Sunday, November 6, 2011
Al Shaver was the voice of Minnesota North Stars hockey. Always was. Always will be.
He was a graduate of the Lorne Green Academy of Radio and Television Art in Toronto in 1948 and worked the morning show and baseball play-by-play at CJOY in Guelph, Ontario. He then worked in Calgary and Medicine Hat, Alberta before taking a job in Edmonton in 1952, where he did play-by-play for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. He also broadcast five Grey Cup championship games nationally on the CBC.
During the 1960's he worked in both Montreal and Toronto, which included doing junior hockey games and hosting a bowling show, until 1967 when the National Hockey League made it's dramatic expansion from six teams to twelve.
Shaver was hired as the voice of the North Stars for their inaugural season and was with the team first on WCCO until 1978.
He moved with the team to KSTP until the franchise relocated to Dallas in 1993 for a total of all 26 seasons of the North Stars, calling 2,062 out of 2,071 games.
"It was a 26-year love affair that began on an October night in St. Louis, 1967, and ended abruptly on an April evening in 1993 when my love left me and moved to Dallas," Shaver wrote in 2007 .
In addition to working for the North Stars, KSTP also had Shaver work on the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, which gave him the opportunity to meet legendary Broadcaster Howard Cosell, who commented "What are you doing here?" as Cosell was of the opinion that Shaver should be in New York working for a national network.
Howard Cosell with Al Shaver
He was such a part of the fabric of the North Stars that he was featured on both the team's media guide and made more than one appearance on the cover of the team's program.
Not quite ready to close out his broadcasting career, he then worked for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers until he retired on his own terms in 1996.
Shaver was a ten-time Minnesota Sportscaster of the Year and was inducted into the Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2003. He was also given the 1993 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award by the Hockey Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions to radio and TV broadcasting and the game of hockey.
In addition to those honors, the press box at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild, is named for him.
On a personal note, as a youngster, we would listen to Shaver call North Stars games against the Chicago Black Hawks at night with our transistor radio tuned to WCCO. We recall Shaver always saying "a shot from the blue line hits traffic in front", leading us to mistakenly believe "Traffic" was the name of a Chicago defenseman and the greatest shot blocker in hockey history!
Upon getting the opportunity to share that story with Shaver, he related that when goaltender Cesare Maniago would make a great save, he'd call out "Oh! Maniago makes a great save!" causing some to believe that the Canadian born "O'Maniago" was actually of Irish decent!
For a real treat, to hear Al at his best, including a call of "a shot hitting Traffic" and an "O'Maniago" as well as him excitedly calling a fight all in the same sequence, click below to listen.
On the occasion of the final North Stars home game in 1993, we felt bad that Shaver was being overlooked on what would be his last time calling a North Stars game in Minnesota amidst all the vitriol for the North Stars owner who was moving the club. In an effort to pay tribute to the man who had called the North Stars games since day one, we made a simple sign in his honor. With the game against Chicago (who it turns out never employed a defenseman named "Traffic" we had learned by then) beginning to wind down, and us not having had a chance to display our sign, the North Stars obliged by finally scoring their first goal of the game with less than 6 minutes remaining.
The in-arena presentation was for the video of the goal to be replayed on the Met Center scoreboard along with Shaver's call of the goal. Perfect! The fans in the arena had just heard Shaver's voice for the first time all night and the time was right to display the sign. Unlike modern arenas where the corridor is outside of the seating bowl, the Met Center had a walkway inside the seating bowl which separated the lower bowl from the upper level sections, giving us the opportunity to not just hold up our sign, but to walk an entire lap inside the arena with our sign held high for all fans to see.
So off we went on our tribute lap to Shaver, not knowing what to expect. Fans who saw the sign began to stand and applaud, hold their glasses up high as well as reach down from the upper seats to "high five" the sign. Roughly a quarter of the way around the arena, we realized that a camera had been trained on us and the sign was now filling the video replay screen for all to see, especially the fans lower down who may not have had a chance to see the sign until then. It didn't end there either, as one of Shaver's sons asked for the sign once we were done with it, a request we were only too happy to oblige.
Not only was there a video camera trained on the sign during the "lap of honor", but a still camera as well, resulting in a sizable photo which appeared in the Minneapolis StarTribune two days later!
Shaver currently lives in the Vancouver area enjoying his retirement while his son Wally Shaver has done the broadcasting for the North Stars, Minnesota Moose and Golden Gophers for years now and his grandson Jason Shaver currently does play-by-play for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, carrying on the family legacy.
Here is some footage of Al Shaver calling games for the North Stars. "What a ham this turkey is!"
For another large dose of Shaver's work, here is a thirty minute program recalling the 25 year history of the North Stars, narrated by Shaver and his rich baritone, courtesy of VintageMinnesotaHockey.com.