WINNIPEG - The new voice of the Winnipeg Jets grew up calling games from his crease during street hockey games in Winnipegosis and fully understands the importance of the job at hand.
That’s part of the reason why longtime play-by-play man Dennis Beyak decided to leave the Toronto Maple Leafs radio booth to return to his home province and be part of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg.
“Growing up in this province, the Jets were always something special, the Bombers were always something special — especially for us in rural Manitoba,” said Beyak, who was confirmed as the lead voice of the Jets on Wednesday as a 10-year partnership with Bell Media was officially unveiled. “I was a huge fan of sports on radio and this brings back a lot of great memories. I was the goalie (for street hockey) and the play-by-play guy. Luckily, (Winnipegosis) was a farming community, so there was only a specific number of neighbours that could hear me. That’s where it started, that hockey is what I wanted to do.”
Beyak will be in the TV booth for 56 games and slip into the radio booth for the remaining regular season games that are televised nationally.
Since talk of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg first surfaced, Beyak has kept a close eye on the situation. Now he’ll have one of the best seats in the house and also the opportunity to be part of something historic.
“The more the summer went on, the more I wanted to really be a part of this thing,” said Beyak.
Beyak has an extensive background in hockey, both in the broadcast booth and as an executive in the Western Hockey League, where he also served as general manager of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Tri-City Americans before getting his first NHL play-by-play job with the Edmonton Oilers in 1995.
Splitting the colour commentary duties on TV will be former NHLers Brian Engblom and Mike Johnson.
Engblom, a Winnipegger who enjoyed a lengthy career with the Montreal Canadiens, has worked previously as a colour commentator and studio analyst for ESPN and Versus.
Johnson, who played in 650 NHL games, has spent the past three years at TSN in a variety of roles and is seen by many as an up-and-comer in the industry.
On the radio side, Brian Munz will handle the play-by-play for 56 games, making the jump to the NHL after spending the past five seasons as the voice of the Manitoba Moose.
“It’s unbelievable, a dream come true,” said Munz.
“I’ve done this for 17 years in Junior A, the WHL and the AHL and, kind of like players, coaches and trainers, you try to get to the NHL and you don’t know if you’re ever going to get there. And then you do.”
Neepawa product Shane Hnidy, fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Boston Bruins, filed his retirement papers on Wednesday and will be the colour analyst for all 82 games on radio.
Stewart Johnson, president of TSN, also announced they’ll be establishing a permanent Winnipeg bureau and that Winnipegger Sara Orlesky will serve as the lead reporter.