The 35-year-old backup goaltender had just finished his second season with the New Jersey Devils, behind the winningest goalie in hockey, Martin Brodeur.
Growing tired of not playing on a consistent basis, Weekes decided to step off the ice and into the broadcasting booth before the start of the 2009-10 season.
Weekes became the first black hockey analyst, calling games for Hockey Night In Canada along with work on the NHL Network.
Weekes spoke to SportsNewser prior to the start of the 2010-11 NHL season on how the league can attract more minorities in the broadcasting booth and if he’s officially retired.
SportsNewser: How much media training did you take part in behind the scenes?
Kevin Weekes: I guess the best way to answer that I had a lot of interesting opportunities as a player along the way. I got a media training by actually just playing in the league. A lot of it was first hand. Ironically enough, I filmed my first show for CBC when I was 17 and drafted in the OHL. It’s a show that they have now called The Fifth Estate. They did it documentary style and profiled six players that had been drafted in the OHL. That was my first real explosion to the camera and I got comfortable with it pretty quickly. Along the way I did a couple hockey night things on ESPN and ESPN2 and a couple other opportunities up here with The Score.
In terms of the strict suit and tie mainstream hockey media that you’re talking about, I just cut my teeth on that on NHL on the Fly on the NHL Network. My agent, Eustace King, got me a couple of opportunities after that season in New Jersey when we were eliminated. I had four shows under my belt I just added that to the list of things I have done along the way.
What does it mean to you to become the first black analyst in hockey?
It’s twofold. It’s something that I’m extremely proud of and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful to Sherali Najak, who was our executive producer on Hockey Night In Canada up until last year. He’s the one that gave me the first opportunity and reached out and expressed interest. In addition to him, Scott Moore, who is the head of CBC Sports. On the NHL Network side, Mark Jacobson is our executive director and he did the same thing. Beyond that, I’m extremely flattered. There are a couple other black broadcasters that are in hockey. Trevor Thompson, who does a lot of Fox Sports Detroit stuff. He does a lot of features on the Wings and does some of their hosting in and around the boards during games. Peter Ruttgaizer, who is also from Toronto, he does stuff for the Avalanche on the Altitude Network. He does a lot of the in studio stuff for the Avs. There are a few of us but in terms of actually broadcasting, I’m the first one. It’s huge and when you look at the magnitude and think about how long the game has been around. Hockey Night In Canada for example has a 57-year history. To be the first one in 57 years is pretty amazing.
For a sport that lacks minorities, how does the NHL ensure that there are other Kevin Weekes’ on television?
I think it has to be twofold. I think the players have to be interested in it or people that are interested in broadcasting have to make that known. The NHL is taking a little bit more of an open-minded view. I say this respectfully but for the longest time, it was too conservative, very one-dimensional and very limited in their scope. Now if you look at some of the hires, not only myself doing stuff for the NHL Network, but also Brendan Shanahan working full-time for the league too. “Shanny” is a Toronto guy. He’s Irish. His parents immigrated from Ireland here. He played in the league a long time. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. He’s fresh. He’s only 40 years old. Those types of hires strategically will help the league continue to grow. At the NHL Network, we hired Bobby Holik to do a few shows too. To my knowledge Bobby will be the first European former player turned broadcaster in North America. That’s good history and I’m happy to see that I was able to play a part in that.
Which announcer or analyst has influenced you the most in terms of your broadcasting career?
That’s tough. I really love Jon Gruden. I think he’s great. I know he’s obviously a good coach and I’m switching sports here. I love the energy he brings and his knowledge. He’s precise, passionate and really knows what he’s talking about. I love Charles Davis, who is at the NFL Network. I have always loved Ahmad Rashad growing up watching basketball. I think he always related well with players. People didn’t even recognize he played in the NFL. He crossed over to broadcasting in the NBA and does a great job of relating to players on a human level. In our sport, I love Sam Rosen of MSG. Doc Emrick is another one that I really like too.
The $64,000 question is are you officially retired?[Laughs] I’m not officially retired. I didn’t fill out my retirement papers. At this point, I’m loving the media stuff and it’s been great. I really enjoyed the transition. It’s been awesome from just getting to do my job everyday, which is real fun. In my last couple of years, I loved playing in New Jersey on the one hand and I have a lot of respect for the guys at the organization, but it’s not fun when you’re not playing. It’s really not. Coming out every morning, stoning guys every pregame skate, stoning guys in practice, and when the lights turn on, you’re on the bench. That gets a little bit redundant after a while. This has been really refreshing and I’m loving it. I can do this as long as I choose to. If I want to do this the next 30-35 years, I can do it. It’s been really fun and I’m enjoying this side.
Let’s say Martin Brodeur goes down with an injury and Johan Hedberg is Johan Hedberg. If the Devils were to call you to see if you would consider coming back for the season, is that something you would consider if you were guaranteed playing time?
I would say this is what you told me why you wanted me there three years ago. I came, had a .920 save percentage my last year. Marty was hurt – he’s the winningest goalie in the history of hockey – and he was hurt. Scott Clemmensen and I played. Marty missed 80 percent of the year that season. New Jersey set a record that year for most wins in a season in the history of their franchise. What does that say? If you’re going to pay me what the market bears or what the market should bear based on my resume, then it’s definitely something I would listen to. I don’t believe in slamming doors.
What’s your early prediction for the 2011 Stanley Cup?
I don’t know if Washington is ready. I don’t know if they are going to do what it takes. I would say Washington out of the East but I don’t think they are ready. So I’m going to go Pittsburgh in the East and Detroit, if healthy. If not Detroit, I’m going to say Vancouver.