For 31 years as the play-by-play voice of Red Wings hockey from 1964-65 through the 1994-95 Stanley Cup Finals, Bruce Martyn called the shots from Olympia Stadium in the Original Six Era, through the dreadful “Darkness with Harkness” and “Dead Wings” years and up to the eve of Detroit’s Stanley Cup championship teams at Joe Louis Arena.
Along the way, rabid Red Wing fans became loyal followers of the beloved broadcaster who called goals from Gordie Howe to Steve Yzerman with his famous “He shoots………(and high pitched) HE SCORES !!!” call.
Martyn retired at age 65 and his last broadcast occurred when New Jersey swept the Wings to win the 1995 Stanley Cup.
However, two years later at current Red Wings’ broadcaster Ken Kal’s very thoughtful invitation, Martyn did the play by play in the second period of game four of the ’97 Finals against Philadelphia when Darren McCarty scored what proved to be the winning goal that clinched the Cup.
In 1991 Martyn received the prestigious Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame for his contributions to hockey broadcasting. In 1996 he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame
In an interview with me two years ago Martyn shared his dream of becoming a broadcaster.
“When I was very young, I would listen with my Uncle John to Foster Hewitt’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. He always made the games so exciting and I really wanted to be a radio announcer. One day I went to the woodshop and carved myself a little microphone that I painted black and silver and put on my bedroom desk where I would read the newspaper into it. When I was 16, I worked at a Texaco station and saved money to buy a recorder that had a wax disc. I would read into it and enjoyed listening to the playback which was really exciting for me.”
He also talked about the challenges of broadcasting the world’s fastest sport.
“It just came easy for me. I told Ray Lane (former Tiger broadcaster) that if I was doing baseball games it would be hard for me to fill up that dead time because it is so much slower. Hockey has something going every minute to talk about. I guess I learned to do it from listening as a kid to Foster Hewitt. Foster’s voice didn’t go up as high as mine when I said, ‘he scores’. I think that just happened naturally from my excitement. When I started the Wings didn’t score a lot of goals because there were more low scoring games back then so that was part of the excitement of it. It was very difficult to do the games during the “Darkness with Harkness” and “Dead Wings” eras but I tried my best to make the games as exciting as I could. It also got a little harder when the league grew from the Original Six to 26 teams and more foreign players came into the league. Once the players were required to wear helmets it wasn’t quite as easy to tell them apart. “
For years Martyn was teamed in the broadcast booth with color analyst Sid Abel, the Red Wing Hall of Famer and former coach. His thoughts on Sid:
“Sid was one of the greatest persons I ever knew and he knew everything there was to know about hockey. It was great for me because I learned from him. If I had a question on a play, he explained things really well and we never cut in on each other. We did everything together and along with our wives the four of us became very close.”
With all the players he saw through his decades of broadcasting, I had to ask him who he thought was the greatest player he had seen play. The answer was easy for him.
“Wayne Gretzky was probably the best offensive player I saw but Gordie Howe was the greatest all-around player. Gretzky had two or three protectors around him but Gordie took care of his own people. If you got near Howe there was a good chance you would get an elbow in the face. I’ve always said that I would play five Gordie Howes on my team against five Wayne Gretzkys any day. The Gretzskys would all be laying around the ice and the Howes would still be going.”
Martyn also shared with me why he decided to retire in 1995.
“I retired because I found myself having to work harder and keeping my concentration on it, but mostly I was tired of looking up at hotel room ceilings and being on the road so much. I announced my retirement because the Wings had won the President’s Cup and I really thought that was the year we would win the Stanley Cup. But in the Finals Jacques Lemaire put up that defense for the New Jersey Devils that Scotty Bowman never solved and we were swept. Maybe it was a good thing to get out of there because soon after I started, we lost the Cup to Montreal when we won the first two games in Montreal and then lost the next four. In 31 years, I never got a Cup and Ken Kal replaces me and he gets three of them, boom, boom, boom.”
Martyn, 93, lives in North Carolina with his wife Donna. The couple have been married 72 years.
This YouTube video from 1979 features Martyn with his preview of the upcoming NHL season.
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