Friday, November 5, 2010

Moon shines on in Red Deer

Cam Moon has called the play for more than 1,000 WHL games.
(Red Deer Advocate photo)

Red Deer Advocate Sports Editor
When Cam Moon arrived in Red Deer 12 years ago to take over as the Rebels’ play-by-play broadcaster, his goal was to be here for not just a good time, but a long time.
Mission accomplished, and then some.
Moon called his 1,000th Rebels game Oct. 23 at Spokane, where Red Deer downed the Chiefs 4-2.
“When I came to Red Deer I wanted to settle in somewhere and be able to be with a team for a long time,” Moon said Sunday evening, prior to boarding the Rebels bus for a six-game road trip through the Pacific Northwest and the B.C. lower mainland.
“It was never my intention to just be here for a little while and move on. I didn’t want to lead a gypsy-like lifestyle.”
As a player, Moon strapped on the big pads and stopped pucks at the junior A, major junior and college levels. He played one season with the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL, split the following winter with the Saskatoon Blades and Medicine Hat Tigers, and was back with the Blades for his 20-year-old season.
“When it was becoming painfully clear that pro hockey was not an option for me, I realized that I had to do something that would keep me involved in the game and involved with the league,” Moon said. “Coaching was not something that really appealed to me, but telling the story interested me a lot. Basically, I like telling stories, whether it be hockey or whatever.”
When his final junior season came to an end, Moon used his WHL education money to enrol in the two-year broadcasting program at NAIT in his hometown of Edmonton. He blocked shots for the Ooks of the Alberta Colleges League during his first year of post-secondary schooling, then gained part-time employment with TSN during his second year.
“I was getting a crash course in television broadcasting and an opportunity to see the country, which was extremely fortunate,” said Moon, who worked as a colourman with Paul Romanuk on telecasts of Canadian Hockey League games, mostly in the WHL but also in Ontario and Quebec.
Upon graduation in 1993, Moon worked as a freelance TV broadcaster for two years before heading to Vancouver Island to become sports director at a Nanaimo radio station and call games for the Clippers of the junior A BCHL. During his three years in Nanaimo, he travelled each spring to work with the likes of Peter Watts during the televised final of the Canadian midget AAA championship.
“I did six Air Canada Cup finals in a row,” said Moon.
Upon being hired in 1998 as the Rebels’ broadcast director, Moon embarked on a career highlighted by the team’s march to a Memorial Cup championship in the 2000-01 season.
“That whole playoff run was magical,” he said. “Of course the expectations were high for that club, but they were able to meet them. It was so much fun, and the characters on that team . . . when I see those guys now, it’s like time has stood still. You see them now and just sort of pick up where you left off.”
Moon also has fond memories of the following spring, when the Rebels rallied from a 3-1 deficit in games to defeat the Brandon Wheat Kings and advance to the second of three consecutive league-final appearances.
“That comeback was unbelievable,” he remembered. “The crowd at the (Brandon) Keystone (Centre) was going crazy in Game 6, their team was winning 2-1 and it was getting down to the short straws. The Rebels weren’t getting many chances and it looked like it was going to end there. It looked like it was going to be a very long, 11-hour (bus) trip home.”
And then . . .
“Jeff Smith picked one out of the air to tie it and (Chris) Neiszner scored the overtime goal from the boards. You just knew the Wheat Kings would have little hope in Game 7.”
Moon also remembers a completely different scenario involving former Rebels tough guy Stephen Peat.
“Stephen left the penalty box in Prince Albert while there was a brouhaha going on in the corner,” Moon recalled. “He came out of one penalty box to go into another to fight Craig Brunel. That was unbelievable. That was old-time hockey, great entertainment.”
Speaking of Prince Albert, Moon is fond of the city’s Art Hauser Memorial Centre. He lists that arena, along with the Centrium and the WHL facilities in Regina, Brandon, Medicine Hat and Kamloops, among his favourites in terms of his broadcast location.
“To me, Swift Current and Moose Jaw are far down the list . . . right at the bottom,” he said. “In Swift Current, you have to climb a ladder to a small booth and in Moose Jaw you’re at the top of the stands, and with the way the ceiling is configured it’s not optimal for calling a game.
“The broadcast booth in Kelowna is awful as well. You’re jammed into a small area and then they have TV cameras in front of you. I have to stand on a stool to see over the cameras, which is tough. But hey, if that’s the toughest thing you have to go through in your day, that’s still not very bad.”
Moon has dined at numerous restaurants during his travels with the Rebels and a couple of the eateries stand out above the rest.
“The best pre-game meal we have is en route to Cranbrook. The restaurant is called Pure Country and it’s in the town of Frank,” he noted. “They have everything. You name it and it’s there. And it’s a buffet.”
As for the premier post-game meal . . .
“The steak sandwich at the Coliseum Steaks and Pizza in Edmonton is very good . . . right up there.”
Moon has worked solo through more games than he can ever possibly remember. His first time without a colourman went better than he had feared.
“I thought it would be difficult the first time I did a game by myself, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “As long as the game is good it’s actually quite easy. When the game is awful, that’s when you have to dig deep.”
Moon has two set colourmen on the road — former Blades teammate Scott Scissons in Saskatoon and former Rebels netminder Mark Dawkins in Spokane.
Since Day 1, his partner at the Centrium — with the exception of a game here and there — has been former WHL/NHL player Mike Moller.
“I love the enthusiasm that Mike brings to the rink every night. He really wants to be there and he wants the team to do well,” said Moon. “With Mike, there’s a genuine love of the game, of the league, of the team . . . working with him just makes it so easy and so much fun. He’s played at a high level and he’s coached at a high level (as a former Rebels assistant), so he understands the game.
“We get along very well and have a lot of fun and I hope we stay a tandem as long as we want to.”
If it’s up to Moon, he’ll be calling Rebels games for many years to come.
“I love it here, I absolutely do,” he insisted. “I love the city and God knows I love the league.”

(NOTE: This story appears thanks to Greg Meachem, sports editor of the Red Deer Advocate.)

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