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Bob McKenzie on Semi Retirement, The Old Days, and His New Bobby Margarita Brand

Bob McKenzie used to be known as the “BobFather” when he would break the latest hockey signing or trade on TSN. Now semi-retired, you can still find him working on his NHL draft rankings or World Juniors broadcasts, but with the new nickname “Bobby Margarita.”

Bob grew up in Scarborough, loving the game of hockey. Whether it was watching the Leafs on Wednesdays, Hockey Night in Canada Saturdays or collecting O-Pee-Chee cards, he was glued to the sport.

He would meet his wife, Cindy, in high school and would go on to get married in 1979. They’ve been together ever since and have two sons, Mike and Shawn, both currently working in hockey.

Bob changed his name on Twitter to “Bobby Margarita” in the summer of 2016, and little did he know it would turn into working alongside his son, Shawn, to create their very own margarita. We caught up with Bob McKenzie to discuss growing up in Toronto, his love for hockey and how “Bobby Margarita” came about.

How did you enjoy growing up in Toronto?

I’ve always loved being a true Torontonian or Scarberian, I guess. I note the difference because some City of Toronto proper snobs would suggest Scarborough wasn’t exactly in the city, which it wasn’t.

I was born at East General Hospital in East York, which is in the east end of the City of Toronto, but when I was three years old, my family moved to Scarborough, which was part of Metro Toronto but was viewed as “way out there.”

Scarborough is known now as one of the most culturally diverse communities in all of Canada, but when I grew up there, it was mostly a white-bread suburb of Toronto. Though it probably skewed more to blue-collar than white-collar, which was certainly true of my family. Both my parents worked and worked hard. My Dad always had two jobs.

When people ask me now where I’m from, I just tell them Toronto, and it gives me a great sense of pride to say that. Toronto is a great city.

Did you play hockey or any other sports growing up?

I started skating on an outdoor rink at Bendale Public School when I was four or five before playing organized minor hockey, which started when I was 6 or 7. I played a ton of road hockey. Even as a small kid, it was always hockey all the time for me, on and off the ice. I watched the midweek Leaf game on Wednesday night and, of course, Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. I collected hockey cards as a kid; I remember having a complete set of O-Pee-Chee in kindergarten, which would have been 1961, I think.

But I played soccer and box lacrosse in the summer, and I always enjoyed the change of sporting seasons. I highly recommend that to kids today. Play a summer sport other than hockey.

 

What made you decide to get into media, and why did you attend Ryerson?

Like most kids, I dreamed of playing in the NHL, but I always knew I was not even close to being good enough to fulfill that dream even as a young kid. I guess I’ve always had an objective mind. Anyway, what I remember most about the Leafs winning their last Cup in 1967 is that I kept a scrapbook of all the daily stories in the Star and Telegram that playoff year. I also remember that I was interested and enthralled with the story bylines and columnists with the Leafs. So while I idolized Tim Horton, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Bob Baun, Allan Stanley, Bob Pulford, Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk, I was also quite taken with Red Burnett, Milt Dunnell, Jim Proudfoot and all the hockey writers and columnists.

By the time I got into high school, all I wanted to do was to be a hockey beat writer and cover the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Star, the Sun or The Globe and Mail. That’s why I went to Ryerson. I figured that would help me get my dream job.

Who did you look up to in the media industry?

Well, all those hockey writers and columnists I mentioned from the 1960s, for sure. Frank Orr was another one. John Iaboni, Rex MacLeod, Jim Coleman, Scott Young. Once I got to be in the business when I was covering the Soo Greyhounds for the Sault Star in Sault Ste. Marie, I really looked up to John Herbert, the junior hockey writer for the London Free Press. He was the top junior hockey writer, and all of us newbies in the business wanted to “be like Herbie.”

What are some of the more memorable stories that you’ve broken over the years at TSN as an Insider?

I get that asked a lot, and my answer always stinks. I’ve mostly forgotten all the stories I’ve broken. I mean, and I say this humbly, there was a lot, but the story-breaking stuff is pretty transient, especially now. A scoop now lasts about as long for someone to read your “breaking story” on social media, and within five minutes, everyone is reporting it. In the really old days, when you had a nighttime deadline for your newspaper story, and the paper came out the next day, THAT was a scoop because your competitors couldn’t match it until the next day. There was no internet, no online editions—just the actual newspaper in the box or on your driveway/doorstep. I was on the winning end of some of those scoops, and I was on the losing end a lot too, and there was no better/worse feeling than back then getting a scoop or getting your ass kicked.

