The voice of the Newfoundland Growlers, Chris Ballard shares his road from local fan to calling the Kelly Cup winning game here at home at Mile One Centre
They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. This is an adage echoed by the voice of the Kelly Cup winning Newfoundland Growlers, Chris Ballard.
Coming full circle
Ballard, a hockey fanatic who cut his teeth as a fan of the St. John’s Maple Leafs growing up in his hometown, pauses to reflect on his journey that led him across the country before finding his dream job back where it all began.
“I always said I wanted to be involved in something bigger than myself,” Ballard begins, delving into the demanding schedule that sees him punching in long hours and traveling across North America on a regular basis.
“It gets me as close to the game as one could possibly be. And I feel like it gives me everything I need to share with the fans at home exactly everything that’s going on, sharing a bit of the on ice and some of the stuff that happens behind the scenes. Is it a grind? Sure. Is it long hours and not a lot of sleep? Absolutely. But would I trade it for anything? No. I’ve tried the 9 to 5 thing. It wasn’t my favourite situation.”
The call of the game
Ballard graduated from Memorial University in 2009 with a double major in French and Linguistics. He was quickly swooped up by Canada Revenue, with his skillset and bilingual ability immediately ensuring gainful employment. But something was missing for the man who would dedicate his life to the game of hockey.
“I took that job and the money was great and everyone told me, ‘Chris, you got ‘er made. You’re gonna be in line for your government pension in no time.’ And I was miserable,” Ballard recalls. “No disrespect to the fine folks who work at Canada Revenue or the federal government, but I learned really quickly that it wasn’t for me.”
Ballard found solace in pouring over sports articles, with his passion for hockey providing an outlet to get through the more tedious work days.
‘If you love what you do..’
“That’s when I kind of asked myself, hey, maybe I can turn my escape into my career so I never need to work a day in my life,” he recalls. “That’s what they told me. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
“I’d always been an outgoing quirky fella and knew that with my loud, boisterous nature I could probably turn that into something useful for myself.”
Abandoning surefire money and security to pursue his passion, Ballard enrolled in Centennial College in Toronto in January of 2010, completing a post-grad program in sports journalism where he’d get to cut his teeth covering Blue Jays, Raptors and Leafs games. From there he’d dip his toes in whichever facet of the sports world would have him. Golf, local community senior hockey. You name it.
But pro-hockey was the ultimate goal, one which would come knocking in the form of play-by-play duties for the Brampton Beast of the ECHL.
He’d work the booth and travel with the team for three years before a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide the voice for a franchise in his hometown knocked in the summer of 2018, working alongside one of his childhood idols, the iconic Brian Rogers no less.
“Brian’s been a wonderful mentor for me as I get my feet wet in this market. Through his experience he’s shared with me the importance to be able to make sure that you take a moment to take a step back and really enjoy what you’re doing and know we’re in a fortunate position to be able to broadcast hockey for a living and to make sure to enjoy it and not take it too seriously. But at the same time do your homework and make sure that you have all your bases covered so anyone who could possibly be listening is going to enjoy what you’re putting out there.”
The Growlers miracle-like run from fledgling expansion organization, one that underwent a mid-season coaching switch and the rigors of the turbulent roster changes of a minor-affiliate, has been well documented by this publication.
Ballard was there every step of the way for the Growlers road from home debut in October 2018 in Mile One Centre, to their game six Kelly Cup triumph that June. “It feels like a movie ought to be made about it,” Ballard jokes of the debut season championship. “I was very fortunate to be able to land the job in my hometown and even more fortunate, again, that first season turned into that championship I had coveted for so long.
“At the end of the day all I cared about was just getting a chance to experience the first championship in the province’s history at home and to be the one to share that with the folks here and to play even the small part of it that I feel I guess I did play. It’s something I’ll never forget, I’ll never take for granted,” he says.
“We could win the next 10 years for all I know. Nothing’s going to be as special or as important as that first one was. I’ve only listened back to my call from Game 6 of the final about a thousand times. I’m looking forward to the next thousand. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t kind of reminisce in some way, shape or form about what it was. It meant a lot to me, a lot to my family and a lot to the province.”
With the page turned on a new year, with the Growlers again making history for their win streak at home, Ballard continues to live his dream, calling the action alongside his friend and mentor in his hometown that first fed his love and desire for the game.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Brampton, a team I had been with for three years, to come home. I made that decision knowing that this is not just another job. This is dream job level territory for me and I really wanted to make the most of that opportunity,” Ballard explains, diving into his desire to spotlight the team through regular social media posts and a team-centered podcast.
Above and beyond
“It just came second nature to me to want to go above and beyond. It’s not for me, it’s for the people who want to enjoy this hockey and want it to be around for a long time. And it’s for these players who need their stories told and need their tires pumped to prove to the hockey world and even to the Maple Leafs brass that these are guys worth keeping around for the foreseeable future to turn into hopefully future Maple Leafs.
“It’s all important to me because I grew up in this community,” he adds. “I’m just so darn passionate about the game and the players and the city and the fans. And I just want everyone to enjoy this as much as I do on an everyday basis. And my way to do that is to make sure that there’s content for people to enjoy, make sure I get to ask the hard questions on the podcast that they might not have a chance to ask. All I want to do is share my passion for this game with everyone who wants to share in it. I love this team. I love this province. I love the people we work with, and I just want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to see that and witness that. Whether it’s through my voice or my videos or being out in the community. As long as people are engaged I feel like I’ve done my job.
“I actually get to sit and watch and enjoy the games and that’s my job to share that with people. I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
For more on Ballard and the Newfoundland Growlers or to purchase game tickets visit nlgrowlers.com