The Vernon Vipers brought in a number of rookies this season, but none have been thrust into a more prominent role than Graham Turnbull.
But rather than goals and assists, Turnbull’s statsline will be measured in radio listeners as the Voice of the Vipers on Kiss-FM.
Turnbull’s B.C. Hockey League career trajectory is surprisingly similar to that of the man he is replacing – Todd Miller, who vacated the play-by-play post to spend more time with his family and focus more on his assistant GM duties with the Snakes.
“I was surprised as anybody to see that job come up,” said the 27-year-old Turnbull, who, like Miller, joined the Viper den from the Merritt Centennials.
“It’s been a decade. It’s not the type of job you see come up very often.”
Upon reading the job posting on the Vipers’ website, Turnbull put a demo tape together, submitted it and crossed his fingers. He was stunned to receive a job offer.
“I didn’t expect a whole lot from it,” admitted Turnbull, a 2011 graduate of BCIT’s broadcasting program. “I’ve only been in the league for a whole year.
“Nobody’s more surprised than me. You sort of set a plan. I wanted to be in Merritt for four to five years, and then see if something would come up. I’ve kind of steamrolled past everything that I thought was going to happen, and it’s by pure luck.
“It’s the relationships and networks you make that get you the breaks and I am 100 per cent fortunate.”
Miller can usually be seen buzzing around Kal Tire Place on game nights, so he hasn’t had much of a chance to listen to Turnbull’s broadcasts. But he likes what he’s heard so far.
“He’s brought exactly what we expected he would bring – that professional demeanor,” said Miller. “His delivery is very good and he does a good job describing the game.
“And he’s low maintenance. He seems to have a good rapport with the other coaches in the league, which makes all our jobs easier.”
Turnbull started his play-by-play career by calling KIJHL games for the Chase Heat and his hometown Kamloops Storm.
“I volunteered in Chase, paid my dues, drove out there on my own dollar and did what I had to do,” said Turnbull.
“The passion was there to call the games. I tried to work on it every day, with next to no pressure, which is the advantage of the Junior B level.”
After graduating from BCIT, Turnbull worked for a country radio station in Kamloops, and also got in some operations experience with the WHL Kamloops Blazers. He then signed on with Merritt after Alex Grebenyuk left the Cents after four seasons to work with the WHL Vancouver Giants.
Turnbull credits the two-year broadcasting program for easing his transition into the radio world.
“It gives you a chance to come out of your shell a little bit and learn how to talk into a microphone and engage with listeners.
“A lot of what I like to do is create excitability. I have a great time and I want to portray that through my calls as well. I want people to be able to paint a picture in their mind. I want to keep analogies very simple and easy to understand.”
Laughing, he added: “And not use too many big words – because I don’t even know that many big words.”
Turnbull, of course, has been calling the Vipers’ first foray into the postseason in three years, with the highlight being the come-from-behind overtime win in Game 7 against Penticton in the Interior final.
“Without question, that game was the biggest moment of my professional career,” said Turnbull.
The biggest moment of his personal life came Feb. 16, when he and fiancée Kandace King welcomed their son, Carson.
Turnbull drives in from Kamloops to cover Vipers’ Saturday home games at Kal Tire Place, and is on the team bus for their away tilts. He rooms with trainer Gord Cochrane on the road.
“All of these guys are just so fun to be around. It’s one of the best experiences, being on the road with the guys,” said Turnbull.
“They’ve welcomed me in from the top all the way down. (Owner) Duncan Wray, Jason Williamson and the entire coaching staff have been great.”
Turnbull quickly realized that, in order to pull off a successful radio broadcast, a lot has to go right.
“It’s a lot faster than people think. It’s hard to get prepped up for a game, especially on the road. You get to the rink maybe an hour-and-a-half before the pregame show starts. So you’ve got to get all your interviews and everything set up.
“Dealing with technical difficulties, or if the bus is behind, you can’t not put everything together.”
Turnbull, who writes a Vipers’ blog (vipersvenom1.blogspot.ca), believes this year’s team is not only a contender, but also offers entertainment value.
“They go to battle for each other. That’s what builds championships.” he said.