Opinion

Connor McDavid has been crushing the competition. Auston Matthews has been magical. But there's another legitimate MVP candidate emerging from this unique NHL season north of the border, one who keeps bringing their "A" game night after night after night.

Connor McDavid has been crushing the competition. Auston Matthews has been magical. But there's another legitimate MVP candidate emerging from this unique NHL season north of the border, one who keeps bringing their "A" game night after night after night.

Take a bow, Jennifer Botterill. For my money, the Winnipegger has become appointment viewing on Sportsnet's coverage, adding to an already impressive resume which includes three Olympic gold medals from a decorated playing career that ended a decade ago. The Harvard-educated Botterill, who celebrates her 42nd birthday today, has made the transition to broadcasting look easy and is a shining star in an industry desperate for fresh faces, voices and perspectives.

Jennifer Botterill's consistently brings her A game to the broadcast booth. </p>

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / FREE PRESS FILES

Jennifer Botterill's consistently brings her A game to the broadcast booth.

"I think it's an important parallel to draw in hockey, how much it's grown and evolved for women and girls. Not every girl has to play hockey, but I love that it's a choice now. I firmly believe that it should be the same for any role within hockey, or sport. Whether it's in broadcasting or producing or as an executive in hockey," Botterill told me this week in a telephone chat from Toronto.

"I take a lot of pride in this opportunity, and hopefully it will provide other choices and opportunities for girls down the road."

Botterill doesn't want to just be viewed as having been brought on board to fill a quota, but rather one who has earned the prominent spotlight she has. There's no question that's the case. Whether it's breaking down a specific play in detail for viewers at home using her extensive first-hand knowledge of the sport, opining on the latest news out of the league or bantering with colleagues, Botterill is a well-polished pro.

"It's not just doing a job, but trying to do it exceptionally well," she said. "I have really enjoyed it. It's been a lot of fun. The entire Sportsnet team and Hockey Night In Canada team have been a privilege to work with. They've been really supportive, really encouraging. It makes it a nice environment to be a part of, where you can share your point and it's valued and appreciated."

 

 

Still, she acknowledged it's important that an effort has been made to ensure broadcasts look and sound a lot more like the world we live in, which traditionally hasn't been the case in the mostly Caucasian, male-dominated world of the NHL.

Some examples include last Saturday's broadcasts, which were streamed in seven languages in addition to the usual three of English, French and Punjabi. Having games heard in Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Vietnamese, Tagalog, German and Arabic was a long-overdue attempt to connect with new Canadians. The annual Hockey Day In Canada broadcast, which was held in February, focused largely on issues of diversity and inclusion.

Harnarayan Singh, who had been hosting the Punjabi broadcasts, was promoted to regular play-by-play announcer across the network, and has done numerous Saturday night Jets games this season. The intermission panels, of which Botterill is now a key part, are more diverse than ever. David Amber shares studio hosting duties with Ron MacLean. Anthony Stewart, Anson Carter, Cassie Campbell-Pascal, Christine Simpson and Caroline Cameron are major contributors.

Ron McLean with Botterill during a broadcast.

JENNIFERBOTTERILL.COM

Ron McLean with Botterill during a broadcast.

Hard to believe this is the same network that gave a platform to a far-past-his-prime dinosaur like Don Cherry. Better late than never, I suppose.

"To not just say hockey is for everyone, but to take the actions and the steps to make that closer to a reality is really important," said Botterill. "I really respect the (Rogers Media) organization, and it seems like they're really trying to embrace that and put that as a big priority. I admire the steps they're taking. They're moving the game in the right direction. I've felt that in terms of gender and how well I've been respected and appreciated."

Botterill was a dominant force in the women's game on many levels. She had 340 points (157 goals, 183 assists) in 113 games over four seasons at Harvard beginning in 1998 to become the school's all-time leading scorer. She had 310 points (130 goals, 180 assists) in 165 games with the Toronto Aeros of the National Women's Hockey League and later the Mississauga Chiefs of the NWHL and later the Canadian Women's Hockey League over six seasons beginning in 2003.

