Sydney News as a producer before being fired a few months later. “It’s a bit like a team which is down,” he said, “and the coach being fired.” He landed at radio station 2SM as a breakfast newsreader and senior news editor, but was soon back in Vancouver with CKNW.
Mr. Ashbridge filled in as the announcer at Canucks games for CKNW co-worker Jon McComb. The pair soon after switched shifts at the radio station – Mr. McComb working evenings, Mr. Ashbridge days – freeing the latter to take over as full-time announcer for the 1987-88 season. He added the junior Giants to his workload in 2004 and retired from the station the following year.
He flew to Japan in 1997 and again in 1998 to be the English announcer for NHL games played at Yoyogi Arena in Tokyo.
An omnipresent character at charity events, notably those of the Canucks Alumni Team, Mr. Ashbridge was the voice of Crime Stoppers in Vancouver, once saying of a wanted drug dealer, “It would be a good idea to get Mr. Swales out of circulation as quickly as possible.”
In 1970, he also voiced a fictional newscast of the Crucifixion on behalf of Protestant churches.
He was an occasional announcer at Vancouver Canadians minor-league baseball games.
Mr. Ashbridge volunteered on a local hospital board and recorded the safety and emergency messages to be heard on CHNW-FM, the four-watt, city-operated emergency information radio station.
On news of the death, many Vancouver-area broadcasters praised the announcer for his generosity as a mentor.
Mr. Ashbridge died on June 5, a few months after receiving a cancer diagnosis. He leaves Yvonne Eamor, his wife of 34 years, a well-known Vancouver broadcaster. He also leaves two daughters from a previous marriage, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by daughter Wendy Jean Goss, who died of cancer at age 37 in 2006.
In his hockey career, he announced a Memorial Cup junior championship, a World Junior championship and gold medals for Canada’s men and women at the Olympics. What he had most hoped to witness – a Stanley Cup victory by the Canucks – eluded him.
He was asked how he coped with seeing so many underwhelming games by underachieving Canucks squads. He acknowledged he had seen his share of stinkers, yet considered himself fortunate.
“They’re paying me to do this,” he once told the Nanaimo Daily News, “I have a front-row seat, I have an unobstructed view, I’ve had a pregame meal, they’ve provided me with parking. Does it get any better than this?”