Canadian curling owes debt of gratitude to TSN’s...
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Feb 20, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Canadian curling owes debt of gratitude to TSN’s Vic Rauter

Rauter, with his unique voice and cadence, estimates he has called 500,000 shots as the play-by-play voice at TSN, a run that will hit a personal milestone this weekend as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts begins

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A light rain fell while Jay Onrait, the former SportsCentre co-host, was driving to work in Los Angeles earlier this week. He said it was “the equivalent of that snowstorm we had in Toronto all those years ago when we had to call the army — everybody panics and forgets how to drive.”

Onrait, who left TSN three years ago to work at FOX Sports, had been discussing curling, of all things, offering another equivalency between Canada and the United States. He was asked how he would describe Vic Rauter, a former TSN colleague, to a U.S. viewer.

“The Vin Scully of curling in Canada . . . the Al Michaels of curling,” he said. “I mean, when you think of curling broadcasting in Canada, he is the one super-prominent name associated with it, to the point where he’s crossed over, I think, pop-culture wise.”

Rauter estimates he has called 500,000 shots as the play-by-play voice at TSN, a run that will hit a personal milestone this weekend as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts begins in Grande Prairie, Alta.

It will be his 30th Canadian women’s curling championship behind a microphone.

The son of immigrants from Austria and Switzerland, Rauter grew up with no dream of becoming a curling broadcaster. He covered municipal politics in Toronto, worked the police beat.

“I wanted to be in a trench coat standing in London, or in war-torn places,” Rauter said. “I started out as a news guy, and that’s what I did.”

He covered sports, too, with a handful of outlets. He spent two seasons calling games for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League. Rauter had no expertise in curling — aside from a recreational “hit-and-giggle league” — when he started in 1986.

That relative inexperience led to an approach that has survived three decades. During the stretches between shots, Rauter is known for leading his colour analysts into conversation by asking questions about strategy, even if it is obvious he already knows the answer.

“It’s like baseball a little bit, because you have time to talk, and time to explain,” said long-time broadcast partner Ray Turnbull, who retired in 2010.

There are replays, stories to be told and players wearing microphones, which allows for viewers to eavesdrop on those plans, as well as any associated anxiety.

“Vic does such an unbelievable job as the conductor of the orchestra,” said Mark Milliere, senior vice-president of production at TSN.

“Vic has that kind of a voice that invites you in,” said six-time Canadian champion Colleen Jones. “You know it’s him right away.”

Rauter has a practised cadence, a pace that can change like a drumbeat depending on the situation. For an important shot in a key moment of the game, he might inhale if the shot sneaks past a guard — an obstacle in its path — to help cultivate the sense of drama.

“When they’re hammering that brush, I want to be on top of that, I’m going to describe them hammering that brush,” Rauter said. “I know you can see it, but it’s like a hockey commentator describing a battle in the corner or a football commentator describing a scrambling quarterback.”

Curling is not hockey, though, and it is not football. It typically draws an older audience, especially for the midday draws during the week of a championship. Rauter describes it as “chess on ice,” and suggests it reaches a broader audience than one might suspect.

“There are a lot of closet curling fans,” he said. “They don’t want to admit when they go into the office, ‘Hey did you watch that Brier final last night?’ It’s, ‘Oh god no, I didn’t. Oh geez, I was out there on my skateboard.’ ”

Last year, the championship game at the Scotties pulled in an average audience of 1.05-million viewers, even though it was head-to-head with the Academy Awards. Jennifer Jones, the reigning Olympic champion from Winnipeg, won that game — her rink’s fifth Canadian championship — and will be defending her title in Grande Prairie.

“People will often say hockey is the lifeblood of the country,” Rauter said. “But I’ll tell you, there are plenty of towns, particularly in the Prairies, where there’s no hockey arena, but there’s a curling club.”

Toronto Star

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