Jason York, a 757-game NHL veteran, remembers spending hours on outdoor rinks in Ottawa with his siblings growing up. He was passed over twice in the NHL draft, but eventually became a 7th round draft pick by the Detroit Red Wings. In 1996, York was traded to his hometown team and helped the Ottawa Senators reach the playoffs for the first time in modern history.
When Jason retired in 2007, He already knew he wanted to get into broadcasting.
He started by doing afternoon radio shows during the Sens playoff run in ’07, and is now an Analyst with Sportsnet.
York continues to live in Ottawa with his wife. Together they’ve raised his 3 kids and played thousands of rounds of golf. In his family, the former Senator takes the title of father, coach, and dog dad. He’s also owned and coached the Kemptville 73’s for over 5 years. We caught up with York to discuss his career in the NHL, becoming a broadcaster, and being a proud father.
Photography by Sean Sisk
What was your childhood like growing up in Ottawa?
It was really good. I had two older brothers, one younger brother, and a sister. We all grew up playing hockey, and just a ton of sports. I played baseball in the summer with East Nepean. My fondest memories are going to the local outdoor rinks. I’d go skate at Meadowlands Middle School every single day. My parents still joke that I would be on the rink for five hours at a time. In the summer, it was baseball. My dad built me a pitcher’s mound in the backyard as soon as the snow was gone. It was baseball in the summer, and I also played a ton of tennis. I went to St. Pius High School and it was sports all the time to keep myself busy, and probably out of trouble (laughs).
What was it like getting drafted?
It was honestly very stressful (laughs).
I played hockey when I was young because that’s what I did and that’s what my brothers did. then I got better at it. I was never the best player on my team growing up, I just worked pretty hard and loved playing. One day a scout for the Sudbury Wolves came to my house, he told me they’re going to draft me with their first pick in the second round. I always assumed I would get a scholarship but my marks were never very good. I ended up going to the OHL draft not knowing anything about the OHL and I got picked in the first round by Hamilton. It was an absolute horror show, just a horrible experience.
I was traded after that year to Windsor and played for a young man by the name of Paul Maurice. Paul was 21 years old, had never coached before, and was now coaching the defence for the Windsor Spitfires. Paul brought the game to me, and it helped my career take off in Windsor. That’s when I first thought that maybe I can play pro, because I was starting to play some of my best hockey. I ended up getting drafted a couple of years later. I actually went to a draft when I was rated in Hamilton, and I was supposed to get picked in either the late first or the second round and I sat through the draft but didn’t get picked. That was a pretty horrible experience. It drove me to work harder and to keep going, and I eventually got drafted to Detroit in the seventh round two years later, when I was playing for Kitchener.
People are familiar with two-way contracts, but Detroit signed me to a four-way contract. There was an NHL clause which was $120,000 if I played in the NHL. If I got sent down to the AHL it was $30,000. If I played in Fort Wayne, which was the IHL, it was $20,000, or they could send me the East Coast League, which was the Hampton Roads Admirals. If I played there, I’d be making $22,000. I went to Detroit’s camp and they had Paul Coffey, Nick Lidstrom, Vladimir Konstantinov, and Mark Howe. There were 84 guys in camp and they gave me jersey number 84.
I started in the AHL (Adirondack). I got a call early, I think in November. That was my first call-up. It’s a neat story, because I went into Detroit’s camp on a 4-way contract, and there were all these guys ahead of me on the depth chart, but I never stopped working hard and I didn’t worry about it. I kept working, got called up, sent back down, and the following year, the same thing happened. That’s when I started realizing that maybe I could do this.
How special was it to play for your hometown team, the Ottawa Senators?
It was really cool, but again very nerve-racking. People think playing in the NHL is all great, all the time, but it’s a lot. Players carry a lot of anxiety. When I first came home it was a lot of pressure. Ottawa was not a great team the season before I got there. I was in Anaheim, doing well, then I got traded. It was an adjustment at first, but then the team started playing well under Jacques Martin. I quickly found a pretty good role but I had to change my game. I became more of a two-way guy. Jacques Martin, Perry Pearn, and Craig Ramsay really helped me.
One of the things I’m most proud of is helping the team become a stable franchise. Being a part of those young Ottawa Senators teams was fun because a lot of guys came in and weren’t really established yet. Then they got established in the league and went on to have pretty solid careers. When we made the playoffs for the first time, coming out for game 1 with the “WooHoo” towels, I’ll never forget that. It was the loudest building I ever played in. When Ottawa first made the playoffs after going through those lean years, being a part of that was so awesome.
After playing, what made you want to get into broadcasting? How have you enjoyed it?
I always thought it was a pretty cool job, and I always became friends with broadcasters wherever I played. Anytime I got asked to do an interview, I’d do it. I was always interested and said if I ever got a chance, later in my career, I was going to try to do that. The NHLPA offers a life after hockey program, so I went and took a broadcasting and public speaking course at Quinnipiac University. I got a hold of the radio station (Team 1200 at the time) when the Senators were playing Anaheim in the finals. I was actually playing in Boston, but I did an afternoon show during the playoffs, and it was a lot of fun. I was probably terrible at the beginning, like any hockey guy that jumps into it at the start (laughs). I did it because I thought it would be fun and it’s still a lot of fun. One thing with playing in the NHL that you’ll never replace is the pressure.
