By Gavin Axelrod
In 2003, Dave Randorf was on commentary in Tampa Bay, Fla. with The Sports Network (TSN) for a first-round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. He couldn’t believe how passionate the fans were in what’s considered a “non-traditional” hockey market. Hockey is typically considered a cold weather sport, but its growth in warmer cities like Tampa Bay has made the NHL a lot of money.
Randorf was struck by the roar of the crowd when the roof nearly exploded off the arena both times the hometown Lightning scored. He also liked how the post-game show was done outside in the warm Florida weather.
That night, the Lightning won the game and Tampa Bay won his heart. He thought to himself, if the team’s play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham ever retired, it was a place he had to be.
Seventeen years and three decades as a sports broadcaster later, his private thoughts have become reality.
An 18-year-old Randorf, in his first month as a Radio and Television Arts (RTA) student at Ryerson, entered the TSN studio for the first time in the fall of 1985. The studio was young—TSN had just celebrated its first birthday and was far from being the Canadian sports media titan it is today—but it was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The infinite amount of TV screens could be compared to a sports bar. Even without the beer, it was heaven on earth for the young sports fan.
Randorf had been introduced to TSN’s John Wells by a family friend prior to his move to Toronto. Wells had left CBC Sports to join the network in its first year, which Randorf called one of the biggest free-agent sports media signings at the time.
He helped Randorf get his foot in the door and invited him for a “tour” of TSN. Randorf was ecstatic, but what he didn’t realize is when you get invited for a tour of TSN, you better bring your resumé.
“I stepped in the batter’s box and didn’t hit a home run, but I hit a stand up double…I put my best foot forward”
During the tour, Randorf got introduced to Scott Moore, an RTA graduate and TSN’s assignment editor at the time. Moore couldn’t believe it when Randorf told him he didn’t bring his resumé, but decided to give him a test instead.
Randorf was tasked with creating a 46-second football highlight package with a voiceover. The next morning he brought it to Moore’s desk and was hired on the spot. Suddenly, the teenager from Vancouver with no prior experience found himself with a job at TSN one month into his degree.
Over the next five years, he worked as an editorial assistant for a show called Sportsdesk, known today as TSN’s flagship show, SportsCentre. Every evening, he was assigned games to watch and created short highlight packages to air live that night.
Earning upwards of $50 per shift to collect the biggest plays of the night became a labour of love for the university student. However, he soon realized he wanted to become an on-air personality and commentator. With his undergraduate degree at Ryerson coming to an end, he put together an audition tape and sent it to stations across the country.
“I had access to a lot of resources that not a lot of guys did,” said Randorf. “I got to shoot an audition tape on the set.”
In 1989 he returned home to Vancouver for a job interview and audition with Sports Page, a show he described as the first of its kind in Canada: a 30-minute local sports program with a very loyal following. The show ran from 1977 to 2005.
Randorf remembered the audition as being a solid effort. It wasn’t amazing and there was no guarantee he would get the job, but he was proud of his work.
“I stepped in the batter’s box and didn’t hit a home run, but I hit a stand up double…I put my best foot forward,” said Randorf.
One week later, the phone rang and Randorf was hired as a sportscaster for Sports Page. He worked there until 1995, before returning to TSN as a Vancouver-based reporter.
“I’m glad I went through that process in an age without social media,” said Randorf. “I’m sure everyone would’ve loved to take a run at this kid who was on their favourite show.”
In 1997 he became the full-time co-host of the Pacific Prime Time edition of Sportsdesk.
“It’s a new shot of adrenaline”
His role expanded as the new millennium approached and in the year 2000, Randorf hosted TSN’s coverage of the Summer Olympic Games from Sydney, Australia. This would turn out to be the first of five Olympic Games he covered for TSN.
He permanently moved to Toronto in 2001 and became the host of the Canadian Football League (CFL) on TSN panel show. His friendly voice and bright personality became a staple of TSN’s CFL coverage, where every weekend he hosted the pre and post-game programs.
Randorf became a swiss army knife of sorts for the network; he had a tool for everything. If he wasn’t hosting CFL programming, he was doing regional commentary for Montreal’s sports teams and various Hockey Canada events, most notably the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Hockey Championships every spring.
However, as 2013 approached, Canadian media was about to undergo a major shakeup.
The hockey world awoke in a frenzy on the night of Nov. 26, 2013 when TSN senior reporter Bob McKenzie broke the news: Rogers had signed an unprecedented 12-year deal worth $5.2 billion to secure exclusive broadcasting rights to the NHL in Canada, meaning its events and games would be moving exclusively to Sportsnet.
Outside of regional packages, TSN was shut-out from NHL programming. Randorf likened TSN losing its national hockey rights to losing the most valuable property on a Monopoly board. Little did he know this would set the next chapter of his career in motion.
One month later, he found himself in Malmö, Sweden. Randorf was on assignment doing commentary at the 2014 IIHF under-20 World Junior Tournament.
He received a call from senior vice-president of NHL production Gord Cutler, who was assembling a star-studded broadcast crew for Sportsnet’s revamped version of Hockey Night in Canada, and wanted him to be part of the team. Cutler worked under Sportsnet president Scott Moore—the same man who hired Randorf at TSN in 1985.
“The chance to go work for Hockey Night In Canada was big and [TSN] didn’t disagree, they said, ‘You gotta go, this is a good opportunity for you,’” said Randorf. “That was so gratifying…it really was a family.”
His 17-year run at TSN ended in June 2014, when he was officially introduced as a member of the new Hockey Night in Canada broadcast team.
“It was really nice to have the president shake my hand and wish me the best of luck instead of saying, ‘Get out of here, you’re going to the other side,’” he recalled.
“The chance to go work for Hockey Night In Canada was big and [TSN] didn’t disagree, they said, ‘You gotta go, this is a good opportunity for you’”
The 2020 NHL season marked Randorf’s sixth year as a play-by-play commentator with Sportsnet. It also was the end of Rick Peckham’s illustrious broadcasting career in Tampa Bay.
When Randorf heard Peckham would be retiring, he knew he had to throw his name in the hat to be the next play-by-play voice of the Lightning. He submitted his application at the end of the season and was hired
prior to New Year’s Eve. He likened it to winning the “sports TV lottery.”
“I urge anybody who likes taking a road trip to put [Tampa Bay] on your list, it’s a fun place to see a game,” said Randorf.
At 53 years old, a new challenge and chapter of his career in Tampa Bay is something he’s excited for and has helped keep things fresh. Randorf compared his three-decade-long career to an 18-hole game of golf where he’s on the back-nine, but maybe only on the tenth hole with a lot of time left before it’s over.
“It’s a new shot of adrenaline,” said Randorf. “Not that Hockey Night In Canada wasn’t anymore, I wasn’t bored with it all, but this is a great area for me to transition to, to try something new.”
“I’m living in a new country, I’m learning a different area where everything is [and] I have to get a driver’s license still. All that stuff, it invigorates you,” he added.
Empty arenas, watching road games from a TV screen and a grand hotel room have become Randorf’s new reality, but he’s been blown away by the support he’s received from the organization and fans who have greeted him during daily walks. Randorf is in it for the long haul, after moving away from his home and everyone he knows in Canada, but would have no complaints about one day riding off into the Florida sunset at the end of his career.
“If that’s the way it goes, I’d be happy to have it end that way.”