But there are a couple of breaking stories that stand out. One, I reported in the Star that interim NHL president Gil Stein was trying to orchestrate his own induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame by stacking the board with his cronies. He was, and my story helped kaibosh that and perhaps limited his run as NHL president. The other was the hardest story to break — TSN losing the NHL rights on a 12-year-deal to Rogers. That one hurt, a lot, but I was proud to be the one to report it.

 

How did you meet your wife, Cindy?

We met in high school. She was in my homeroom in Grade 12, her first year at the school, but we didn’t know each other or even talk to each other that year. We were in many classes together in Grade 13 and started going out on the final day of high school in 1975. We got married in 1979 and have been together ever since.
Tell us about your sons, Mike and Shawn.

Mike will be 36 in April, and Shawn will be 33 in July. Mike is the GM-head coach of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, and Shawn is a hockey broadcaster on Rogers Sportsnet. He’s the host/rinkside reporter on Maple Leaf broadcasts and does games, including Sens and Habs, on Hockey Night in Canada. I’m really proud of both of them. They’re both very good at their jobs, and they don’t have easy jobs either. We can all thank Cindy for doing such a great job raising them because I was very busy with work back in the 1990s when they were both young kids.

What have you enjoyed most about semi/soft retirement?

The best part is losing the 24/7 aspect of the job. I still have lots to keep me busy at various times of the year—the World Juniors, TSN pre-season, mid-season and final draft rankings, four Leaf broadcasts, Trade Deadline Day and Free Agent Frenzy day—but everything has a start time and a finish time, and I know precisely what days or weeks or months I’m busy and what days, weeks and months I’m free. I’m still busy with book projects, running my business that requires attention… but I’m no longer chained to my phone, I don’t have to watch hockey games at night if I don’t want to, and I don’t have to wake up to a steady stream of radio hits where I was obliged to know everything that was going on in hockey, on and off the ice. Now I have more time for my wife, kids and grandkids and more time to walk or work out or do things without the pressure of doing something else.

What do you like to do that’s not hockey/sports-related?

Going for daily walks, riding my mountain bike in the summer, going to Florida in the winter. Reading non-hockey or non-sportsbooks, drinking wine and margaritas on my dock at the lake or on my lanai in Florida. Visiting my grandkids. I’d say talking to my sons, but many of our conversations end up being hockey or the business of hockey or broadcasting.

How did the idea for “Bobby Margarita” come about?

It was mostly a social media gag I started in 2016 when I got a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville frozen concoction maker. When I fired it up for the first time on vacation that summer, I posted a pic or a video and changed my Twitter name to Bobby Margarita. It kind of took off a bit. Over the years, I leaned into that vacation persona and character, and so did a lot of other people.

Last March, my son Shawn was contacted by an old acquaintance, Brock James, who used to be a Molson rep in London when Shawn went to school there back in the day. He works for Ace Beverage Group now and was just reaching out to Shawn to get him to try some free beer (Ace Hill Mexican Lager) and tweet about it if he liked it. Shawn asked him about the idea of a Bobby Margarita ready-to-drink cocktail, and he said, let’s do it. That led to a partnership between Shawn and I and ABG, a big ready-to-drink cocktail maker in Ontario/Canada. They do Cottage Springs and Ace Hill. Fantastic partners. We worked together on everything from the taste of the liquid to can design, colours, branding, logos. It’s been an absolute blast.

 

Photo via bobbymargarita.ca

Where can people find Bobby Margarita drinks?

Bobby Margarita is currently available in Alberta and Nova Scotia, but it will be in the LCBO’s in Ontario with widespread distribution in April. Also, Saskatchewan and PEI in April, too. I can’t wait for it to be in Ontario. It’s very exciting.

When can we expect Bob McKenzie to retire fully?

I have no clue, really. My current contract at TSN doesn’t expire until the summer of 2025. So I won’t be any “more” retired until then, and, hopefully, I’ll be in a position health-wise where I can decide whether to keep doing some things or shut it right down. I’m 65 years old right now, I’ll be 66 in August, and I don’t look too far ahead. Take every day as it comes, try to treat each day like it could be my last because, well, you just never know. Memento Mori, as the Stoics like to say.

Twitter – @TSNBobMcKenzie
Instagram – Bobbymargs

 

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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