Medicine Hat, AB -- A countless number of players, numerous coaches and management personnel, and a plethora of staff members have come and gone over the 42-year existence of the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers.
Such is the nature of one of the world’s top development leagues, where players come in as young boys and leave as young men, while coaches and hockey staff learn their trade, grow their skills and move on as well.
Yet, there has been one constant for the Tigers. Play-by-play man Bob Ridley has been there since the beginning, broadcasting Tigers games on the radio and driving the team bus from Brandon, MB, to Portland, OR, and all stops in between.
Ridley, a product of Drumheller, AB, is set to broadcast his 3,000th regular-season game for the Tigers on Saturday night. He has been the voice behind nearly every Tigers broadcast since their start in 1970-71, missing just one game to cover a curling event.
“I didn’t even realize it until (Tigers’ director of marketing and public relations man) Dave Andjelic texted me and said we were playing our 3,000th game, so it comes up in a hurry,” said the 67-year-old Ridley, who is already a member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and was presented the WHL’s Distinguished Service award in 2006.
“I still remember the first game. I believe we were playing the Calgary Centennials, Scotty Munro’s team, and I remember the first Tigers goal was scored by Keith Silvernagle,” he said.
Now in his fifth decade broadcasting for the Tigers, Ridley has literally seen and done it all, when it comes to the Western Hockey League. He’s been a part of numerous highs for the franchise – five WHL championships and a pair of Memorial Cup championships – and has seen many players go on to Hall-of-Fame careers in the NHL or become successful in many other ways after hockey.
His stories are too numerous to fit into these pages, and the friends and acquaintances he’s made along the way are countless.
“I think seeing the team win five WHL championships and win the Memorial Cups are what really stand out, because that’s the ultimate goal of any team, any player, and any coach in the game,” said Ridley.
“One of the most special memories was when the team went to their first Memorial Cup in 1973. The franchise was only three years old then, and we had the likes of Hall-of-Famer Lanny McDonald, Tom Lysiak, the Gassoff Gang, and it was certainly a special time.
“Winning those back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1987 and ’88 was a very special time, because it just doesn’t happen very often, and it was a great accomplishment,” he added.
Though the moments of glory on the ice do make for special memories, Ridley says the best part about his longevity with the Tigers and in the WHL has been all the friends he has made over the years.
“I’ve made so many friends, whether its players, coaches, fans, people from other teams,” he said. “You meet them, you remember them and you think about them from time to time.”
Ridley has been a staple on the air for the Tigers since their start in the early 70’s. Yet, he’s also been a staple behind the wheel of the team bus, having taken on the role voluntarily just a couple years after the team joined the WHL.
Counting the miles he’s put on in the millions, Ridley knows every stretch of highway from the flats of the prairies to the Rocky Mountains to the west coast. He still takes the wheel on occasion.
“Like they say, ‘what happens on the bus, stays on the bus’,” said Ridley, in regards to some of the antics he has seen over the years on those long road trips. “But, there have been plenty of interesting trips, with trying to navigate through storms, avoiding wildlife and things like that.
“I remember a group of fans were following us on one trip, and we were driving through some pretty miserable conditions, so we kept having to stop to help these guys get unstuck all the time.
“We’d help them, they’d go on ahead, we’d catch back up and help them get unstuck again,” he said.
Having been involved with the Western Hockey League since the early days of the 70’s, Ridley has seen how far the League has come and how much it has grown in the last 40 years. He can tell some wild stories about the Ernie ‘Punch’ McLeans, the Patty Ginnells, the Scotty Munros and, of course, the Gassoff Gang of the League’s early days and even remembers his broadcasting partner leaving the booth to join a scuffle in the stands.
Now, he says, the game is so much different, and the League has evolved from the ‘wild west’ days into the premiere development league it is today.
“It’s all part of the growing process for the Western Hockey League,” said Ridley. “Because of some of the things that happened way back when, we have this very professional and well-run organization which is what the WHL has become.”
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)