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Living the Dream: Denis Beyak, Voice of the Jets

If one were to look back on Dennis Beyak’s career, one would probably see a broadcaster who became a hockey executive who went back to being a broadcaster.

Look a bit more closely, however, and one will see a broadcaster who became a hockey executive who became a kid again.

Dennis Beyak

Dennis Beyak

Like countless young people in this country, Beyak’s childhood dream was to grow up and call the play-by-play for a National Hockey League team. Like so few of those young people, he eventually realized his dream. Forget that it took him until he was 60 years old to fall into a comfortable position in the job. That part doesn’t matter.

What matters is that a kid out of Winnipegosis who took a broadcasting diploma and turned it into the ability to run hockey teams, never gave up on what he really wanted in life.

And while becoming a National Hockey League broadcaster might not be thought of in the same terms as climbing Mount Everest or building a Fortune 500 company after the age of 60, it’s very likely more people have done both of those things than become ‘the Voice of an NHL Team,’ at a time when most people are grinding toward retirement.

Of course, when it comes to being born in Winnipegosis, Man. (population: 647) and then becoming a National Hockey League broadcaster that’s an occurrence that is even more rare. Fact is, Dennis Beyak is the only one.

“My home town is not the end of the world, but you can see it from there,” Beyak said, as he prepared to call the Jets-Pittsburgh Penguins game for TSN Jets TV in late February. “Until I left home in 1969, I went to class every day in a one-room schoolhouse.”

Beyak’s trek from Rice Lake School to the broadcast booth at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre is a long and winding one, but he always felt that some how, this is where that road would eventually lead. Even when he was as far away from the NHL as one could imagine.

In 1969, Beyak left Winnipegosis and arrived in Winnipeg to attend the Canadian National Institute of Broadcasting, on Fort St. A year later, he got himself a job at CFRA in Flin Flon.

“I did everything and every shift you can possibly do at a radio station,” he said. “I essentially started as a D.J. Then, in my second year, I started doing play-by-play for the Flin Flon Bombers of the Western Hockey League.

“I’ll never forget, my first game was against the Brandon Wheat Kings and I was nervous as hell. Of course, I was only 19-years-old.”

In 1972, Beyak got a pretty big break and got a call to move to Saskatoon to call the play-by-play for the Saskatoon Blades. After two years in Saskatoon, I moved to Victoria.

Beyak at Work.

Beyak at Work.

“The infamous Paddy Ginnell (a coach who manager who built some of the craziest, wildest, fightin’-est teams in hockey history), sold the Flin Flon Bombers and bought the club in Victoria,” Beyak said. “He asked me to go out there and be the broadcaster and work for the club, so off I went. In my two years there, we had some of the wildest games.”

Then Ginnell sold that team and Beyak didn’t know what his future would hold. That is, until he was driving through Saskatoon one day that summer, went to check up on some old friends and walked into CFQC Radio and Television on the day the sports director was being let go.”

“I literally walked in and got my old job back,” Beyak said with a laugh. “There was a lot of uncertainty in Victoria and there I was. Back in Saskatoon to do radio and TV and that’s when I started calling more sports than you can imagine – hockey with the Saskatoon Blades and football, basketball and even soccer and volleyball at the University of Saskatchewan. It was a great job and I was in the right place at the right time.”

By 1981, Beyak was not only calling the Blades games, but he was working in the team’s front office. At this point, he was about to embark on a brand new career path. In fact, he left the play-by-play booth for the next four seasons and concentrated on his new job as Assistant General Manager of the Blades.

“Darrell Lubinecki had taken over the team and he was the coach, general manager player personnel guy and I did everything else,” Beyak said. “I concentrated on sales and promotions and I did everything else.”

However, in 1988, the people Saskatoon built themselves a new hockey arena and the junior game, already bigger than life, in Saskatchewan became even more important. At that point, the local cable company wanted a veteran play-by-play voice and they were only interested in putting the Blades on TV if it sounded professional.

“They’d do our games on television if I did the play-by-play,” Beyak recalled. “We had the Memorial Cup (the national junior championship tournament) coming up in 1989 and I was already chairman of that event and we wanted the games on TV, so I went back up to the booth.”

The Memorial Cup turned out to be an important turning point in Beyak’s life. They say there are moments in one’s life when his/her reputation is solidified. For Beyak, that moment came in the spring of 1989.

“That was huge for me,” he said. “I MC’d the banquet, did play-by-play for the entire tournament and in the end it was the most successful Memorial Cup to date. It gave me plenty of opportunities.”

One of those opportunities came almost immediately. After the Memorial Cup, he was asked to go to Seattle and take over as Assistant General Manager of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

Beyak's hockey card“I did pretty much what I’d done in Saskatoon, but I also did the play-by-play for two years,” he said. “Then in 1992, I became the general manager and after two years as GM in Seattle, I was offered the job as GM with the Tri-City Americans.

“I took that position for one very successful year, but there was an ownership change and the new owner wanted to hire his buddy and I was out. I ended up as commissioner of the West Coast Hockey League.”

Then came the biggest move of his career. He was hired to be a sportscaster and the TV play-by-play voice of the Edmonton Oilers. He was 44-years-old.

“I was the TV sportscaster and when we did Oilers games, I was the play-by-play guy,” he said. “But I still had to anchor sportscasts on the station. I wasn’t a full-time play-by-play guy.”

Still, he loved every minute of the job. He always wanted to do NHL play-by-play and now he had an opportunity to do it. But it wasn’t a full-time play-by-play job.

“Two years into the job in Edmonton, I was on my way Eskimos practice and I got a call from the Molstar, the people who ran Hockey Night in Canada,” Beyak remembered. “They asked I could move to Toronto. I remember my last sportscast at CFRN interrupted by word that Lady Di had been involved in a car accident.

“I accepted the job in Toronto and did Toronto radio and lots of play-by-play until 2010.”

Dennis Beyak in the Booth.

Dennis Beyak in the Booth.

And that’s when the Jets returned to his native Manitoba.

“When the Jets came back, I lobbied hard to get this job with TSN,” Beyak said. “I knew I was 61, but I still wanted the job and I still knew I’d be good at it. I never worked at getting a job harder than I did at getting this one.”

Winnipeg Goldeyes radio broadcaster Paul Edmonds summed up Beyak’s skills in three words: “He’s a pro.” There is probably not a greater compliment for any broadcaster.

To this day, Dennis Beyak will tell you his favorite place to live was Seattle and his greatest memory was the 1989 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, but when it comes to being exactly where he wants to be at this time of his life, there is no doubt about it.

“What I have right now has always been my dream job,” he said. “I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than right here. That’s why I went after it so hard. For a Manitoba guy, this is the best job I could possibly have.”

Beyak in the ACC Booth.

Beyak in the ACC Booth.

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