"I take a lot of pride in this opportunity, and hopefully it will provide other choices and opportunities for girls down the road." – Jennifer Botterill

And she represented Canada in dozens of international events between 1997 and 2010, ultimately recording 164 points (62 goals, 102 assists) in 162 national team games. That includes four Olympics appearances — a silver medal in 1998 in Nagano, and golds in 2002 (Salt Lake City), 2006 (Turin) and 2010 (Vancouver). Her final point came in that epic game in her home country, setting up Marie-Philip Poulin for the winning goal against the United States.

After hanging up her skates, Botterill wasn't entirely sure what was next, only that she wanted to try to remain in the game at some level. She got married in 2012, to former hockey player turned coach Adrian Lomonaco, and the couple now have three young children. She started running some hockey schools, only to get bitten by the broadcasting bug.

She dabbled, at first. A few women's hockey events here and there, some work at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi on both women's and men's hockey, and eventually some regional broadcasting with the New York Islanders. Opportunity came knocking last fall when Sportsnet approached her about taking on a full-time role in her home country. With COVID-19 putting travel on the shelf, she eagerly jumped in with both feet.

Botterill's impressive resume includes three Olympic gold medals.

JENNIFERBOTTERILL.COM

Botterill's impressive resume includes three Olympic gold medals.

"As I progressed through my playing career, there always was that appeal to broadcasting. It's a way to stay connected to the sport and hopefully provide more excitement and insight for everyone following along," said Botterill. "And, hopefully, bring people closer to the action and maybe give them a different look they might not have recognized."

Botterill comes from a prominent Manitoba sports family. Her grandfather, Donald Grant McCannell was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 in the builder/speed skater category. Her mother, Doreen McCannell, competed in the 1964 and 1968 Winter Olympics for Canada in speed skating. Her father, Cal Botterill, is a well-known sports psychologist who has worked with multiple NHL clubs and Canadian athletes.

Her older brother, Jason, was the 20th-overall draft pick by Dallas in 1994, played 88 career NHL games, went on to become the associate general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres and is now the assistant general manager of the expansion Seattle Kraken.

"I am grateful every day for the environment I had and was able to grow up in. We respect and admire our parents for how they raised us." – Jennifer Botterill

"I am grateful every day for the environment I had and was able to grow up in. We respect and admire our parents for how they raised us. They taught us about the love of sport, the love of the game, and to enjoy it. I think for both Jason and I, our decisions were based on that, where we could pursue excellence but also enjoy the experience along the way," said Botterill.

"There was positive, unconditional support. Hands down I'm super grateful, and have many moments of appreciation for that. I'm really striving to create that same environment for my kids. It's an inspiration for me."

Which brings me to the inevitable question — might she one day break a barrier by following her brother into the executive ranks?

Botterill says "the entire Sportsnet team and Hockey Night In Canada team have been a privilege to work with."

DAVID LEYES / JENNIFERBOTTERILL.COM

Botterill says "the entire Sportsnet team and Hockey Night In Canada team have been a privilege to work with."

It's a nice discussion to have. At this point I'm super happy for my brother. I also see how hard he works. It's a very intense position. Maybe it's something in the future for me. With young kids and a family, I'm not sure I could commit the time needed to be exceptional. Because you'd want to put in every effort to make sure you did an outstanding job so that could be the platform for others in the future," said Botterill.

"I think it's only a matter of time that there are women in various (NHL) roles. I don't know if its going to be next week or next month or next year, but I'm very optimistic there are plenty of females that are earning the experience right now and in turn will have those choices and opportunities in executive and coaching roles. In terms of your career and your life, it's interesting how it weaves and takes different paths along the way. I would never rule anything out. But this is a great place for me now to be."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

 

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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