By Ned Bekavac
If you weren’t quick enough to snap up a ticket to Game 2 of the OHL final Friday night in Guelph, you can kick up your feet at home and watch the national live television airing of the game on Sportsnet.
There, you’ll see one Jeff Marek manning the microphone as the studio host for the broadcast.
If you see a twinkle in Marek’s eye when discussing the Guelph Storm, it will be easy to explain why – the sports television personality has quite an affinity for the Storm, and this city.
“My memories of Guelph are quite fond,” says Marek.
In the ’90s, Marek was a University of Guelph student and a regular at Storm games at the ol’ Guelph Memorial Gardens.
He was an English major at the U of G, graduating in 1995.
He had no idea back then that he’d be who he is today – a hugely familiar Canadian media sporting face and voice, especially recognizable to the country’s millions and millions of hockey fans.
And you’re about to see more of him.
Late last year, it was announced that Rogers Communications signed a blockbuster deal with the NHL for broadcast and multimedia rights. Marek is part of the package, along with the likes of household names like Don Cherry, Ron MacLean and George Stroumboulopoulos.
Beginning in October, he will host Thursday Night Hockey, and weekend afternoon NHL pre-game shows for Sportsnet.
Later this month, he’ll be host for their coverage of the Memorial Cup, as Storm fans hope their team is among those that Marek will be talking about.
With the NHL and OHL well into their playoffs, we caught up with Marek, who lives in Stouffville, Ont., with his partner Claire and two sons, TJ and Brody, for a Q&A.
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Q: Can you give us the lowdown on your first sports-related gig?
A: First one would have been in 1995 at The FAN 590 in Toronto, working in the promotions department and as an overnight call screener on the Spider Jones show.
I had just finished my BA at University of Guelph and lucked into an entry level “cool” summer job.
That’s where I met Strombo, he was the overnight board op.
Best story was how I got fired – never got a phone call or called to the office or anything like that, all that appeared was a memo on the fridge at the radio station “Effective immediately the services of Jeff Marek will no longer be needed. We wish him the best in all future endeavors.”
Yup, that’s how it went. Nobody ever told me I was fired so maybe I’m still employed there?
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Q: The Trib’s paying the tab. What’s your tipple and where would you be having it?
A: I love Amarone. Pick any Italian villa and I’m there. Thanks Trib!
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Q: You came to Guelph to attend university here. At the time, what did you figure you’d be up to work-wise in the end?
A: The real answer is I had no idea, and certainly not working in sports media.
I kind of had in the back of my mind that I’d like to pursue a PhD and work as a conference-hopping tenured professor.
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Q: What are the three most-played songs on your iPod?
A: I mainly listen to podcasts but for tunes I have a Tibetan Meditation collection of songs I listen to on long runs, other than that probably “Angel of Death” by honeyhoney and “Dope Fiends and Booze Hounds” by the Rheostatics.
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Q: A bit back, Rogers announced its National Hockey League coverage plans. It’s the press conference, and you’re there hanging out with the likes of Don Cherry, Ron MacLean, Strombo etc. Can you relay a neat moment from that day?
A: It was hilarious. The presser was really mostly about Strombo, Ron and Don.
Me and Daren Millard were just kinda there because we’re part of the national package and sat in the middle of everyone.
So as reporters pepper George, Ron and Don with question after question, ignoring me and Daren, he turns to me and whispers: “It’s like we won a fantasy camp.”
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Q: When you were a Guelph student, what was the favourite watering hole for you and your friends in town, and why?
A: Loved the Albion Hotel, absolutely loved it.
Great people, cool bands upstairs and cheap, cheap beer. And not that long a walk/stumble from my house on Elizabeth Street.
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Q: Alive or not, who are three famous people you’d like to have over for dinner and drinks?
A: British philosopher/Zen teacher Alan Watts, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna and former NHL goaltender Gump Worsley.
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Q: If you were the commish, what three things would you do to make hockey a better game?
A: It sounds bizarre, but I’d try to slow the game down.
Too much of hockey is now “panic and push the puck forward,” you don’t see much east-west play anymore. It’s all sprints in straight lines.
I’d get rid of the automatic penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. And reintroduce ties. There are just some games that don’t deserve a winner.
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Q: Back in the day, you hosted Live Audio Wrestling, which is now referred to as the longest running wrestling/MMA program in history. Being a wrestling fan in a world of “proper” sports, do you ever get jabs about that?
A: It’s funny, I don’t really get jabbed about it that much.
I’ve found there are tons of closet fans who would rather talk about their favourites growing up, than take a swipe at the sport.
• • •
Q: The Guelph Storm hosts North Bay tonight in Game 1 of the OHL finals. Did you attend games when you were a student here, and what do you recall about those times?
A: I rarely missed a Storm game when I went to U of G.
I was going to games at the old barn when players like Jeff O’Neill, Todd Bertuzzi, Jeff Bes, Sylvain Cloutier, Duane Harmer, Steve Pottie, ran the show.
Going to Storm games is actually one of my most treasured memories about going to school there. Even if I had a huge exam the next day I still went. Had such a great time at those games.
Loved the old rink, we all knew it was outdated and they needed a new barn, but we still loved it. Guelph at that time had some high-end skill but were also a raw bone, tough team with guys like Ken Belanger, Rumun Ndur, Alex Stojanov and Aaron Downey.
So, yeah, there was the odd scrap or two every game.
• • •
• Band or musician: Rheostatics
• Actor: Jimmy Stewart
• Actress: Faye Dunaway (loved her in Network)
• TV show: Larry Sanders Show
• Movie: Jaws, maybe just for the USS Indianapolis scene
• Food: Just about anything vegan (yes, I’m one of those)
• Drink: Red wine
• Day of the week: Monday (it’s true)
• WWE wrestler: Ric Flair
• Pro sports franchise: Don’t have one
• Sport aside from hockey: MMA, and still love baseball