The legendary broadcaster Peter Maher has teamed up with George Johnson to write a book about Maher’s career and key moments of Calgary Flames history. Being big fans of Maher’s, we jumped at the chance to catch up with the Hockey Hall of Fame honoree.
When you stepped away from the microphone, was your initial thought that you’d do a book? Or was it waiting to see if you could find the right person to work with?
When I retired I had no desire to write a book. I was asked by a some people, I was asked by a couple publishers, and I had no desire to write one. And then George came to me about a year and a half after that and he had talked to the people at Triumph Books and he said they were interested. And I thought doing it with George made some sense, given the fact that he had been there probably 22, 24 of the years that I was so he could relate to a lot of the things that I would want to put in a book. So it was a good coordination.
A book compiling your stories about the Flames seems like a good fit given that you had a great perch above the ice for so many of the club’s big moments.
I had a very good bird’s eye view of all of the major things that happened in the first 34 years that the team was here, so I guess I had a perspective of what was going on and some inside stories that could be told that could enlighten the people to just what it was all about with the team. So I was very fortunate that the Flames had some successes over that time period and really, three of them that went to the Cup Finals.
I was going to ask about most fun season to cover, but you’d probably say 1989 (the Cup win) with 1986 and 2004 (the other trips to the Cup Final) right behind. Other than the Cup Final seasons, do you have a favourite among the rest of them?
Not really. Those are the three that really stand out given that all three of them went to the Stanley Cup Final, and they all had special connotations to them and some interesting developments transpired through the course of them. There’s no other real season that sticks out. If there was any, it might have been the ’87-’88 year; the team was so strong and finished number one overall in the league and then ultimately lost out in the opening round of the playoffs against Gretzky and Edmonton. That season kind of sticks out among the other ones, but certainly doesn’t have the finality to it that those other three that we mentioned had.
You traveled with the team for much of your time calling games. You probably had to develop a sense of when players were in the mood to talk and when to leave them alone (like after a loss).
There’s no doubt that with experience you come to learn when is the appropriate time to approach a player or approach a coach, and that type of situation. I broadcast in Toronto three years before I came here, so I had a good handle on the atmosphere, reading the temperature of a team when they were traveling and that type of thing, so when I started traveling with the team here I had a good handle on the whole situation. So you get to a point where you know when you should say absolutely nothing, and when there’s an appropriate time to step in and ask a guy, one of the players or one of the coaches, for some insights and that type of thing. But there are a lot of flights where it was very, very quiet after a loss.
Were there any road trips or travel spots you saw on the schedule and circled when you had time to stay there?
The early trips I had a special feeling for was when you were in the middle of winter here and it was cold and it was snowy and you were heading off to one of the snow cities, being it California or later on when Florida came into the league and when Phoenix came in and that sort of thing. That was always a nice relief from winter to be going to some of those cities, even if you were only going for a day and a half, sometimes two days if you were real lucky.
However, I did like some cities that I found quite interesting if you had a night off that you could go to a restaurant or a special place that you came familiar with. Boston was a place I liked going to. I’m a big seafood lover, a lot of seafood there in Boston. That was one that I’d put on my list when you look at the schedule at the start of the season if we were going there.
Chicago was another one. I really like Chicago. It’s a very pretty downtown area. There’s a lot of areas in Chicago I wouldn’t recommend going to. In fact, in the early days when we were going to the old Chicago Stadium it was a very rough part of down, very downtrodden, so when you get down to that part of the city you did what you had to do and then you leave. It got better as years went on. It’s still not quite like downtown Chicago. Downtown Chicago is so beautiful being down on the lake there, the downtown core, very very beautiful – the Miracle Mile they called it – and they always had some nice restaurants there.
For lots more stories from Maher, check out his new book. If you’re thinking about grabbing a copy of If These Walls Could Talk: Calgary Flames, consider grabbing a ticket to Friday night’s Calgary Hitmen game when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers. They have a Meet the Authors package for $48.50 which gets you the book, a lower bowl ticket, a buffet dinner, and a pre-game Q&A with Maher and Johnson.