SUDBURY, Ont. – Calling Soo Thunderbirds games in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League on HockeyTV.com is a family affair for Anthony Valade.
As the current dean of NOJHL play-by-play broadcasters, the Sault Ste. Marie product has spent the past decade behind the mic, voicing home contests for the Thunderbirds.
“This is Year 10 for me,” offered Valade, who works alongside colour commentator Dominic Turco on game night at John Rhodes Community Centre.
“For those that don’t know, Dom and I are cousins and we’ve been enjoying sports together a long time,” he boasted.
He also quipped: “Well except the NFL, since he’s a Detroit Lions fan, so there isn’t much to enjoy.”
Having someone you know that well adds that extra intangible to the Soo broadcasts.
“It’s good to have someone you’re so familiar with. We usually know what’s coming next.”
The time spent together brings out the best of the Thunderbirds’ play-callers.
“Over the years we’ve got used to each other and just know how to play off one another. I think those that watch, know that Dom enjoys the game and he brings that out. Also, like me, he calls it like he sees it and I’m sure – well I know, over the years it has ruffled some feathers, but at least we know they’re listening.”
Valade truly values what Turco brings to the broadcast every night and knows he’s a big part of the combo’s success.
“We’ve been fortunate to have received a lot of positive feedback over our time calling games and Dom’s obviously a big part of that success,” he provided.
A life-long passion, having the chance to call NOJHL games on HockeyTV is something that Valade truly enjoys.
“I’ve always wanted to be a broadcaster, so it essentially allows me to do something I love.”
“When I was younger, in my teens I guess, friends were talking about the games and what they remembered, but for me, I was talking about the call and how it sounded. Didn’t matter the sport. I was always just fascinated by various styles and emotions it can bring to a game.”
As the club’s play-by-play man in Sault Ste. Marie, Valade has also had the opportunity to call contests of arguably the premier club in the league of the course of the past decade.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be around one of the most successful franchises in the NOJHL. So much so, it’s actually considered a down-year when the team didn’t make the finals.”
In his 10-year-run as the Soo’s play-by-play person, Valade has a few favourite moments that are etched in his vault of memorable occasions.
“Calling Game 7 of the finals against Hearst in 2019 is definitely near the top,” Valade said. “I mean, a seventh and deciding game. That is the holy grail when it comes to broadcasting.”
Seeing the Soo win it all on home ice is another moment the Thunderbirds broadcaster recalls fondly.
“Another moment that always comes to mind is the Game 5 clincher against Cochrane back in 2015.”
“The first period of that game was amazing and the breakaway save by Soo goaltender Mario Culina in the third that kept the Thunderbirds in front was awesome,” Valade remembered on the night Sault Ste. Marie won the league title before they eventually went on to capture the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A crown in Fort Frances, Ont.
“If there were two games, I’d recommend HockeyTV subscribers to seek out, those are the first two that come to mind.”
Seeing such a strong program up close, like the Thunderbirds have provided during his tenure, Valade has seen his share of talented players who have donned the team’s jersey.
“With the Sault, it’s every year that there’s someone special it seems,” he stated.
“I remember after two shifts seeing Boris Katchouk, Dom and I both said on air that he may be in the NHL some day.”
Other Soo standouts also come to mind to him as well.
“Current assistant coach Micky Sartoretto was probably one of the most dominant players I’ve ever seen during his playing days. He took over the game whenever he was on the ice. There are plenty of others like Tyler Dunbar, Owen Headrick and goaltenders John Kleinhans, Mario Culina and Joel Horodziejczyk. This year, rookie defenceman Connor Toms is one who stands out.”
Unbiased, Valade also values having seen the skills of opposing players as well over his time involved in broadcasting.
“Caleb Serre in Blind River for sure. He was so fun to watch. Years ago, Brad Gehl with North Bay was a monster. Current Hearst head coach Marc Alain Begin was a one-man show in Abitibi. He was the the epitome of making others around you better. … Cody Gratton from that 2015 Cochrane team was interesting as they knew what they had in him and it really seemed like he had a bit of free reign, as long as he was creating offense.”
“Mattais Salem in Espanola last season was another player who stood out as does Nick DeGrazia with Rayside-Balfour.”
Game day for a NOJHL broadcaster continues to evolve as preparations leading up to calling contests on HockeyTV are ever-increasing.
“Over the years it’s changed,” Valade provided. “Info is now more readily at your fingertips, especially now with much-improved NOJHL website.”
“Usually it’ll be a day of prep, trying to find some tidbits to talk about, seeing what else is going on around the league. Dom and I will try and find stories or highlights online to talk about.”
Working his full-time job as a manager of a customer support team during the week doesn’t always allow for an early arrival to John Rhodes on game nights, so he has a set plan he looks to follow upon arrival.
“With my current day job, getting to the rink really early isn’t in the cards, so I try to see warm-ups and get a quick chat in with Thunderbirds’ general manager Trevor Zachary. From there, check the line-up cards, talk to Dom and then it’s game time.”
Not only keeping track of the Thunderbirds, but the entire NOJHL, is something both Valade and Turco are always on top of.
“I like to think I have a good idea of what’s going on around the league at all times,” Valade said. “Again, the NOJHL site, its YouTube page, social media are all readily available. What used to take sometimes hours to find is now a minute or two. I just try to know what’s happening around the league and usually if I miss it, Dom catches it.”
Like most play-by-play personnel, they have someone they enjoy or try and emulate.
“Doc Emrick is my all-time favourite. He could make watching grass grow enjoyable. I grew up on Bob Cole and his call of Todd Marchant’s game-winner with Edmonton in overtime against Dallas in ‘97 (sorry Powassan Voodoos’ GM Chris Dawson) is really the call that made me want to do play-by-play. Also, I greatly enjoy Chris Cuthbert.”
Hockey broadcasters are not the only ones who has caught Valade’s attention as an English soccer commentator is someone who he too enjoys hearing.
“A little off the board, but someone I also think is just incredible is Peter Drury. I would tell anyone to do themselves a favour and look up some of his highlight packages on YouTube. He’s got such a way with words and his timing is amazing. Sometimes you think he somehow had to know what was going to happen and had a script ready, but it all just comes to him in the moment and it’s awesome.”
As the senior broadcaster in the NOJHL, the league itself has been a true beneficiary of him calling those games from Sault Ste. Marie over the past decade.
“Anthony is truly one of the top broadcasters in not only the NOJHL, but in all of junior hockey,” provided league commissioner Robert Mazzuca.
“He and Dominic are a great tandem, who call games with a passion and dedication that makes listeners want to tune in, no matter what team they are rooting for,” added Mazzuca.
“They are extremely knowledgeable, unbiased and a true credit to the NOJHL.”
Summarizing, Valade sees how far the league has advanced in his time associated with it.
“Over the last 10 years, watching the NOJHL grow has been a treat. Dom and I mentioned earlier this year, we’re seeing players now, who when we started, would have laughed at the notion of playing in the league. It’s a testament to Rob and the league as a whole to see how far it’s come.”
“If I’m lucky enough to do another 10 years, I do think we’ll see a national champion from the NOJHL.”
BEHIND THE MIC: Anthony Valade is the play-by-play voice of the NOJHL’s Soo Thunderbirds. He, along with colour commentator Dominic Turco, call Thunderbirds’ home games on HockeyTV.com.
Photo credit: Bob Davies
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