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.
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‘NW did a great tribute to him the day after. Great guy, superb broadcaster.