SUDBURY, Ont. – While many are patiently awaiting the return of on-ice action in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL), among those who are anxious for this to happen is Thomas Mercier, the play-by-play voice of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians on HockeyTV.
Gearing up to commence his fourth campaign behind the microphone broadcasting NOJHL contests, Mercier’s pleased with the opportunity given to him calling games for Rayside-Balfour.
“I have been blessed to be Rayside’s commentator for the last three seasons and can’t wait to start my fourth,” offered the Greater Sudbury product.
“This club has helped me improve my commentary skills and has helped me get a position with the Sudbury Wolves on their OHL radio broadcasts.”
Having a passion for the game and witnessing contests from up close on a regular basis helps Mercier feel strongly about the league as a whole.
“In my opinion, the NOJHL doesn’t get as much recognition and respect that it deserves,” he stated.
“The hockey is fast-paced, physical and overall, it’s entertaining. The great thing about leagues like the NOJHL is that people get to see the best junior A talent available and, on some occasions, get to see future CHL and talent on display.”
Gaining valuable experience honing his craft in broadcasting games for the league, Mercier has also been an avid follower of it.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with commissioner Robert Mazzuca and league staff at the last two NOJHL Showcases that were hosted in Sudbury. It was fascinating to be a part of.”
Committed to his craft, the Canadians play-by-play man prepares diligently as he hones his skills towards a career, he aims to make his profession.
With that, his work ethic in preparing to broadcast a game is very thorough and in-depth.
‘If there are games the night before a home game, I’ll wait until those finish before I write up my notes, then print them so that I have a hard copy to look at and make edits to.”
Come Canadians’ game day at Chelmsford Arena Mercier said: “I usually like to arrive at the rink two hours before puck drop to talk to players and staff to make sure everyone is on the right page and be aware of any last minute changes.
He knows his being prepared will benefit the listeners and viewers on HockeyTV.
“I find if you don’t have notes to go off of, the broadcast will be lacklustre and full of dead air, which is something I don’t like.”
His notes also help keep those tuning in abreast to more than just hearing about rushes up the ice.
“I always try to throw in a fact or two about someone or something in order to keep our audience engaged.”
Like anyone plying in a new trade, Mercier continually works at providing more to those who are viewing.
“I didn’t really provide as much in terms of in-game notes in my first year, so I told myself that I needed to improve my presentation because I knew that I could do better. I definitely feel like Rayside-Balfour’s broadcasts have come a long way; not just because of me, but also the hard work of our game staff, management and especially our amazing videographer/photographer Rob Fera.”
With three seasons worth of Canadians’ home games, as well as a number of league contests called at the NOJHL Showcase, a few of them are already etched in his memory.
“Rayside-Balfour was in the Copeland Cup Final against the Cochrane Crunch back in 2018 and although they came up two wins short of the trophy, it was a truly magical run that I was more than proud to be a part of.”
His experience gained broadcasting for the club last season was also something that left its mark.
“There was a lot of high expectations for the Canadians going into the 2019-20 season, with such a stacked roster like Nick Degrazia, Mitchell Martin, Oliver Smith, Benjamin Hatanaka, Zach Snow, Greg Arnburg and David Bowen between the pipes.”
Going on to claim the NOJHL’s West Division title, Rayside-Balfour rolled to an impressive 40-11-3-2 record.
“Not only did they string together a 12-game winning streak to start 2020, but they also had a run of 17-0-0-1 from mid-December to the end of February,” Mercier stated statistically.
“With COVID-19 shutting everything down, it’s unfortunate that they didn’t get the opportunity to show how they’d perform in the playoffs.”
While his main focus is with the Canadians, Mercier, like many of the other broadcasters who provide commentary in the NOJHL, he stays on top of how other teams in the league are faring.
“As a broadcaster, it is my job to know as much about every team as humanly possible. You have to connect, not just with your home audience, but with the visiting team’s audience as well. They tune in too, so if you’re not making a connection with those people then you will not garner their interest and the broadcast will not be up to standard.”
His pre-game efforts include monitoring the NOJHL as a whole.
