If there was one constant to Rogers Community Television’s telecasts of Brampton Battalion games, it was the voice and presence of play-by-play man Doug Anderson.
Anderson worked the Battalion’s inaugural home game, a 5-1 loss to the Kitchener Rangers on Oct. 9, 1998, and expects to be behind the microphone March 17 when the Troops host the Peterborough Petes in the final regular-season game of a 15-year stay in Brampton.
“It was a sad day when the announcement was made that the team was moving to North Bay,” said Anderson, who called the North Bay Centennials’ final road game March 24, 2002, a 6-5 overtime loss to the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors in the third game of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal. “It’ll be a sad day when they play their last game here. I’ve tried not to think too much about the last few games of the season, and it will probably hit me next season when it comes to the first week and I have nowhere to go.
“It’s disheartening and disappointing, but the writing has been on the wall for a while through no fault of Scott Abbott’s. He’s done everything he could to keep the club here. But 15 seasons is a pretty good run.”
Anderson, who has worked for the past two years with colour commentator Peter Kourtis and host Laura Barney, auditioned and landed the job after calling high school and minor hockey tournaments and games for the junior A Streetsville Derbys.
“In the early years I probably did six games as the host, play-by-play and colour guy,” said Anderson. “The first season it was more about having OHL hockey in Brampton. It was a big deal here. Like any expansion team, you knew they weren’t going to be very competitive early, but they went on a run over the next two or three seasons where they played some very solid hockey. The first season was tough, but there was a lot of young talent, like a 15-year-old Jason Spezza.”
In the Battalion’s first three seasons Anderson also called games for the Mississauga IceDogs, who entered the OHL in 1998-99 with the Troops.
“In the fourth season Rogers came to me and asked me to choose between the Battalion and IceDogs, or they would choose for me. I chose the Battalion because I got along with everyone here, from the front office to the arena guys. I was treated well and felt like a part of the organization. In Mississauga there was a real separation for me personally. It was a revolving door of owners and coaches, but the IceDogs had some terrific players and played some exciting games.”
Among Anderson’s partners in the Battalion’s early years was Sam Cosentino, who would go on to call games for the Majors with former Battalion public address announcer Dan Dunleavy before signing with Sportsnet as its junior hockey analyst.
“In the early days there was very little feedback on the commentary or production values, and the Rogers people went about producing the games the best they could,” said Cosentino. “You knew there weren’t millions of people watching, so you weren’t afraid to make a mistake. Doug was great at carrying the play, and I learned quickly from him, and from all my years watching hockey, that the colour guy really speaks up only between the whistles.
“It could be a challenge in those days, because you might have people not show up or people working in unfamiliar areas. Doug and I had to cover up a lot of things so the viewer at home would think everything was fine, when behind the scenes we might have been undermanned. Doug made it a lot easier. On many nights and afternoons he made the game look a lot better than it might have been behind the scenes.”
Said Anderson: “Sam is so talented and another guy who really does his homework. I’ve worked with great people here, like Mark Heron, Michelle Sturino, Mike Hancock and my current partners, Laura and Peter.
“We do a lot of research for games. We’re not reporters, but we take a lot of pride in doing the best job we can with what we have. For on-air staff it’s the best training ground, because things can be thrown at you out of the blue. It really helps people make the transition from Rogers OHL games to Sportsnet’s games because the graphics are the same, the music is the same, and most of the production values are similar as well.”
Said Barney: “Doug was intimidating to work with at first. He’s an amazing, welcoming guy, and I would be getting ready to go on and trying to memorize every stat and Doug already knows everything and everyone. He told me in my first game, ‘If you don’t know it now, you won’t know it 15 minutes from now.’ I thought that he was totally right and I just calmed right down. He’s great at giving feedback too. He always knows how to lighten the mood.”
Battalion games haven’t always been as available on Rogers as they were in 2012-13, when all but five of 68 games were shown live. In 2000-01, Rogers showed 21 games, including 11 at home, and showed all 34 home games for the first time in 2007-08. For three seasons, starting in 2010-11, Rogers telecast a maximum of 65 games, with only visits to the OHL’s three United States-based teams, the Erie Otters, Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit, unavailable.
“In my opinion, there’s nobody better in the OHL than Doug,” said Battalion president Mike Griffin. “He’s passionate, intelligent and knowledgeable. He cares about the team and the organization. I have a ton of respect for him. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to find a match for Doug in North Bay, but if we could take him up there and lock him in the TV booth I’d be a happy guy.”
Over the years, Anderson said, he’s seen the production values and quality of the Rogers telecasts grow tremendously.
“It’s community television, so it’s a volunteer-based thing from the camera guys to the on-air guys. The guys behind the scenes don’t always do this for a living or have a lot of experience, so it becomes a teaching thing. You learn as you go. There were a lot of mistakes made.
“But the technology has come so far, with high-definition cameras, better sound and better trucks. Rogers has invested millions of dollars into equipment, and the OHL is trying to make sure all teams meet a certain standard. Rogers had turned the OHL into its own property, not just locally, but so that everyone in Ontario has access to almost every OHL game.”
Anderson has a number of fond memories of his time calling Battalion games.
“The first would have to be the run to the Memorial Cup in 2009 that fell short against the Windsor Spitfires in the final. It was great watching Wojtek Wolski become one of the best offensive players the OHL has had and watching the combination of Matt Duchene and Cody Hodgson. We’ve seen tremendous players come through here who have gone on to the NHL, but there are a lot of guys who didn’t get to the NHL, like Aaron van Leusen, who left it on the ice every night.”
Anderson isn’t sure what lies ahead once the Battalion’s final season ends.
“I don’t have a lot of prospects for hockey next season. If the opportunity came up somewhere, I’d love to keep doing OHL games. I did recently sign a contract with Red Bull to be the voice of their Crashed Ice events, but I’ll certainly miss the 34 regular-season home dates we had here with the Battalion.”