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Vrooman scores behind the mic

Growing up with Hawks hockey set path for radio analyst


by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Todd Vrooman checks out the action on the ice as he delivers radio play-by-play of an Portland Winterhawks-Edmonton Oil Kings Western Hockey League finals game.Todd Vrooman was hired as a radio analyst for the Portland Winterhawks just before the 2009-10 season.

The Hawks, after three tough years, made the playoffs and advanced to the second round. The next year, the Hawks made the Western Hockey League finals, and the following year they got one step further, reaching the Memorial Cup tournament. This year, they swept into the WHL finals again, with eyes on a return to the Memorial Cup.

Vrooman brought in ... Hawks winning big ... coincidence?

“Yeah, it’s obviously the broadcast team,” muses Vrooman, a second-generation Winterhawks announcer who followed in the footsteps of his father, Dean “Scooter” Vrooman, whose 25-year reign included every year of his son’s adolescence.

Todd Vrooman assisted with water and towels on the Hawks bench for years as a kid.

It’s a great time to be a member of the Winterhawks in any capacity, and the 25-year-old Vrooman has seen plenty of great moments. After two years as Andy Kemper’s radio analyst, Vrooman switched roles with Kemper to be play-by-play man the past three years on KPAM 860 AM.

The Tribune caught up with Vrooman for some thoughts:

Tribune: How have you improved as a radio man?

Vrooman: Preparation. The more work I do in learning about different aspects of the opposing team, the better off I am. I watch a lot more game footage than I used to. When calling the game, I’ve just gotten more comfortable with my style, and what’s important to talk about.

Tribune: You sound very fair on air. You’re not a homer.

Vrooman: I just find it irritating when I listen to somebody who’s so obvious with their language and stuff and how they’re rooting for the team. Obviously I want the Winterhawks to win. But getting on officials and calling out opposition players or coaching staff is not productive. If I tell everything the way I see it, those sorts of things will rise to the forefront.

Tribune: What’s life like on the road with the team?

Vrooman: There’s definitely a structure for things, for players, coaching staff and me, too, following those guys a lot. I’ve learned quite a bit about what you have to do to earn respect with people. It’s been a lot of fun, I get included on team-building stuff and fun stuff the players and staff do on days off.

Tribune: Who do you sit near on the bus?

Vrooman: I’m right behind (assistant coach) Karl Taylor. Across the aisle is (equipment manager) Mark Brennan. Karl and I talk a little bit. Karl is hilarious. I really like Karl. He’s intense, intelligent, and he’s brought a lot to the coaching staff. A great coach; he’ll be a head coach in our league pretty quickly. Mark and other equipment managers share one perspective: what has to get done. They do laundry or skate sharpening (etc.). He’s at the rink hours before the team. On the bus, a lot of times he’s listening to music and zoning out.

Tribune: Who’s the loudest player on the bus?

Vrooman: Probably (Brendan) Leipsic. He’s been like that since 16. He’s pretty vocal. Players do what they do. I’m up front with staff and, as long as things don’t get out of hand ... it’s not my responsibility to tell people to shut up. That’s why we have headphones.

Tribune: Who has the most voracious appetite?

Vrooman: That might be everybody. They’re working out so much, and burn so many calories throughout the day. Anytime a meal is available everybody digs in pretty good. Ethan Price, although 16 years in age and not the biggest guy, it seems like he can eat forever, because he’s growing so much.

Tribune: Favorite players to watch?

Vrooman: The first couple of years I was a huge fan of Ryan Johansen, with his combination of size and skill and speed. You knew he’d be an NHL superstar. I’m kind of a (Columbus) Blue Jackets fan now, because of Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, who was one of my favorite (Hawks) to watch. I was really a fan of Taylor Peters, from a leadership standpoint, a defensive standpoint, penalty killing, a standup character off the ice. Same thing with Troy Rutkowski, an absolute warrior. You could pick anybody in this (current) group, because it’s such a special group. All the veterans, and I love watching the younger guys like (Dominic) Turgeon and (Paul) Bittner, and the 16-year-olds ready to blossom.

Tribune: Describe your enjoyment of the radio job.

Vrooman: It’s fantastic. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a pro hockey player (playing for Portland Junior Hawks) — at 15, 16 or 17 I realized that wasn’t going to be the case. (Broadcasting) is the closest you can get without being part of the staff or a player. Calling the games is fun, and I like the bus rides and trips and the hotel.

Tribune: Do you talk radio with Scooter?

Vrooman: He’s on our pregame and postgame shows during the playoffs. We don’t talk shop a lot among ourselves. If we’re watching a game together, we’ll talk about what a broadcaster’s doing. We value the same things in play-by-play, and try to bring excitement.

Tribune: So, you haven’t bellowed out, a la Scooter, “Mother McCree!” or “Holy Torpedoes!”?

Vrooman: I haven’t developed anything of that nature. My goal call is a little more exaggerated than dad’s was. I’m a big soccer fan, I’ve incorporated some terminology from soccer.

Tribune: What does (GM/coach) Mike Johnston like to talk about?

Vrooman: He’s a really interesting conversation. Most of the time it’s not about hockey, it’s about what’s going on in the world. He likes to talk stock market, the financial system. Smartest guy I know. He can be pretty funny, too.

Tribune: Can you believe the Hawks in recent years?

Vrooman: The last five years have been incredible. The training camps every year — the Winterhawks have 80 to 90 kids in ... you watch them all skate and see the depth of the organization. The coaching staff and Mike Johnston at the head of the ship are telling the scouts exactly what kind of players to find, and they’re finding incredible talent. It’s amazing that after every season we talk about future NHL players who are leaving and more coming into the pipeline.

And, it’s so much fun because of the way they play. It’d still be fun winning 1-0, but it’s so much more fun with an offensive-attacking and fast-pace team to watch, and calling goals and highlight-reel plays.

Tribune: Much credit goes to Johnston.

Vrooman: Talking with Mike, he knows who he has on the team this year and next year and three and four years down the road. He knows up and down the 50-player protected list and the system and the whole organization. If Mike were to get an NHL job ... as far as coaches outside of the NHL, he’s one of the very best, he deserves to go, but he has set up a system with a lot of smart people.