by Patrick Hoffman on 03/11/10 at 02:09 PM ET
I was lucky enough this past week to do an e-mail interview with Shawn Lavigne.
You may ask yourself - why does that name sound familiar? Well, it should be as Shawn Lavigne, a.k.a “Big Country” is one of the hosts of Hockey This Morning (HTM) on XM NHL Home Ice. He’s witty, he knows his hockey and he’s proud to be “Big Country”.
Shawn was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to tell us about how he got into hockey, how he started working in the industry, how XM NHL Home Ice has grown and will continue to grow, and his current thoughts on happenings around the NHL today. Enjoy!
PH: How did you get into hockey?
SL: I grew up in Eastern Ontario about an hour away from Ottawa. So my interest in hockey goes back to my first hockey game at the Ottawa Civic Centre in 1977. Obviously the Senators were not around at the time but the Ottawa 67’s led by Bobby Smith, Doug Wilson, and head coach Brian Kilrea were a powerhouse in the OHA and I followed them every step of the way.
PH: Growing up, who was your favorite team/player?
SL: Bobby Smith was a dominant junior player for the Ottawa 67’s. He was such a big man for his age it was incredible. My favorite NHL player was Guy Lafleur, who I watched every Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. Until Alexander Ovechkin came into the league no one ever brought me out of my seat like ‘The Flower’.
PH: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be involved in hockey from the radio side of things?
SL: I am one of those rare individuals who knew from a very young age exactly (13 years old to be exact) what I wanted to do and pursued a career in sports broadcasting. I also knew at a young age that on-air was likely not my cup of tea and started at the Fan 590 in 1994 as a technical producer and eventually becoming a show producer. I knew right away that covering hockey would be a very important part of my broadcasting career.
The station had the radio rights to the Maple Leafs at the time so it was all-Leafs all the time. I have worked at other Canadian sports radio and television networks since and have witnessed how hungry fans in Canada and now North America want hockey talk 365 days a year.
PH: How did you get the gig at NHL Home Ice? What are your responsibilities at the station?
SL: I was doing some freelance radio work in 2005 when I received a call from NHL Home Ice Program Director Joe Thistel about an opportunity to become the morning producer on Hockey This Morning working with Scott Laughlin and Cam Stewart. I had no idea what a great experience it would turn out to be.
A bigger shock was that I would have a significant on-air presence on the show which happened in 2006 when Cam left the channel for another opportunity. I was asked if I would consider going on-air in a small capacity working with Scott and fans of the show seemed to like us together and it has continued now that Mike Ross is hosting HTM.
PH: What do you try to bring to listeners of NHL Home Ice on a daily basis?
SL: First and foremost, the sport of hockey is fun and that is exactly what we try to do on Hockey This Morning. We give everyone the information they want and deserve but with a twist. Since day one we have had a unique relationship with our listening audience. We are not hockey experts on HTM, just hockey fans just like everyone else. We give our opinions but it isn’t the hockey gospel like what other media outlets try spew to the rest of the world. We do not talk down to our audience but blend into it. I personally have never been part of a show that has such a close and strong relationship with its audience.
PH: Tell us the progress the channel has made since its inception.
SL: I remember when we launched on November 17, 2005, we wondered aloud how many listeners were really out there in the satellite radio world. It did not take long to realize there was a huge fan base especially in the United States who were starving for hockey content.
We are incredibly spoiled in Canada getting round the clock coverage all sports radio and television but it was a real eye opener to learn what a lifeline we became to the American hockey fan. We hear from scouts, coaches, and executives from all levels how important NHL Home Ice is to them on a daily basis. It is a very special feeling to know that you are providing such an important service to them.
PH: How do you see NHL Home Ice evolving, expanding, reaching new markets, etc.?
SL: Well obviously since the Sirius XM merger took place within the past year in the U.S. our channel has been distributed on both platforms expanding our audience. That is the beauty of satellite radio where we are able to connect to the hockey fan all across North America.
We will continue to provide 24/7 hockey coverage 365 days a year for our loyal listeners including every NHL game. NHL Home Ice has also carried a dozen AHL games during the Olympic break and has tremendous relationships with leagues and organizations at all levels of the sport.
PH: Do you think NHL Home Ice will venture more into new media?
SL: The NHL Home Ice brand has expanded into new areas of new media recently. Fans can check out our website nhlhomeice.com for channel information, schedules, and show content. We have also recently launched a new fan page on Facebook at facebook.com/nhlhomeice and recently our Hockey This Morning Facebook group page added its 1500th member which I think is a pretty cool milestone.
PH: Now for some actual hockey talk - which teams/players have been a surprise this year? How about disappointments?
SL: I have to start in the Western Conference where the Kings, Coyotes, and Avalanche just have not gone away this season. I predicted the Kings would make the playoffs but to see Phoenix rebound after their troubled off-season and Colorado winning with such a young lineup has been special. I have been very surprised by the rapid decline of the Anaheim Ducks, who I thought would be a favorite in the West this season.
In the East I thought the Senators could make the playoffs but behind Pascal Leclaire. To see Brian Eliott emerge as the number one goaltender has been a big surprise. His numbers rival any top goaltender in the league since January 1st. I am disappointed in the Boston Bruins who I thought would really challenge in the East after a great season in 2008-09. I’m surprised they have had so much trouble scoring and they have looked soft in their physical play.
My favorite players to watch in the league right now are the young guns like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago. This may be the greatest collection of young talent that the league has ever seen and it is a pleasure covering it.
PH: Any words of wisdom for readers here at Kukla’s Korner?
SL: I want to thank everyone for their tremendous and loyal support. It has been a fun ride for the past five years and like Kukla’s Korner we continue to grow at NHL Home Ice. I appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit about the channel and our show with all of you. Enjoy the playoffs everybody!
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at email@example.com.