There’s something on the line where you’re performing live and if you mess up, there’s the consequence that you’re going to look stupid. That’s in this job, too. You have to make sure you sound good and do a solid job.
You went on to buy the Kemptville 73’s and started coaching a few years ago. What made you take on the team and how have you enjoyed it?
Ron Tuggnut was the coach, and I had an older son, Jack, who was playing for Kemptville at the time, so it was just a good fit. I wanted to get involved and I figured I’d be going to the games anyhow. I wanted to help out and pass on a little bit of what I know about hockey. It’s been really good ever since, I think it’s been five years so far.
This year, the team is doing well, my younger son, Matthew, is playing for the team. So it’s something where you get to give back and help kids trying to follow their passions. It’s rewarding for me to know that I’m helping kids with what they’re trying to accomplish.
What’s it been like coaching and helping your kids with their hockey careers?
It’s been fun. When they were younger, I did a little bit of coaching in novice, then in Atom, and minor peewee. It’s a slippery road though because the one thing that anyone who’s coached their kids knows, you tend to be harder on your own. But you don’t want it to be that way, you have to treat everybody the same. Both my sons are defencemen, so I focus more on the forwards when I’m coaching junior hockey. Which is funny because I was a defenceman. I’m seeing the game a little bit differently… because I always say defencemen are the smartest guys on the ice, but now I’m getting an appreciation for the forward’s point of view.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife, Laurel, when I played for Windsor, we were in the same gym class. We were just friends for a year, I was actually dating somebody from my old junior town at the time, then we started dating and we’ve been together ever since.
Together you have two sons and a daughter, what are they like?
I’ve spent a lot of time with my boys, Jack and Matthew, helping with hockey because it’s what I know, and my wife spends time with my daughter, Alexandra, who was really into cheerleading. She did competitive cheerleading for a long time. Jack is 21, and he plays hockey at Western University. Matthew’s 19 and plays Junior A for me in Kemptville. Alexandra’s 25, she just started working for Engel and Volkers. I’m proud of her, she has really good people skills, which I like to think I’ve helped her with. The thing I’m most proud of my family for is that they’ve all grown up to become good, hard-working, caring people.
What do you like to do when you’re not coaching or working?
I love to play golf and I love to organize pools. I always do an annual Masters, US Open, British Open, and NHL playoff pool. In the summertime, I play a ton of golf. The greatest thing about golf is it’s something you can do with your kids. Both my boys play golf. We golf together all the time and go on golf trips. When I turned 40, we went to Pebble Beach, which was an awesome trip. My 50th was unfortunately cut short because of COVID, so I owe myself a 50th trip which is probably going to be a golf trip as well. I’d say golf is my passion. I want to do that as long as I can and just spend time with my kids. My kids are older now, I love spending time with them. I can’t forget my dog, Charlie. We got Charlie our Goldendoodle during COVID. I never thought I’d be this much of a dog person but this dog is like my kid. I love taking the dog for daily walks and it’s a big part of our family now.
What do you like so much about the Ottawa area?
The thing I love the most, which a lot of people don’t, is the winter. I love building an outdoor rink. When my kids were growing up, I had a rink for them every year and that was the thing I enjoyed.
The other thing I love about Ottawa is the people. It’s a small community, so when bad things happen, people rally around people. I saw that Mike Glover lost his leg, but that the community was right there to support him. Cancer is such a tough, tough thing. I lost my mom to cancer back in January. I’m pretty private, I never made it public, but just having support from family and friends was special. When bad things happen in Ottawa, people help one another and I’d say that’s very special about Ottawa.
Looking at the Ottawa Senators, what do you make of them right now?
I think they’ve done the best job, I would say arguably in the NHL, of drafting players and getting them to the point where they’ve got a chance. I look at this group right now and in particular, a guy like Drake Batherson. We all know Brady Tkachuk is a very good player and they got him because he was at the draft. You don’t give credit for that, you give credit for him now and the development part of it, but identifying a guy like Drake Batherson, that’s a great draft pick. I think we all know Brady’s going to be a great player, but being able to scout and identify a guy like Batherson, I think he’s going to be a special player. Josh Norris has a chance to be a great player, I know they got him in the Karlsson trade but they seem to do a good job of identifying young players with talent. Naming Tkachuk the captain, that’s a no-brainer, I don’t think that deserves any praise, but I would praise them for picking and developing a guy like Batherson.
I also really enjoy watching them play. I like DJ, I like their compete level, I think they’re exciting to watch. Their power play right now, that’s a pretty exciting power play. When you have pieces like Stutzle, Batherson, Norris, Tkachuk, and Chabot, that power-play is going to be unbelievable.
What do they need to do to reach that next level and become a playoff team in 2022?
I know a lot of people thought they were going to be a playoff team this year, I didn’t. That doesn’t happen overnight. I thought they’d be right where they are now. You look at their defence and it is what it is. You have Thomas Chabot, you have a lot of guys that are trying to find their way, Zub’s been a nice addition. I think he’s a good player but he’s a guy that also doesn’t have a lot of experience. It’s going to take some time.
Getting another high draft pick this year will help. Maybe you take that draft pick and you trade it for a bunch of pieces. I could maybe see Ottawa getting a top pick and trading for some pieces that are ready to win now pieces. Otherwise, it’s going to take time. I think they need to lose again this year, get that pick, and I would put the pick in play. That’s how you get better. I don’t know if anyone’s said that, but that’s what I would do.