Daren Millard is no greenhorn when it comes to covering the National Hockey League.
The Brandon native has been part of Rogers Sportsnet’s regional NHL broadcasts for the past 15 years and hosts Hockey Central @ Noon on the television network. But when Millard was unveiled last week as the host of Wednesday Night Hockey, airing nationally on Sportsnet starting this fall, even he was a little starstruck by his new co-workers.
Millard had hoped for a role in Sportsnet’s coverage ever since Rogers Media reached a momentous deal for all of the NHL’s national broadcast rights in Canada. After months of deliberation by the company, he finally got the good word only a few days before the official announcement was made, putting him on a stage with Hockey Night in Canada legends Don Cherry and Ron McLean, as well as fellow hosts George Stroumboulopoulos and Jeff Marek.
"It was a little surreal when I look to my left and there’s Ron and Don, and George and Jeff to my right, you kind of had to pinch yourself," Millard said. "I said to Jeff, ‘Did we win a contest to sit up here?’ It’s one of those moments where you’re really appreciative of the opportunity, and then you realize that it’s a major challenge and opportunity ahead to look around the room and see who you’re going to be working with."
While it’s a challenge, knowing the people involved and his own ability, Millard believes he’s ready for.
"I’m really comfortable with the fact that I’m prepared and ready for this role," he said. "It’s not as intimidating as it is exciting. I’m nervous, but I’m really excited about it."
Millard credits good fortune and the patience of his bosses along the way, including Sportsnet president Scott Moore, for his rise, but he has also paid his dues over a long career. He started off at small radio stations across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with stops in Melfort, Portage la Prairie and Yorkton before coming home to Brandon to work for CKLQ Radio. From there, he got his first job in television, jumping to CKX-TV.
"Dean Jago, and I can’t remember the other guy, both took six-month leave of absences at CKX," Millard recalled. "So I took a six-month term job with no guarantee that it would continue, and my mom was furious. It’s kind of all worked out."
From CKX, Millard joined Global TV in Winnipeg, where covering live events like the provincial men’s curling championship helped open his eyes to new opportunities in broadcasting. He moved briefly to work at a station in Edmonton before catching on with the fledgling Sportsnet in 1998, landing his "dream job" of working on the desk and later hosting hockey coverage at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Millard now makes his home in Markham, Ont., along with his wife Jennifer and their daughter, Harmony Jean, who turns seven next month.
While he’s a long way from home, Brandon remains close to Millard’s heart and he frequently tunes in to Brandon Wheat Kings games online. He was also thrilled to be honoured back in Winnipeg earlier this year when he was named to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association’s Media Roll of Honour.
"It was really, really cool, and overwhelming, really," he said. "My dad and his wife came in too, so I had my dad and a couple buddies there. We don’t get that in our business very often when you’re left speechless. Considering I hadn’t worked there in 15 years, it came as a total surprise and a real honour, something I’ll never forget."
ONE-TIMERS: Millard’s younger brother, Dean, is also in the broadcasting industry. Dean Millard is leaving his position at Global Edmonton to host a new radio show, starting in May, called All Sports Weekend on TSN 1260. Millard already hosts hockey prospect and golf shows on the Edmonton radio station.