Event fetes longtime hockey announcer
Aunt Martha's teacup is safe in the cupboard.
Granted, Dean Vrooman last uttered one of his signature phrases for listeners at the end of the Winterhawks' 2006-07 season. But his affiliation with Portland's Western Hockey League team was much more than being its radio voice for a quarter century.
The man affectionately known as "Scooter" retired May 31 after seven years as the team's Director of Corporate Partnerships, a role he accepted after six years away from the club. Vrooman's 32 years with the Winterhawks will be celebrated on Saturday when Seattle visits Portland, 6 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.
Dean Vrooman Appreciation Night will honor a man who knew little about hockey when he was hired at age 28 to be the team's radio voice at the start of the 1982-83 season.
"I didn't know anything about the Winterhawks. I had never been to a game and didn't know anything about the league," Vrooman said.
But he knew he wanted the job.
"My parents told me I played sporting events in the back yard, the front yard and in the neighborhood and I announced them starting when I was like 4 years old," said Vrooman, who turns 66 in December.
Any second thoughts about this hockey gig would have happened on one of Vrooman's first extended road trips with the team. In Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Vrooman was ordered to show up for practice.
Fitted in Ray Ferraro's helmet and skates, Vrooman was clinging to the boards when coach Ken Hodge blew his whistle for the team to do a set of wall-to-wall sprints.
Suddenly, the players were skating right at the announcer.
"I can't skate so I'm hanging onto the boards walking along the boards. I can still remember 6-5, 225-pound Tim Lorenz, who was a tough guy on the team, coming at me with what looked to me like smoke coming out of his nostrils," Vrooman said.
"So, I just get on my hands and knees and I scramble into the bench face first just to get off the ice."
Jim Playfair started tapping his stick on the ice and chanting "Scooter!" The whole team joined in, and from then on he was Scooter Vrooman.
That was a memorable welcome to his dream job. Graduating from the University of Oregon in 1976, Vrooman spent a couple years at radio stations in John Day and Astoria before landing the Winterhawks post and beginning a journey that would involve more than a million miles of bus rides, the thrill of Memorial Cup titles in 1983 and 1998 and as many down seasons as winning ones.
His first bus trip was to Kelowna. When he got on the bus carrying his radio equipment, no seats were empty. As he approached the back of the bus, Ferraro — then a WHL rookie who went on to play more than 1,200 NHL games — offered Vrooman a seat. A common love of baseball kept them talking through the night.
By the next bus trip, Vrooman had a seat near the front of the bus where the coaches sat.
"They were really nice to me right off the bat. I hit it off with them immediately," he said.
A change in ownership factored in Vrooman trying an opportunity in banking in 2007. The Winterhawks were the worst team in the WHL, and fortunes were trending downward under the ownership of Jim Goldsmith, Jack Donovan and John Bryant.
In 2012, Vrooman reconnected with the organization. As director of corporate sponsorships, he rekindled relationships built when he was the team's radio voice, and had the opportunity to do some broadcasts with his son, Todd, who was the team play-by-play voice from 2012 to 2016.
"I was so blessed to be able to come back to the organization and to work with Todd some," Vrooman said. "That was really special."
Among the phrases that endeared Dean "Scooter" Vrooman to his listeners was the image of Aunt Martha's teacup in peril, which the announcer invoked when things got dicey for the Winterhawks. The reference is to the character on the "Leave it to Beaver" television show whose cup of tea was often in peril of being spilled but never did.
"Probably 99% of the people I was broadcasting to had no idea what I was talking about," Vrooman said with a laugh.
Like each of his catchphrases, getting Aunt Martha's teacup back in the cupboard just came out during a broadcast. Same with "Mother Machree!" which was a way Vrooman expressed displeasure with some turn of events.
For the record, he doesn't know anyone by the name of Machree.
"I don't know where that came from. It just came out. And I thought it sounded good. I never made them up. I never thought about them in advance," he said.
Vrooman's advance work, though, was impressive. His preparation for broadcasts involved visits with the opposing announcers and with the opposing coach. Before the Internet, he hunted down information from around the league and kept copious statistics.
"I always wanted to give the fans more than just play-by-play," Vrooman said. "I want to make sure I pronounce every name right. I want to know a little bit about each player so you can throw a little bit extra in that the fans might enjoy knowing."
A baseball broadcast landed Vrooman the Winterhawks gig.
He didn't know he was trying out for the Hawks when he was asked to broadcast an American Legion baseball game. Dwight Boss, the son of longtime Winterhawks executive Jann Boss, pitched a no-hitter. Jann Boss heard Vrooman's call and recommended him for the job.
"The first thing they told me was, 'We'd like you to do the Winterhawks, but we don't have any money to pay you,'" Vrooman recalled.
Fans knew Vrooman for his radio calls, but he made his living by finding the sponsors for those broadcasts. He was not an employee of the team but an independent contractor whose income depended on those sponsors.
Vrooman never aspired to leave Portland to call one of the major sports.
"I didn't feel like I had to do it at the highest level in order to feel satisfied. I loved doing a good broadcast. It was more about that than the level of hockey," he said.
Players in the WHL do aspire to play in the NHL, something Vrooman didn't understand in his earliest days with the Hawks. His eyes were opened while watching an NHL game with owner/president Brian Shaw, who pointed out all the players in the game who came from the Western league.
"It's a great level of sport," Vrooman said. "I think it's sport as it should be. ... Every night you're seeing four to eight guys who are going to play in the National Hockey League."
Vrooman described himself as an "objective homer" on the radio.
"I think I called a straight game, but it was very clear I wore the Winterhawk on my sleeve," Vrooman said.
He did sometimes hear from a parent if he was overly critical on a broadcast. And his emotional investment in the team sometimes was expressed through criticizing referees.
"I got on them too much. It took me awhile to look inside and say, 'Boy, you really get on them way too much and maybe you ought to shut up. Because they're trying to learn, too, and you're not always right.'"
Vrooman heard from WHL VP of Hockey Rich Doerksen after one particularly harsh outburst directed at a rookie referee. This was well into his career.
"I think (that official) did have a bad night. But I was way out of line with what I said and how I said it," Vrooman said. "So he appealed to my professionalism. The more I thought about it, I thought he was right."
An advocate for the league, Vrooman even appreciates that a team from Swift Current (population 17,000) could twice beat big-city Portland for WHL titles.
Portland won one WHL title despite reaching the championship series six times with Scooter Vrooman on the air — results that no doubt brought out Aunt Martha's teacup and Mother Machree.
But for Dean "Scooter" Vrooman, sharing even the most disappointing moments with his listeners was rewarding.
"I'm very blessed," he said. "I got to do something I loved to do. Not everybody gets the opportunity to do that, and do it with people they enjoy."
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