Last summer, Dan O’Connor and Mark Holick were having a beer together when the subject of podcasts came up.
Holick – a longtime hockey coach and former bench boss of the Surrey Eagles – suggested that one day the two South Surrey residents and longtime friends should start one. At the time, it was nothing more than a passing thought – a way that the pair could one day share years of entertaining hockey stories with a wider audience.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and suddenly Holick, now a coach with Abbotsford’s Yale Hockey Academy, and O’Connor, just finished his third season behind the mic as the play-by-play broadcaster with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, found themselves at home with a lot of extra time on their hands.
Suddenly, The Voice & the Coach was born.
“COVID hit, and that’s when I decided this podcast was going to happen, and I remembered our conversation (from the year before), so I called Mark and asked him, is this something we want to do?” O’Connor explained.
“We agreed right away, very enthusiastically, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ And here we are a month later, and we’ve recorded eight episodes.’”
O’Connor said the aim of the show is to talk about sports and life, while also giving listeners a “peek behind the curtain,” at what life is like working in hockey. The first episode’s guest was longtime NHLer Scott Gomez, whom Holick coached in Surrey. Other guests on the show have included longtime coach and player Rick Lanz – also a former Eagles’ coach – TSN broadcaster Rod Pederson and Dan Shulman, a longtime Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster who is one of the top baseball play-by-play talents in the business.
“Dan Shulman has been a broadcasting hero of mine ever since I started watching baseball at eight or nine years old,” O’Connor said.
“So sitting in this very spot, connecting with Dan Shulman, was definitely one of those ‘wow’ moments for me.”
Here’s a small sample of Episode 7: pic.twitter.com/PXZbd0zDjm
— The Voice & The Coach Podcast (@Voice_Coach_Pod) June 24, 2020
While O’Connor credits his co-host for planting the podcast seeds at that 2019 meeting, Holick said he’d still be thinking about it, if not for O’Connor’s enthusiasm and drive.
“I’m the kind of guy where I’ll like an idea, and then I’ll think about it, and I’ll get to it (eventually) – I’m more of a planner. But all of a sudden, Dan’s at my doorstep with the microphone and the gear, so I was like, ‘I guess we’re doing this.’ So I had no choice,’ he laughed.
The pair have an easy rapport – both on the podcast and in person – that comes from years of friendship as well as two-and-a-half years of working together with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, where Holick was the head coach and O’Connor was the play-by-play broadcaster, among other responsibilities.
“We spent a lot of time together, when you travel as much as the Cougars did – the shortest road trip is six hours, and after that it’s 10, 12, sometimes 15 (hours),” said Holick, who was an assistant coach with the Surrey Eagles in 1996-97 before spending the next three seasons as head coach.
“And Dan was almost part of our inner circle on the coaching staff, because he was also in charge of our hotels and meals on the road, so we spoke frequently, co-ordinating itineraries, that sort of thing.”
Eventually, Holick moved on to other opportunities as far afield as Italy, before returning to the Lower Mainland, while O’Connor stayed in Prince George a little longer before joining the Giants organization.
The podcast is a way for the two to stay connected, while also giving them the opportunity to talk shop with others from across the sports landscape.
“I’d like to think it’s been a really cool, creative outlet for each of us,” O’Connor said.
Holick credits O’Connor for doing all the behind-the-scenes work to get each week’s recording polished and published to the internet – The Voice & the Coach is available on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast players – insisting that, “I just show up and tell a few stories.”
However, over the course of the last month, O’Connor has been impressed with his friend’s seamless adjustment from someone usually tasked with being asked questions, to someone doing the asking.
“Mark’s a natural,” O’Connor said.
“I always knew that – I’ve interviewed him hundreds of times (in Prince George)… But for Mark, this is out of his comfort zone. So it’s been cool for me, not just as a co-host but as a friend, to see him doing such a good job.
“He has a relatability to a coach or an athlete that I do not have. Someone like Scott Gomez, if he was to come on the Dan O’Connor Podcast, there’s no way he’s going to open up to the degree that he did on our show, because Mark is here and because of the trust they have together.
“It’s been a good balancing act.”
Though the podcast started under COVID-19 restrictions, both hosts are confident they’ll still find time to record each week once life returns to some semblance of normalcy and schedules get busier.
As the project moves forward, O’Connor acknowledged that he’ll draw a certain degree of satisfaction from knowing that they will have one day recorded a treasure trove of great interviews that will live for as long as episodes exist online.
“I’d like to get to a point – maybe episode 100 – where you you can look back and say, ‘Wow, look at all these stories we were able to tell.’”