How Giants broadcaster Alex Grebenyuk found the game of hockey
Sports broadcasters generally grow up playing the sports they call from an early age or, at the very least, they grow up as fans of the game.
In the case of Alex Grebenyuk, Vancouver Giants Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting, it wasn’t until his family relocated to Canada that he was even exposed to hockey.
Born in the Ukraine in 1987, Grebenyuk saw his homeland implode, prompting the family to decide to seek a better life elsewhere.
“The living conditions in the Soviet Union at that time were very difficult and at the end of the '80s, a huge economic and political crisis hit the country and it began to disintegrate,” he says.
“Ukraine followed and other republics separated from Russia and the economy collapsed. There wasn’t any food in the stores and to get a loaf of bread you had to wait an hour or more in line. My dad was an aeronautical engineer and worked on several programs including the Soviet counter-part of the Space Shuttle. All space-related programs closed and then the Ukraine was hit with the terrible disaster of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion.
As a young family, my mom and dad didn’t see a future for two little boys and started to look for an exit strategy.”
After hearing glowing reports from friends who had relocated to Vancouver, the Grebenyuk clan applied for Canadian immigration and soon ventured out. Arriving in a new land, the youngster faced initial communication barriers, but quickly made the transition.
“I never went to school in Russia or Ukraine, I just learned Russian because my parents and brother spoke it all the time. Grade One was obviously tough for me and a little awkward. It was difficult to fit in and I acted very weird I’m sure. By Grade Two, I had a pretty good grasp of the language just by being surrounded by English-speaking kids and teachers all day at school.”
To truly become ingrained in Canadian culture, a migration towards hockey becomes vital.
“I don’t remember the exact moment, but my original exposure was the 1994 Stanley Cup Run,” he says of first becoming aware of the sport. I naturally got curious and I started watching Canucks games without even realizing it. It just took off from there."
What at first was a curiosity quickly turned into an obsession. "My mood varied on a day-to-day basis based on how the Canucks did. I would cheer like a madman with every goal and would freak out for pretty much every goal against. Every time the season ended, I literally cried. It was intense."
With his passion clearly defined, a stint at BCIT led him to the town of Merritt, where he landed play-by-play duties with the BCHL’s Centennials before taking on the Giants broadcast responsibilities for this season’s road games.
“I’m very honoured to be not only calling hockey games in the WHL, but to be doing it for an elite team with a reputation like the Vancouver Giants.
Given the uncertainty of an NHL season, infinitely more attention will be thrust upon junior hockey. “This season will be an interesting one,” admits Grebenyuk.
“There’s a few question marks surrounding the team with the departure of Brendan Gallagher, Jordan Martinook and Neil Manning, but at the same time, there are a few rising stars here that I’m really excited to follow. With the media exposure ramping up, it makes my job a lot busier, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”