“If there is news that pops up, I’ve got to be on top of it. That’s why I do as much research as I can the night before and on gameday to make my broadcast the best it can possibly be. When you have fans from either team watching, you want to be sure they remain engaged and in the know of what’s happening on and off the ice.”
Boasting a great view from the broadcast area, Mercier has had the opportunity of witnessing many talented players, including a pair that stand out to him.
“While he didn’t play for Rayside-Balfour, Caleb Serre of the Blind River Beavers was one player that really stood based on skill and dedication to the game.”
“I was amazed by how well he could control the game and set-up not just himself, but his teammates during his four seasons with Blind River. He already put up great numbers, but in his final season he goes out with a bang racking up 113 points in 55 games becoming the first NOJHL player since Brayden Stortz (Kirkland Lake Gold Miners) to notch 100 points in the regular season and the first player since 2012-13 to get over 100 points when seven players accomplished this,” he said while providing a sample of his NOJHL knowledge.
“Caleb is an amazing person to talk to and watch and to say he’s a terrific player and person is a massive understatement. In my opinion, he’s the greatest player in the modern era of NOJHL hockey.”
A former NOJHLer that also stands out to Mercier is former Rayside-Balfour and Blind River standout Matt Neault.
“In my first year of commentary, I didn’t know anyone and had to learn everyone individually. When I walked into the dressing room, Matt was the first player to greet me and welcome me aboard. He is such a humble and caring person off the ice who made you feel very comfortable to talk to.”
Neault’s on-ice exploits also caught Mercier’s attention.
“He put up impressive numbers on a consistent basis, was a natural born leader and was the Canadians’ captain in his final season with Rayside. Matt is the NOJHL record holder for most regular season and playoff games played in a career at 305. That’s an accomplishment that may never be reached.”
Graduating from the Radio Broadcasting program at Canadore College in North Bay, and hailing from the Nickel City, Mercier didn’t have to look very far for a broadcasting idol.
“I’ve been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan my entire life and whenever the Leafs’ game was going to be on, I would always listen attentively to the voice of the Leafs, Joe Bowen.
When describing the fellow Sudbury product, he stated: “You hear his passion and amazing storytelling of the game. It’s truly special to hear and see someone that could make you feel like you were actually at the game. It was hearing Joe Bowen that made me decide I was going to become a hockey commentator.”
Having an opportunity to meet the Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster for the first time shortly after graduating college back in 2016, was a special moment for the up and coming play caller.
“I got to meet my childhood idol and hero. He was so kind and considerate and he’d ask me so many questions about myself, my family and what I went to school for. In the years since meeting him, he has given me countless amounts of advice on how to improve my commentary and how to tell a story while calling games. Who better to learn how to tell stories during hockey games than the master of hockey storytelling himself?”
Bowen has kept a keen eye on the Canadians on a personal side also as his son David was a goaltender for Rayside-Balfour the past two seasons, finishing in the Top 5 in both goals-against average and save percentage among NOJHL netminders.
Mercier’s time in the league is no different than the players he broadcasts, or the coaches and officials, as he too is looking to bolster his skill set in it to help him advance to the next level.
Having also wrapped up his first year of working on the Sudbury Wolves radio broadcasting team in the OHL, he hopes his efforts will lead him even further.
“I guess another goal I have in mind is to broadcast in a professional hockey league,” he offered.
“Whether that would be the NHL, AHL or ECHL, getting to broadcast to a potential national and international audience is something that some kids would only grow up dreaming of.”
The perseverance this young man continues to show, bodes well for his future as he continues bolstering his craft and handling all challenges head on.
Mercier thrives with a motto he’s lived by his entire life: “Do it because they said you couldn’t.”
Staying focused, this talented up and coming broadcaster is making his mark with preparation and excellent play-by-play skills.
“I’ve been told countless times throughout my life I would never be able to get an education or live out my dream of calling hockey games because I was born with Autism,” he provided.
“Many years later; here I am living out a dream. This has been an amazing journey so far and I’m excited to see what’s next to come.
From his early days supporting the NOJHL, to becoming one of the league’s premier broadcasters, the future is bright for Thomas Mercier.