Most importantly, you can't offend anybody, and that's so easy to do with a lot of modern music.
—Lee Godfrey, DJ
We're in the dying minutes of the Winnipeg Jets' latest tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, and the home team is down three goals to one. The crowd shifts, restless: they want a goal, a spark, something to cheer about. For the last two periods of a tight game, they haven't gotten much, and the beats of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" bouncing on the MTS Centre can't quite overcome the cold facts on the ice.
But hey, at least Lee Godfrey tried.
From his vantage point far above the south-end goal, the Jets' DJ Godfrey lines up and cranks out the music that flows with the game. You'll never see him called out on the ice, never hear his name rumbled over the public address system, but the work he does is a critical part of the experience all the same.
"It sets the atmosphere," Godfrey said, as fans filed into their seats before the puck dropped on that Flyers game. "If the crowd's in a bit of a lull, we're going to try to get the crowd back into the game. And with Jets fans, it's really made it easy."
That said, of course, the job is harder than it sounds. The players choose the warm-up songs - "it's them who have to get pumped up by it," Godfrey said - but the rest are carefully curated. For those fans, Godfrey and crew - including True North event production director Kyle Balharry - sit down each pre-season and pour over the song possibilities to add to their line-up.
Philadelphia Flyers' Tye McGinn fights with Winnipeg Jets' Mark Stuart at MTS Centre in Winnipeg on February 12, 2013. (Trevor Hagan/CP)
They need red-blooded hockey music, they need songs sharp with tension - can't have a happy song to lead into a penalty kill, right? They need songs for fights: something grimy, even a little tongue-in-cheek. At the Flyers game, when Mark Stuart dropped the mitts with Flyers winger Tye McGinn, Godfrey fired off AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." The crowd howled. It was a good fit.
Oh, Godfrey knows these fans. Though this incarnation of the NHL in Winnipeg is still young, the man behind the music has been in the DJ seat a long time. He came to True North in 2001, back when the Manitoba Moose played in the dying Winnipeg Arena and he had to tiptoe down its notoriously terrifying catwalk to reach the production booth.
The job came about as sort of a surprise: Godfrey started plying his trade as a youngster growing up in The Pas, working as a bank teller by day and spinning records at socials at night. Eventually, he earned an invitation to DJ for the Brandon Wheat Kings; a little while later, True North called him up. "Music has always been a huge part of my life," he said. "And DJing was just a fun job. I got to get paid to listen to music."
From Godfrey's chair, the transition from AHL to the big show didn't change much. "We really prepared our AHL games to be as good as we possibly could," Godfrey said. "So the flip to the NHL just means more people are listening now."
There's this part too: at 43, he's now a credit union employee by day, and helping run an NHL game-day experience at night. How often do people rave that his is their dream job? "I get that," Godfrey said, and laughed. "I also get 'why did you play this song?' That's the hard part. It's hard to make everybody happy. Most importantly, you can't offend anybody, and that's so easy to do with a lot of modern music."
Solution: stick to the stuff that everybody knows, and everybody likes. At Godfrey's fingertips are plenty of Canadian classics, lots of Tragically Hip, some Danko Jones and Loverboy.
Then there's some tunes that hit even closer to home. The Jets' minor-league affiliate, the True North-owned St. John's Ice Caps, often blast Newfoundland Celtic rock over their speakers. For the Jets, the song selection isn't quite so provincial, but some local gems still find their way onto the stereo. There's some Guess Who, obviously, but the Waking Eyes' raw 2004 rocker "Watch Your Money" is loaded up; Jet Set Satellite tweaked their 2000 hit, "Baby Cool Your Jets," to urge the fans to "fuel your jets" instead.
And then there are the submissions. Musicians have always written about love, and when so much of Manitoba loves the team so much, the local tunes flow into Balharry's and Godfrey's inboxes. Some aren't quite the right fit - too amateur, too country - but others have made it to the show. The most recent is a tune "Fuelled By Passion," written by former Afterbeat frontman Mike Reis, now with his new band We Need An Anthem. It's rocked fans out at the end of recent games.
"If it fits with the sound we're going for, we'll certainly play them," Godfrey said. This is as much about sound as it is about hits, after all: even if the crowd can't name the song, they can feel the vibe it's throwing out.
Sometimes there are gaffes - once, Godfrey played a "happy happy dance" song during a fight -- and he can laugh about them, after it's all over. But before the game and during, Godfrey is focused in, ready to seize the moments on the ice and heighten their emotion. Ready to help bring the crowd up, haul them to the edge of their seat, send their fists into the air.
The production booth is not a stage. But when the music works that way, it might as well be. "I get all my inner rockstar right here," Godfrey grinned. Then he paused, listening to the voice buzzing over his headphones, directing the action. "One minute? Okay. Gotta go."
Then, with a few taps of his fingers, a 1980s power ballad rose up over the MTS Centre, and the fans taking their seats perked up, sipped their beers and sang along. Almost time for the show. Almost time for the entrance song to roll, and the cheers to almost drown it out: "Go Jets go."
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Check out some of Lee Godfrey's favourite tracks and build your own Jets Playlist