After two decades as the heart and soul of Canucks broadcasts, John Garrett deserves a spot in the Ring of Honour
8 months ago
With all the talk of retools and restructuring, many believe that the 2022/23 season marks the dawn of a new era in Vancouver Canucks hockey.
But you can’t call dawn on a new era without the end of an old one. And nothing says “end of an era” quite like the departure of a legend.
Just before the Canucks put the finishing touches on a 7-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday — and as James Reimer performed what can now be interpreted as an unplanned goaltending tribute — John Garrett announced that this would be his last season in the broadcasting booth.
As the man they call “Cheech” spoke beautifully and humbly about his immense gratitude, there wasn’t a dry eye within earshot. Long-time partner John Shorthouse got choked up talking about cherishing their time together, and so too did the thousands listening in at home.
It might be the last time that Garrett stands out as the emotional core of Canucks hockey. But it certainly wasn’t the first time. Garrett, in many ways, has been the heart and soul of the Canucks broadcast for two decades running. That’s a career worthy of celebration and ceremony, and it seems like the exact sort of career that the Canucks’ Ring of Honour was created to commemorate.
In making this argument, we’ll start at the beginning.
Garrett’s playing career with the Canucks was short and relatively unimpressive. Across three seasons at the tail-end of a 500+ game professional career, Garrett played 56 games for the Canucks (and three more in the playoffs), posting a 22-21-5 record, a .864 save percentage, and a 4.12 goals-against average.
Now, normally this sort of career might be described as “nothing to write home about,” but that is not the case here. Garrett’s time in the Canucks’ crease was absolutely something to write home about, because, like John himself, it was full of amazing stories.
Garrett went to the All-Star Game as an emergency backup and nearly stole MVP honours from Wayne Gretzky. He jumped Mario Lemieux in the corner. He posted a 6.49 GAA in his final season, earning him the all-time nickname of “Lotto” to go along with “Cheech.”
He was even offered the role of Assistant GM while still backing up the team, had it printed on a hockey card, and was then demoted back to the crease before the card even went up for sale.
Name another player who squeezed that many entertaining anecdotes out of a 56-game run with the Canucks. You simply cannot.
Garrett officially retired in 1986 after three games with the Canucks’ affiliate in Fredericton. He began his broadcasting career with the 1986/87 campaign, and from then on out was in the booth more-or-less consistently for the next 36 NHL seasons running. Put it all together, and it’s a nearly 50-year unbroken run in professional hockey circles for Garrett.
He began colour commentating for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, becoming one of their go-to analysts and then the official commentator for Edmonton Oilers broadcasts — with a brief break during the 1994 lockout to deliver packages for UPS (really).
Garrett left CBC in 1998 to join the new CTV Sportsnet, which would eventually become Rogers Sportsnet. They had him doing colour commentating for the Calgary Flames for a handful of seasons, but as of 2002/03 Garrett moved into the position for which he would become known: lead colour commentator on all Sportsnet broadcasts of Vancouver Canucks games. Over time, that became the vast majority of Canucks games in general, and so, more than anyone, Garrett became the de facto voice of the Canucks.
And what a voice it was.
Sportsnet first paired Garrett up with Jim Hughson, and the two had a great run together for five seasons. But it was Hughson left for CBC in 2008 that the real magic began. At that point, Garrett was partnered with former radio play-by-play John Shorthouse, and the era of “John and John” kicked off in earnest.
Garrett and Shorthouse would go on to provide the call for approximately 90% of the Canucks’ games over the next decade-and-a-half. If anything, the only thing more noticeable than their consistent contributions on the air were their occasional absences. It didn’t take long before it didn’t quite feel like Canucks Hockey without John and John on the mic.
Which, of course, brings us to present day, and the impending permanent absence of Garrett from the booth. In a league dominated by constant change, it should be no wonder that fans are devastated at the prospect of losing the most consistent component of the franchise in, perhaps, its entire history.
Who else has put in a cumulative two decades plus with the Canucks? Stan Smyl is the only other individual that comes to mind. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are getting close. All three of them have been honoured by the Canucks in having their jerseys retired. Garrett’s own playing record makes that an unreasonable expectation, but then isn’t that exactly what the Ring of Honour was created for? To, well, honour those individuals who don’t meet the criteria of a jersey retirement, but who still made a major and lasting impact on the organization?
Smyl and the Sedins were primarily honoured for their on-ice contributions, and fair enough. But what happens on the ice isn’t the be-all and end-all, especially when it comes to measuring a fan’s experience with the team. The off-ice stuff matters, too, and John Garrett mattered a lot.
We should be clear here, we’re not just talking about Garrett’s longevity, as impressive as it is. There’s also much to be said about the quality of his broadcasting, and even more about the quality of his character.
Behind-the-scenes, Garrett has a reputation as a man who always had time for anyone, no matter who they were. Ask any media personality who has worked closely with the team, and they’ve got a story about Garrett treating them with kindness.
Occasional snark aside, Garrett’s kindness also defined his on-air presence. If there’s one thing that set John and John apart from the crowd as broadcasters, it was that they were genuine friends, not just partners. In a sport that is too often dominated by toxic masculinity, Garrett and Shorthouse offered a nightly dose of good, wholesome companionship. Thursday night wasn’t the first time that fans heard the two tell one another how much they valued their friendship and time together, and that’s just the sort of content that we don’t get often enough in live sports.
Even when Garrett wasn’t extolling the virtues of Shorthouse, positivity seeped from the broadcast booth whenever he was on the mic. Through the darkest periods of Canucks hockey, Garrett remained a true believer, and if he couldn’t believe in the team, he’d find individual players to spout optimistically about. He was a tireless on-air advocate of player rights, and goaltending rights in strong particular.
He was an endless fount of amusing anecdotes. And, hey, let’s be real here, hockey anecdotes from former players are often deeply problematic. But not the ones that Garrett told. He had a remarkable way of spinning tales that were rich, engaging, entertaining, and enjoyable by all. And he never ran out of them. Even after two decades on television, we imagine he’s still got a book’s worth of stories to tell.
After a half-century in hockey, Garrett couldn’t be described as anything less than an “old boy.” And yet, how many times over the years has he ever been anything less than progressive and inclusive on the microphone? How many times has he cracked wise without ever being discriminatory? When has he ever been anything less than celebratory about the wide swath of demographics that make up the massive Canucks fanbase?
How many on-air apologies has Garrett ever had to make for his remarks? The only time we can think of is that one time he accidentally said “shutout” and Roberto Luongo immediately got scored on. As far as broadcasting faux pas go, that’s an excessively forgivable one.
We heard more than enough words out of Garrett’s mouth over the years to make a true assessment as to his inner character, and it’s a sterling one.
Let’s close by saying this. The early 2000s were a terrible time in Canucks hockey. The franchise recovered enough for a Cup Finals run in 2011, but that only gave way to a series of seasons that many deemed even more insufferable than the early 2000s, and that brings us right to the modern era.
Through it all, Canucks fans have definitely suffered. But most wouldn’t say that they suffered to the point that watching games became unenjoyable, and we have to suspect that that has at least something to do with Garrett’s steady presence.
For two decades running, Garrett gave the Canucks faithful something to enjoy, something to laugh about, and something to feel positive about on a nightly basis.
And now, we realize that it was something else, too: something to be thankful for.
And something well worth making permanent tribute to in the Ring of Honour.
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