THE VOICE OF THE HAWKS
In his own mind, Evan Richardson has been doing play-by-play since his days on the high school hockey team in Cobourg, Ontario.
"I was not any good as a player. From the bench, I got to watch. That was my early-on play-calling, because I barely left the bench," he says with a laugh.
A decade later, Richardson's voice is not just in his head. His is the voice that describes Portland Winterhawks action.
A graduate of the College of Sports Media in Toronto who did play-by-play for the University of Toronto men's and women's hockey teams, Richardson jumped at the opportunity to come to Portland and immerse himself in junior hockey.
"A huge opportunity to go from just doing Canadian college hockey to coming to the Western Hockey League, and specifically the Portland Winterhawks," Richardson says. "Big city. Big team. Big fan base. Prolific franchise."
Richardson's opportunity happened after Todd Vrooman decided to change careers. Todd Vrooman was the Winterhawks' play-by-play voice for six seasons. He took over two seasons after his father, Dean Vrooman, left the play-by-play post following a 25-season run.
Richardson, 27, was recommended to Winterhawks coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston by Jim Hughson. Hughson is the lead play-by-play announcer for Hockey Night in Canada, a friend of Johnston's who also has a longtime friendship with Richardson's family.
Winterhawks President Doug Piper says Richardson's varied experiences — writing content for the web and for TV, working in front of and behind the TV camera, plus his play-by-play skills — make him a good fit for a job that includes media relations and providing content for winterhawks.com.
"There is a humorous component to his work, which we liked," Piper says.
Johnston says the Winterhawks are fortunate to have such a talented young announcer.
"It's good for him to work with an organization as a young guy and to have all those responsibilities," Johnston says. "And it's good for us to have a very motivated person."
When he headed to Toronto for college, Richardson's dream was to become a sports anchor for Canada's version of ESPN SportsCenter. His inspirations were Dan O'Toole and Jay Onrait, Canadian sports anchors who in 2013 moved from the Canadian cable sports network TSN to FOX Sports 1 in Los Angeles. In 2017, the duo returned to the Canadian network.
In the course of the sports broadcasting curriculum, Richardson started doing play-by-play for the volleyball and basketball teams at George Brown College in Toronto — and found his calling, so to speak.
He moved from George Brown to doing play-by-play for University of Toronto hockey teams. He also was working as a writer and highlights editor for TSN's highlights show, SportsCentre.
Richardson debuted as the voice of the Winterhawks on Oct. 27, after waiting a couple of months for his immigration paperwork to be approved. He is appreciative of the support of the Winterhawks, including the coaching staff, and says the frustrating wait through the immigration process gave him more time to learn about the team, the league and the city. He listened to Andy Kemper's play-by-play. Kemper, in his 14th season doing either commentary or play-by-play for the Hawks, has a full-time job outside of hockey and was not interested in returning full-time to calling games.
Noting Richardson's experience doing improv theater, Kemper says he and Richardson quickly developed a rapport on the broadcasts — in part because they appreciate each other's sense of humor.
"We both like to throw in little one-liners whenever we can. It makes the broadcast fun," Kemper says.
Richardson says Kemper, known for his attention to statistics and details, has been a great resource for information about the Winterhawks and the WHL.
He also is thankful that Todd Vrooman spent several hours with him, discussing the job and the Winterhawks.
"Everybody knows how wonderful Todd is and the talented broadcaster that he was," Richardson says. "So sitting down with him and learning how he did things, how he spoke with Mike, the day-to-day processes of this job ... it saved me from a lot of trouble."
Also helpful was riding with Dean Vrooman to Everett and back for an early-season game.
"It's an undertaking because people are so used to a Vrooman," Richardson says of being the play-by-play broadcaster. "But I gladly take on the reins, and they've been very, very helpful."
Richardson also reached out to veteran WHL broadcasters Regan Bartel at Kelowna and Cam Moon in Red Deer for advice.
"They've been doing it for years and years and years and they honed their crafts and are the guys in this league," Richardson says.
Richardson says he knew plenty about junior hockey's Ontario Hockey League. And, as an avid NHL fan — especially of the Toronto Maple Leafs — he knew about NHL draft picks Cody Glass, Henri Jokiharju, Kieffer Bellows and Joachim Blichfeld. But he spent so much time learning about his job, studying the Winterhawks and the WHL, that he did not watch much NFL football or his beloved Rams, missing out on the best season in more than a decade for his favorite NFL team.
Kemper is impressed with Richardson's preparation for each broadcast.
"He asks a lot of good questions," Kemper says. "I really respect his professionalism and being as prepared as he can to get ready for a broadcast."
Richardson's immigration papers were finalized shortly before the Winterhawks' road trip through the Central Division. Richardson said it was great timing because the trip allowed him to get to know players off the ice a little better and to meet some of their families.
"The road has been a lot of fun. it's probably where I've grown the most as a broadcaster over these first months," he says.
The travel doesn't bother Richardson, who says he is "one of those people who can fall asleep at the drop of a dime. It is very helpful."
Kemper does not travel with the team, so road games are a one-man show for Richardson.
"When you're on your own, you just have to keep going and going and going and going," Richardson says. "You have to learn how to talk when maybe you weren't ready to talk for an extra minute."
Talking has always come naturally to Richardson. He had parts in several plays in high school and did a bit of acting while in college
"I knew I was never going to make a career of that, but it was fun to do," he says. "I had the voice for it. I could act a little bit. That performance personality is something I always had."
It runs in the family, too. Evan's older sister, Emily, is a comedian/actress who is a member of The Second City comedy troupe in Toronto.
Richardson knew during the interview process that his Winterhawks broadcasts would be over the internet, not the radio. Instead of buying radio time, the Winterhawks this season have invested in a mobile app to stream the play-by-play on mobile devices and computers.
Richardson says he loves radio but understands that over-the-air is not the wave of broadcasting's future.
Moving from Toronto to Portland has been an adjustment. But Richardson says the cities have a similar vibe.
"They're both progressive towns, forward-thinking big cities," he says. "I knew early on I was going to like (Portland). People were kind. It is a big city but it has very certain pockets and districts to it, which makes it feel almost small-townish."
For Richardson, Portland has provided a big-time opportunity — one that has his complete attention.
"Sure, anyone would like to call in the NHL or even the American Hockey League ... but I have not looked that far ahead," he says. "I want to become the best WHL, Portand Winterhawks broadcaster I can be. And when I become that I hope to continue to get better."