I never had cable growing up, so a majority of my sports watching, before I obtained a driver’s license, was on the weekends. My first memory of John Saunders was hosting the pre-game and intermission shows on ABC when ESPN had the NHL. Anytime I could watch US coverage of the NHL I was thrilled as most of the coverage we got was from CBC 9 across the river out of Windsor, Ontario.
Now with watching Hockey Night in Canada you get a whole different perspective and style. You got everything from long-time writers, to former players, and then Don Cherry, who is a category all to himself. The US coverage is very different obviously, but the first thing I noticed was the passion from the host, who I would learn later was of course Canadian, and a former player himself.
John Saunders was the perfect person to cover the NHL. He was understated, knowledgeable, and brought a professionalism to it that the cable broadcasts seemed to neglect. He didn’t have to yell, say absurd things, or get into arguments on air with his co-hosts to make an impact. Not to say he and Barry Melrose got along all the time, but they presented their points and always ended with a laugh or a smile.
John was one of those broadcasters you didn’t realize how great he was until you watched someone else do the same job. When Fox bought the rights for the NHL, and now NBC, I often found myself ignoring the pre-game and intermission reports, or trying to find a Canadian broadcast. Nothing against Steve Levy who is very knowledgeable, but Barry’s best on-air partner was John. He was so good if I was flipping through the channels and saw him and no one else, not even knowing the sport, I would stop and think “Oh, let’s see what John is covering.” He was that good, and the sport of hockey, and the sport’s world, lost a great voice.