The moment came with great fanfare and nearly a year later than he expected.
But for Bob Ridley, calling WHL game number 4,000 is another shot to do what he loves.
The legendary Medicine Hat Tigers broadcaster was supposed to mark the milestone during the 2020 season, but saw the season cut off due to the COVID-19 pandemic with 3,998 games under his belt.
“It’s something that was really frustrating because I’m not one that gets involved in all these milestones,” Ridley chuckled prior to puck drop. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to get it out on Saturday, get the monkey off my back and move on with my life.”
Indeed, Ridley finally got to see the game through, with Tigers facing the Red Deer Rebels in a fanless arena.
The 76-year-old has been the only-play-by-play voice in the team’s 50-year history, going back to 1970.
Ridley still remembers the Slap Shot-esque first game at the old Medicine Hat Arena and describes the scene like no-one else can.
“I remember the fans were hanging from the rafters,” Ridley said. “People were coming to the rinks in their finery, fur coats, getting beer spilled on them. The fans were absolutely crazy. People were smoking like crazy in the building and it was a gong show. At that particular time we hadn’t had glass in the building yet, just wire mesh around the outside and people were getting clothes caught on the wall of a wire. It was a party atmosphere and it was that way pretty much throughout the course of the 1970-71 season.”
Ridley has missed only one game since he’s been handed the microphone.
In 1972, Ridley missed one Tigers game after he was sent out on assignment to attend the Women’s National Curling Championship in Saskatoon.
“When I first started coaching we were in Prince George and we got outplayed really badly that game,” Willie Desjardins, general manager and head coach, said. “I talked to my dad after the game and he goes ‘You guys were great’! Bob always made us sound great, even if we were bad.
“Stefan Meyer tells a great story. He goes, ‘When I finished my 19-year-old year my dad said to me, Steve, why didn’t you get drafted in NHL? Why aren’t you going to a camp?’ Because Bob Ridley always built them up on every broadcast that Stefan Meyer was incredible. Like, how could he possibly not be going to the NHL?”
The team didn’t just trust Ridley to make them sound good.
For 45 years, they counted on him to get them to the games and home safe when he took the wheel as the team’s bus driver.
By his calculations, he’s covered more than 2.8 million kilometres on those road trips.
For the more than 900 players who filled those seats over the years, that’s where they got to truly know Ridley.
“At night players would come up and sit and talk to Bob while he was driving,” Desjardins said. “We’d be driving at night the roads wouldn’t be great and I’d go to sleep because I know Bob would get us through. It was just a real special thing. He’s not just a broadcaster. He’s way more than that for the team. So we’re all excited and it’s too bad the rink won’t be full because he deserves that.”
To mark the occasion, the WHL has created the Bob Ridley Award for Media Excellence.
Ridley was recognized as the first recipient of the prestigious honour in a pregame ceremony with Commissioner Ron Robison.
If it sounds like a chapter is closing, it isn’t.
Consider it another marker on a miles-long resume, as Ridley has no plans to sign off just yet.
“It’s basically just having a passion for the game,” Ridley said. “Once you lose interest in the game you just can’t do it anymore, I’m sure. I’ve been very fortunate to have that passion that love for the game. That’s what’s kind of kept me going all these years and I hope I can do it a little while longer, for goodness sakes. After all, that’s what it’s been all about.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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