The Merritt Centennials will be without a familiar voice when the puck drops in the opening game of the regular season September 8.
Centennials' play-by-play man Alex Grebenyuk has signed a one-year contract with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants, with whom he will take over duties as director of media relations and broadcasting.
The 25-year-old native of Russia says working for the Giants will be like a dream job, as Grebenyuk followed the Giants growing up in Richmond, B.C.
Grebenyuk will carry out the play-by-play for the Giants during road games—replacing Dan Elliot—and will spend the rest of the time working from the Giants office in the former home of the Vancouver Canucks, the Pacific Coliseum.
"This is going to be a whole new thing," admits Grebenyuk, whose first day with the Giants was Monday. "Going from the smallest market in the BCHL to the largest market in the WHL will be a massive adjustment, but it's something I couldn't possibly pass on," he said on his final Cents Blog post July 4.
While in Merritt, he was responsible for the play-by-play duties with the Merritt Centennials but went above and beyond the call of duty by spending countless hours preparing for games, learning about the B.C. Hockey League, interviewing players, and maintaining a detailed game-by-game blog on the team's progress.
With the Giants, Grebenyuk will have the added responsibilities of carrying out media relations and helping with the marketing of the team.
He says one of his primary roles with the Giants will be to make sure the team gets enough media exposure, and that will involve creating an extensive network with the various sports media personalities in the Lower Mainland and in Western Canada. He will also be tasked with finding and creating stories centered on the team and its players and then selling them to the media "in a very sports-saturated market."
"My four and a half years in Merritt have been a great learning experience for me. I've made my mistakes and taken my punches, but going through it has been invaluable, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Grebenyuk's first big break came in 2008, following his graduation from BCIT, when Merritt's radio station, CKMQ FM Q101, opened the door to him.
"I got that in 2008 when I was finishing up my internship with BCIT and former Cents broadcaster Keegan Goodrich made a jump to Swift Current in my final days as an intern. So I have to thank Q101 station manager Elizabeth Laird and former program director Brian Wiebe (now with BCIT) for taking a chance on me and giving me that first opportunity that everybody craves. Without their faith in me, who knows where I'd be right now or if I'd still even be in this industry."
"When we hire people, we always hope that they've got goals and ambitions," explain's Laird, "because while they're with you, they give it all they've got, and that's what you want for the local people."
As part of his contract with Q101, Grebenyuk also worked weekends as an on-air announcer.
"He is a very dedicated to play-by-play, and he knows the teams and the players inside out and puts a lot of effort into that because that's his passion."
Laird says Grebenyuk's dedication to being an objective play-by-play man sometimes got him into hot water with some of the more passionate Cents fans, but says he strived to deliver an "open, honest, and unbiased" report.
"I didn't know this, but I learned how passionate and sensitive the fans are about the team," admits Grebenyuk.
He says it was tough the first three seasons he spent with the Cents, who had losing seasons, but found it especially fun during this past season, in which the Cents maintained a consistent second-place standing in the BCHL interior conference.
But before all that, perhaps as a sign of things to come, Grebenyuk interned with the Giants in 2007 and 2008. "I was doing intermission interviews and other things." He would have to apply several times before finally being called up to the WHL.
Grebenyuk says he has no misconceptions about a quick ride to working in a broadcast booth in the National Hockey League, to which many junior hockey play-by-play announcers aspire.
"I can't assume that I'm going to be in the NHL…getting into the NHL in broadcasting is equivalent to being a major Hollywood actor," he says, noting the competitiveness of the business with announcers from Canada's many junior leagues as well as school grads vying for positions.
Starting out as a child immigrant who moved with his family to Vancouver during the Canucks exciting 1994 Stanley Cup run and falling in love with hockey, Grebenyuk says it's this passion for the game that motivated him to become a hockey play-by-play man.
"I've always said that it doesn't feel like work. I get to watch free hockey at a high level."
Following his contract with the Giants, Grebenyuk says he hopes to stay on with them.
Q101 is currently interviewing for Grebenyuk's replacement.