It’s a milestone year for Kyle Bukauskus. As the NHL on Sportsnet Reporter joins us from his home in Stittsville, he’ll soon be completing his tenth year as a broadcaster. On top of that, Bukauskas is about to turn 30 and, most importantly, he’s getting married.
Frankly, it’s hard to believe someone who spent a lot of the last ten years on hockey’s brightest broadcast stage is still under 30. But that’s exactly how it is for the Campbell River, B.C. native, who’s already enjoyed a more distinguished career than most, not to mention several lifetimes worth of amazing NHL moments and memories.
Bukauskas has been a quick study in the industry, one of those people who’s just naturally good on camera – calm, smooth and likeable – almost like the camera and a nationwide TV audience aren’t even there.
In a lot of ways, he’s following in the footsteps of his current colleague, Ron MacLean, another western Canadian who’s equally smooth, friendly and professional. And both men also leapt into the Hockey Night in Canada fray at a very early age. MacLean was in his mid 20s when he took over the host chair during the 1986-87 NHL season.
With the traditional broadcast workforce in such transition, ever evolving and often shrinking, carving out a good career can be challenging at any age. But compared to Kyle’s earliest professional plans, which were super ambitious, the notion of becoming a broadcaster was pretty reasonable.
“Yeah, of course, as a young kid, I had dreams of playing in the NHL and then that starts to evolve as you get a little bit older,” Bukauskas said. “And then for the longest time I wanted to be an actor. Like, I loved Jim Carey and Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler. And just the idea of making people laugh was a real thrill for me. And then as you get a little bit older, you realize the odds of having a successful career in that racket are very slim too.”
On to plan B.
“Whether it was watching Jay and Dan on TSN or Don Taylor on Sportsnet out west, every morning doing a highlight loop, it just felt like that was the coolest job in the entire world,” Bukauskas said. “Like the way they had fun with it, there was a comedic element. They were entertaining and they were talking about sports. I thought that seemed like the perfect job. So that’s where the interest first really started for me in this industry. There have definitely been some detours along the way that led me here now and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.”
While Bukauskas’s professional life has moved quickly and successfully, he’s been a little slower paced in his personal life. He and his girlfriend, Dana, who now works for CHEO, have been together for ten years and they’ll make things official in Canmore, Alberta this summer, on the eve of Kyle’s 30th birthday.
“Yeah, we’ve got a wedding coming up in July,” Bukauskas said. “Dana has been part of this journey from day one. We met at school in Calgary. We both lived on campus and saw each other around. But it wasn’t until the end of the second semester we finally said two words to each other. It’s been a really great ride together and I’m looking forward to celebrating the big day with a group of special people in our lives this summer.”
Bukauskas has also had a lifetime of great hockey moments and memories. And as you’d expect after ten years, it isn’t easy to identify a favourite. But he chose a good one.
“Being on the ice, interviewing players, the moment after the Stanley Cup is handed out,” Bukauskas said. “(After the long season) that’s almost the payoff, getting a chance to interview players that are realizing their lifelong dream and they’re surrounded by the people they did it with and their family and all of that. That’s a really rewarding thing to be right up close to and listen to them tell their story and letting all their emotions out. It’s a big adrenaline rush.”
As every hockey fan knows, some player interviews can definitely be dry and dull with all the standard, mind-numbing cliches. Players will come up with showstoppers like we’re taking things one game a time, getting pucks keep, getting pucks to the net, yada, yada, yada.
But sometimes in these interviews, things do get interesting – really interesting – whether it’s good, bad or ugly. We selected one of each, starting with what may be Kyle’s most famous interview so far. It was the bad one, and that was thanks entirely to Boston’s Brad Marchand.
The bad: In May 2019, after the Bruins eliminated Columbus, Marchand agreed to a rinkside interview with Bukauskas, with a premeditated plan to only give the briefest of answers. Kyle asked three solid questions and Marchand, at his salty best, awkwardly gave Bukauskas three replies that contained a grand total of 10 words.
“I do get asked about it a lot,” Bukauskas said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever know the real reason why that interview went the way it did. We did the interview on the ice live, right after the game ended. Then he goes into the dressing room and does his regular media scrum and it was the same (short answers) there too. So he wasn’t deciding to give me a hard time and nobody else. I think he had just some problems with the recent coverage of him and the team that I think he was fed up with. And I was the first victim.”
Bukauskas didn’t get a chance to interview Marchand again until last year, the day of the NHL trade deadline. Sportsnet had a Monday night broadcast in Montreal and Boston was in town.
“The game goes into overtime,” Bukauskas recalls. “And so typically how it works out, whoever scores the overtime winner tends to be our choice for the post-game, walk-off interview. And so in my mind I’m going, ‘Marchand’s gonna score. Of course, he’s gonna score.’ And he does. And so I’m like, ‘All right, here we go. Part two.’
“So Marchand came out and was like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ And we’re just kind of making small talk as our crews were getting ready and it was fine. There was no awkwardness or anything like that. We were just talking hockey to kill time.
“And then the camera wouldn’t fire up. It’s the first time ever in my career that it’s happened. They couldn’t get it to fire up, so the interview never happened. It was almost like the hockey gods were saying we aren’t ready yet for part two.”
