With a degree in English literature and a passion for football, Pierre McGuire is not your ordinary hockey broadcaster

There aren’t too many Montrealers who wear a Stanley Cup ring, and even fewer who have shared the title of hockey’s most prestigious championship with a team other than The Canadiens. Pierre McGuire won two Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Along with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Canada’s Game, the young men who play it – and the young at heart who coach and manage; Pierre has their respect because they know that he’s one of a select few who has his name engraved on The Stanley Cup.

Having been a player and a coach, Pierre understands and appreciates the dedication and plain old-fashioned hard work that is required for players to make it in the NHL.

This is even true for the “naturally gifted” players to further develop their skills. Pierre knows – and the players and coaches know that he knows.

“I was fortunate to have two wonderful coaches when I played football in high school and university. Jack Karcich and Jack Daniels challenged me to do well on the field and in the classroom.” The positive effect these men had on the lives of their players has stayed with Pierre, and is a reminder of the advice and encouragement he can offer to players in a game where ‘veterans’ are still relatively young.

Rex and Sally McGuire had four children, with Pierre being the eldest. Regan, Ryan and Renée are Pierre’s siblings. Asked why his parents didn’t give him an “R” name as well, Pierre replies with his understated wry sense of humour; “Actually they did – my first name is Regis.”

“We have a great family, and we had a lot of fun growing up. My parents are terrific – and we owe so much to the role models they provided for us. I’m grateful that they gave us all an education; and that they’ve been supportive of each of us.” Rex McGuire had a successful car leasing and sales business – one that two of Pierre’s siblings continue to operate.

While Pierre is on the road upwards of 220 nights per year, Montreal and his beloved Mont Tremblant are home. Pierre attributes his ability to spend so much time on the road to his wife Melanie’s strength of character. “Melanie is so strong – she’s my life and business partner. ” The couple have two children, and Pierre cherishes the afternoons that spends he with his daughter and son before heading off to the airport and another series of hockey games that he will broadcast on TSN or NBC.

“If I didn’t have Melanie and the kids, I don’t think I’d be able to do this,” Pierre explains, “they keep me centered.”

He realizes that his travel can be tough on his young family. In a SUN Media interview with Rob Brodie, Pierre commented; “My son asks me ‘how come all the other fathers are at their games every day and you’re not?’ That hurts hearing that, and I’m sure it hurts him. Not being at my daughter’s soccer games … you don’t realize how hard it is when you’re not there, and that hurts.”

After playing hockey and football in college, Pierre sought out a career as a professional hockey player. After a stint in Europe, he was signed by The New Jersey Devils. However, it appeared that Pierre was destined to spend a long time in the team’s farm system in the American Hockey League, with a minimal chance of making it back to The Devils. The NHL only had 21 teams in 1984, and competition for a roster spot was fierce. A career in the minor leagues was not the objective of a young man who had been raised in a success-oriented environment. After consulting with his former college coach, Pierre decided that he could make a good career in coaching.

His first assignment was with Hobart College in Geneva, New York in 1984. Successive positions in Babson College and St. Lawrence University enabled Pierre to further develop his coaching skills.

Opportunity knocked in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins with a scouting position in 1990. The timing was excellent – the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups during Pierre’s employment with the team. Plus, he was able to learn from the legendary late Bob Johnston. “Bob told me to try learning something new every day you go to the rink,” Pierre remarks about his late friend, boss and mentor.

Scotty Bowman was the Director of Player Development for the Penguins, and Pierre began a close friendship with Scotty that continues to this day. (Indeed, during our interview, Pierre took a moment to answer a call from Scotty.) Bob Johnston was diagnosed with brain cancer following the victorious ’90-’91 season, and passed away in the fall of ’91.

Scotty stepped in as Head Coach for the ’91-’92 season and brought Pierre on as an Assistant Coach with the team.

The Penguins continued to flourish, and Pierre proudly wears his ring from the 1992 Stanley Cup victory. He gave his ’91 ring to his brother Regan, a talented athlete in his youth, but whose career was cut short by an injury. In a Toronto Star interview, Pierre commented about his job as Penguins Assistant Coach: “I had a marvellous seat to watch Mario Lemieux, and I still marvel at what he could do.”

The Hartford Whalers offered a further career opportunity, and Pierre moved to take on the position of Assistant Coach, and then Assistant General Manager and finally Head Coach. “I was the youngest Head Coach in the NHL, and I was very proud of that” remarked Pierre. The Whalers had an ownership change following the ’94-’95 season, and Pierre was released. “It’s never a good time to be fired, but the Whalers were straight up with me. I understood their position, and it was handled in a business-like fashion.”

The same would not be the case of Pierre’s exit from the Ottawa Senators organization two years later where he had earned a position as Assistant Coach. While Pierre has spoken passionately about his ouster from the Senators organization on Mitch Melnick’s sports show, his gentlemanly comment during our interview was that “it was handled poorly”. In fact, Pierre was hurt deeply.

