Former Flames radio voice Peter Maher recalls lifetime of hockey memories in new memoir
Longtime Flames announcer revisits 1989 Stanley Cup victory, and birth of 'yeah baby!'
Peter Maher was eyewitness to the first 33 years of Calgary Flames history, including when the team won the 1989 Stanley Cup and nearly won it again in 2004. Maher spoke to The Homestretch Monday about If These Walls Could Talk — Stories from the Calgary Flames' Ice, Locker Room and Press Box, his new memoir co-written with longtime Calgary Herald sports columnist George Johnson.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did your broadcasting career begin?
A: I grew up in a town in New Brunswick, Campbellton, population about 7,000 or 8,000 people. I started off when I was 14, doing some of the public address announcing the games of the local softball league, for a radio station manager named Sidney Lee.
Eventually, he came to me and said, 'well why don't you do reports from the game each night?' That's how it started on the radio station there — and then my last year of high school, I was a sports guy. I'd go in the morning and do that until about 8:30, go to school and then come back again at 3:30, 4 o'clock and do the afternoon run.
That's how it began in broadcasting for me. I also did writing at the time, for the local weekly newspaper, and eventually I got into doing a hockey play-by-play and then I sort of went from there.
Q: How did you get the Flames gig?
A: [From 1977 to 1980], I got the Toronto Maple Leafs [radio] gig. When the Flames came from Atlanta [to Calgary, in 1980], Jiggs McDonald — who was then the play-by-play guy in Atlanta — decided he was going to go to New York and broadcast the Islanders. There was an opening and so it turned out I got the job here in Calgary and came in [to call games].
That's the best thing that ever happened. The rest is history.
Q: What was it like calling out games back in the day in the Corral?
A: It was about 7000 people that were in the building — and that was seating and standing room. It was a great location to broadcast the game — and the crowd seemed to be sitting right on top of the opposition! They didn't lose too many games back in those days because there were all of those elements coming into play.
Q: I know that you're not supposed to have favourites but we all do. Who are the ones who made a big impression on you and why?
A: Probably the one that kind of stands out was Lanny McDonald. I broadcast the games that he played in Toronto, then I came here and he followed me here. I like to tell him that the very first goal I called in an NHL game Lanny scored it and then I had the good pleasure of being there when Lanny scored his final goal in the Montreal Forum that night the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989.
Q: The 'Yeah Baby!' call — which is now famous here in Calgary — how did that start?
A: 'Yeah baby' was born out of my lips in 1986. The idea came the morning of game six of the Smyth Division final against Edmonton. The Flames are leading the series three games to two. I'm driving home from the morning skate, and I'm listening to music, and the refrain to one of the tunes I was listening that I don't quite recall what the name was — but it was 'yeah baby baby'.
I thought well, if they win tonight maybe I'll use that.
So of course they didn't win that night. Edmonton won, so the series goes back to Edmonton for game seven. That was the night that Perry Berezan scored one of the most memorable goals in Flames history. And [Oiler defenceman] Steve Smith put the puck inadvertently in his own net and then, right at the end of that game — a 3-2 victory — just after the face off in the Flames' zone and the shot from Jari Kurri misses the net, I yell out 'yeah baby Flames!' and 'Climb the mountain!' because that was [Flames coach Badger] Bob Johnson's [catch phrase] — not 'yeah baby', but 'climb the mountain' — which was his theme.
That's where it started.
With files from The Homestretch
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