The ugly: That same playoff year, in May of 2019, Kyle found an even less willing interview subject than Marchand. Before a Carolina Hurricanes playoff game, he was asked to “interview” a pig. No, not a hockey fan with barbecue sauce all over his face. An actual pig.
Hamilton the Pig is the ‘Canes good luck charm and Bukauskas handled an odd situation like a master. In the opener of the broadcast, he sat down beside Hamilton and spoke to him like he was a viewer, previewing the game, presenting him with a Hockey Night in Canada towel, and then closing with the famous line from the movie, Babe: ‘That’ll do, Hamilton. That’ll do.’
“That was the third round of the playoffs and we had done some fun things along the way. Sherali Najak was a longtime producer at Hockey Night and I worked with him for about five seasons. There’s no way I’m as comfortable on air, doing different things today, without his guidance and encouragement.
“So he had the idea we should have Hamilton on and do an “interview.” And I’m like, ‘Sherali, I’m struggling here. How am I supposed to interview an animal? Like, how is this gonna look?’
“And he goes, ‘You know, think Ron MacLean on Hockey Day in Canada. Ron’s on an outdoor rink and he’s got a small crowd of kids around him and he’s telling them about something that happened or in the history of hockey a hundred years ago, and none of the kids have any idea what he’s actually saying, but they’re all listening intently to him.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I got it now.’
“Hamilton’s owners said to me after it was done that Hamilton had never done that before and he actually turned and looked at me, almost like he was listening. So yeah, if nothing else, I’ve connected with pigs here over the course of my career. So I’ve got that going for me.”
The good: In Game 3 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, Bukauskas grabbed former NBA star Charles Barkley for a second intermission Sportsnet interview. After four words, Barkley cut his first answer short, so he could take a moment to appreciate Kyle’s appearance.
“I gotta say a couple of things,” Barkley said in the interview. “Number one? Your hair is freakin’ awesome… You’re a good lookin’ man. You look like the Canadian Tom Brady to me.” And then, with a laugh, Sir Charles threw his arm around Kyle and gave him a big, one-armed hug.
“Yeah, that was a career highlight for sure,” Bukauskas laughed. “I never thought I’d be interviewing Charles Barkley at any point, so that was really neat. He’s buddies with Jon Cooper, the head coach of the Lightning. So he was down there in Tampa in the commissioner’s suite, cheering on his guys. He was in a very friendly mood that night. I’ll just say. So we record the interview and I’m already going like, ‘Oh boy. This might be a problem here.’ And then it airs and my phone started dinging pretty quick thereafter. So yeah, it was a fun moment, no question.”
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask about the hair, which is something of a Bukauskas trademark. If Kyle’s name happened to slip your mind, every hockey fan would know exactly who you meant if you referenced the tall, younger guy on Sportsnet who always has the perfect hair.”
“It’s just kind of become this part of me that I figured I might as well embrace and have fun with. Back in school, it wasn’t a big thing. Like, I had the long, shaggy hockey hair. Just shower in the morning before school, towel dry and however the hair fell that day, that was my look for the day.
“It wasn’t until I moved here to Ottawa and (former Ottawa Senator) Jason York, a good friend of mine, pointed me in the way of Dino from Fernandino Salon here locally. And I tell him all the time, ‘You created the monster because no one made a comment about my hair, good, bad, indifferent before I started seeing him.
“And now it’s become a talking point for whatever reason. The Rick Astley comparisons. I mean, Rick Astley’s a good looking guy still. I think he’s aged very well. So if that’s what I’m being compared to, then I’ll take that as a compliment. I’m very flattered by that. But the hair thing is certainly not something I ever thought needs to be part of who I am going forward.”
One thing that is a part of Bukauskas is his passion for coffee. Not only does he love hitting Ottawa’s many different shops, he brings his coffee gear with him on the road.
“Oh, I love going to coffee shops,” Bukauskas said. “I’ve got a huge love for coffee. I love just trying different local roasteries and their beans. In the last year, I’ve started traveling with equipment to make my own coffee when I’m on the road in the hotel and such. There’s still so much to learn, but I love the science and the art behind it all.”
And as someone who watches so many NHL games up close, including the Ottawa Senators, we have to ask Kyle what he thinks about the Sens. Is next year finally going to be the year they get back to the playoffs?
“Yeah, I feel it should be, just given the progression they made this year,” Bukauskas said. “I think Tim Stutzle has blossomed into a star, there’s no question about that. Jake Sanderson has become one of their best all around defencemen. And the amount of situations that D.J. Smith uses them in is quite remarkable.
“I think you can certainly be wary of teams that have nothing to play for and finish strong at the end of a season. Because that by no means guarantees momentum or anything for the following fall. But I believe the Sens got their first taste of being in a bit of a race. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off during that long trip out west. But I think we saw how perfectly Brady Tkachuk is suited for those types of games and, in theory, playoff games when that day inevitably arises.
“So I think there have just been too many good signs here – that don’t feel like a flash in the pan – that would suggest there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t be in the conversation for a playoff spot. And that’s where they should be setting the bar next year. I think it’s time.”
Sens fans would love to one day see Bukauskas wiping stray champagne spray from his eyes, while asking Brady Tkachuk all the right questions after Ottawa wins a Stanley Cup. All things considered, Kyle truly is the perfect choice to be covering a team like the Senators, a club so filled with young talent, high character and such a bright future.
Because those traits also seamlessly describe Kyle Bukauskas.
By Steve Warne