However, a setback in life can also result in an opportunity. If Pierre was still working with The Senators, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be hired by the late Ted Blackman to be the colour commentator on CJAD for their radio broadcasts of the Canadiens games. “Ted gave me his confidence, and encouraged me to use my employment with CJAD as a developmental opportunity. He wanted me to aim high, to build on what I was learning at CJAD and go to the national level as a broadcaster.”

Pierre continues; “Ted pushed me to be the best, and I’ve been fortunate to work closely with other broadcasters who excel in their field, including John Davidson on NBC, and Dave Hodge and Bob McKenzie at TSN. These guys are good teachers and good role models.”

Sometimes it’s a question of being in the right place at the right time… while still working with CJAD, Pierre did a guest television appearance on TSN. He did so well that he was asked back for regular appearances on a variety of TSN hockey programs. As TSN continued to increase their game coverage, Pierre was paired to provide colour commentary to Gord Miller’s play-by-play coverage. In addition to game broadcasts, Pierre is also part of TSN’s coverage of the World Junior Hockey Championship over the Christmas/New Years’ holiday, and the NHL entry draft.

His hockey credibility is such that Pierre also writes a hockey column for Sports Illustrated, the most respected sports magazine in North America.

NBC came calling this past season, and Pierre did some fascinating broadcast work for the huge American network. “Sam Flood at NBC sports has created a lot of revolutionary stuff for NASCAR, including cameras and microphones inside the actual race cars. We took that lead, and with NBC, I was the first broadcaster to be down at ice-level, between the team benches. Between periods, I’m out on the ice in street shoes – interviewing the players.” Pierre continues; “It’s really something – to feel the charged energy of the crowd and to transmit that to the viewers.” This ice-level exposure is not without danger. This past season, while leaning over to speak to a player on the bench, Pierre was hit by an errant puck that opened a cut requiring several stitches.

Although he recently turned 46, Pierre still maintains the trim physique of an athlete. “I’m huge into working out; it’s an important way to use your time on the road.”

On the work ethic of major stars; “Most stars are self-starters – they understand it. Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman never took a night off. Every game, every period, every shift, they give their best effort. That’s why their stars.”

“I respect athletics and the people involved. It’s provided me with my livelihood. The players accept me – I’ve been in their arena and appreciate the environment that they’re in.” Pierre is so well respected that many players and their families seek out his advice and counsel. “During the draft, one player was a very early pick. He arrived early with his parents, and we talked about college, the importance of education and his life goals.” He continues; “Occasions like that remind me that I have a huge responsibility in helping these young men and their families.” Just as Pierre benefited from the advice of high school and college coaches; he is now providing similar counsel to the young players he meets.

“Two years ago I came across a young guy who was sitting alone in the arena in Helsinki. He was incredibly curious, and we talked at length about hockey, about techniques for one-timers. That kid was Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL today – and he wanted to talk to me!”

An excellent communicator, Pierre has become a popular motivational speaker. So much so that both TSN and the NHL enlist his services to meet with major advertisers and sponsors. Pierre played golf with major TSN sponsors at The President’s Cup held here in Montreal at the end of September. He’s also done extensive work with the league, and has come to know Commissioner Gary Bettman very well.

“We meet with sponsors and media people for Question and Answer sessions. The League has never editorialized me – never restricted my answers. Pierre continues; “And we’ve had some pretty contentious issues lately; including the lockout, elimination of the red line, and rule changes.”

Hockey fans in Canada may not realize the importance of Gary Bettman’s support in maintaining teams in Canada. “When it was a 64 cent Canadian dollar, it was very, very difficult to operate a team in Canada and pay your players in US funds.” Quebec City and Winnipeg couldn’t and those franchises moved. Pierre continues; “Gary saved the franchises in Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. When no-one in Montreal was stepping up to buy one of the most storied sports franchises in the world, Gary Bettman brought George Gillett into the picture and The Canadiens are still playing in Montreal.”

Pierre is grateful for what hockey and broadcasting has brought to his life. “I’m just 46 and I’ve travelled all over the world… I’ve kissed and held the Stanley Cup as a champion… I was a friend and co-worker of the late Bob Johnston… I have the respect and friendship of Scotty Bowman… I’m able to provide a good lifestyle for my family… all this from hockey.”

While Danny Gallivan changed fellow broadcaster and friend Mitch Melnick’s life a generation ago; Pierre McGuire’s passion and enthusiasm are infusing another generation of young people to love the game of hockey… and all the good things that come with learning about sportsmanship and being a good team mate. Along the way, there are hopeful players and families who are thankful for the advice and counsel of someone who has turned disappointment into a rewarding career in the game he loves. Even super stars like Sidney Crosby are anxious to speak with Pierre McGuire about hockey – “because every day you can learn something new.”