For me, and for so many others, there was no better announcer than Danny Gallivan, the voice of the Habs for 32 years from 1952 until 1984. He created incredible magic for Habs fans, and when I think of the old Montreal Forum and all the great games there, I think of Danny. Even today, especially today, I get goosebumps when I hear his voice.
I dug an old newspaper out of my trunk, a newspaper I’d kept from 1993 because it was about the greatest hockey broadcaster of them all. It’s a Calgary Herald, and the article is written by a terrific Herald staff writer named Gyle Konotopetz. In the story, he talks to Calgary Flames play-by-play man, Peter Maher, a legend in his own right, and Maher shares his own affection for Gallivan.
“It’s a snowy night in Boston…”
Nothing is forever, thought Peter Maher, as he plugged in the majestic voice of hockey Friday afternoon and turned up the volume. Still, he wanted the cassette tape to roll forever.
“Big Robinson dashing up the ice…”
Vintage Danny Gallivan, the same Danny Gallivan who Maher grew up listening to at Campbellton, NB, the buoyant voice crackling on a transistor radio, rising and falling with the play like a symphony.
“A cannonading drive by Cournoyer…”
Maher wanted to listen and listen and listen. An eerie feeling came over the longtime radio voice of the Calgary Flames as he wheeled his car to the Saddledome on game day.
The voice on the cassette seemed more alive, more vibrant than ever, yet the reality was that he would soon be dedicating this game, his 1,304th in the NHL, Rangers vs. Flames, to the memory of Gallivan, a haunting prospect.
The voice was that of his boyhood idol, and his pal, his life’s inspiration. The image is everlasting, like the Mona Lisa.
“A shiver went up through me when I turned on the tape,” said an emotional Maher. “Foster Hewitt was the first good play-by-play man but Danny refined it. He was the master.”
Danny Gallivan, the game’s artful crooner, died overnight Wednesday in his sleep. He was 75.
“Lemaire is on the prowl…”
In the past, whenever Maher felt his own game slipping, he would plug in Gallivan. Friday, he replayed the most famous voice of Hockey Night In Canada in a glorious call of the deciding game of the 1978 Montreal-Boston Stanley Cup series to celebrate the legend. And he remembered the last words spoken by Gallivan in their last meeting, at the June draft in Montreal.
“He said, ‘fed up with the grind yet, kid?” relates Maher, the Iron Man of broadcasters who has never missed an assignment. “Unfortunately, I was busy and didn’t get to spend much time with Danny. After I got my work done, I looked for him but he’d left. I feel kind of bad about that now. We should make time for those kind of things.”
During Friday’s broadcast, Maher, 46, paid tribute to the fellow Maritimer whom he describes as “the god of the Maritimes.”
Ed Whalen, the TV voice of the Flames, spoke in hushed tones about the man, then about the consumate pro behind the mike. “My, he was a god. A genuine class act, an exquisite man. Even though he was a god to me, when I met him for the first time in 1979 he treated me like a brother. He revolutionized broadcasting.”
“Oh, a Savardian spinnerama…”
Maher was 18 when he first met his idol, the summer of ’65 in Montreal. He was introduced by Denzil Murray, a Montreal police officer who also hailed from Campbellton. Murray died a week before Gallivan.
“I was awe-stricken, almost speechless when I met him,” said Maher, the popular voice of the Flames the past 12 seasons. “Danny put me at ease.”
Eventually Maher sent a tape of an amateur game to Gallivan. The native of Sydney, NS was so impressed he forecast Maher’s rise to the NHL at a banquet in Campbellton in the summer of ’77. “He said, ‘this kid’s a talent, you’re going to lose him soon.’ ”
A few months later, on Nov. 11, Maher celebrated his 30th birthday as the rookie voice of Toronto Maple Leafs at the Forum. The old pro was in the next booth.
“The fans campaign for a penalty…”
“Being up there with Danny, that’s when I knew I’d arrived,” said Maher, who last spoke to Gallivan on the phone in December. “But I’d never compare myself with him. I’ve used some phrases, like cannonading drive, but, out of respect, I never wanted to overdo it.”
“An e-NORRR-mous save by Dryden…”
Maher’s exuberant call of the dullest of games can be traced to the infectious enthusiasm of Gallivan. “He told me that it was so important to look at every game as an important game….The biggest piece of advice he gave me was to take care of myself. He said its a tough, tough grind out there.”
“A scintillating save…”
“He created excitement that was non-existent,” said Whalen. Said Maher: “Danny did a fair broadcast. He never struck me as a homer. And his word mixture was incredible. He preferred radio because it gave him an opportunity to paint a picture for his audience.”
“Risebrough robustly slams Johnathan into the boards…”
Even with the advent of headset microphones, Gallivan persisted in using the traditional hand-held mike.
“The hand-held mike was like a saftey valve to him, even though the mike was dead,” said Maher. “One time, Danny had to cough so he held the mike away from hi and coughed. Of course, the cough went over the air.”
“Look at the consternation on the countenance of Scotty Bowman…”
“Kids would listen to him at night and wake up in the morning, asking their father what that phrase meant,” said Maher. “He was educating people. I’d never compare myself with him. Danny was the master.”
“The puck is lodged in Lapointe’s paraphernalia…”
For an example of Gallivan’s magic, here’s a clip of an April 16th, 1979 game at the Forum between Montreal and Toronto. Dick Irvin and Gerry Pinder are the colour guys, and the legendary Roget Doucet kicks it off with the national anthem.