• Rob Hornberger

Local podcast offers a gritty and entertaining look at the hockey world, from Junior C to the NHL

Essex-based Hat Trick Hockey enjoys growing regional, national popularity
Rob Sawyer, left, and Anthony 'Ant' Gaudette are hosts of the popular Essex-based Hat Trick Hockey podcast.

Anthony “Ant” Gaudette and Rob Sawyer, co-hosts of Hat Trick Hockey, have no trouble finding guests for their popular Essex-based podcast.

The show has been running once a week for more than a year-and-a-half and has an impressive list of NHL players who have appeared on the show.

Leamington’s Darren McCarty, a four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings, is a friend of the show and so are former NHLers Todd Warriner, Scotty Gomez and Essex’s Matt Puempel.

Players and coaches from the Essex 73’s are also regular guests.

“Bottom line, it’s Essex County, it’s hometown,” said McCarty, a guest and frequent listener.

Gaudette got the idea for the podcast several years ago; he bounced the idea off a co-worker at the Chrysler plant in Windsor who agreed to provide the technical support to launch the show.

He knew he needed a partner and Sawyer was an easy choice. Knowledgeable about hockey and its history, Sawyer has one of the key qualities for any successful hockey podcaster — he loves talking about Canada’s national obsession.

“He’s also got a face for radio,” Gaudette said.

Their approach to interviews — whether it’s an NHLer or a Junior C player — is simple: do the necessary research, ask a question or two and then sit back and listen. They let their guests carry the show.

“I was talking with a buddy and he said, what would you rather do, get an autograph from somebody or have them tell a story?” said Sawyer. “That’s what we try to do.”

The language used on Hat Trick Hockey mirrors what’s said in hockey dressing rooms all over the world. It’s colourful and would likely be frowned upon by polite society.

Gaudette said the only time the pair tidied up the salty language was during an interview with three members of Canada’s women’s Olympic hockey team — Renate Fast, Sarah Nurse and Natalie Spooner.

“We reeled in because we knew a lot of younger girls that play minor hockey would be listening to the episode. So we decided to keep that one clean,” Gaudette said. “We knew they would be listening. These girls are their heroes.”

As the stories are being told, there is the not-infrequent sound of a beer can being popped open.

Memorable episodes include Kevin Delaney, a gold-medal winner with the Canadian paralympic team, who told Gaudette and Sawyer about a pickup line he used while playing in Europe.

Sitting in a bar with a teammate he told one of the women at his table that he would give his right arm for her — and then proceeded to unstrap his prosthetic limb. (Check out the interview with Delaney at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBk414Q7thM).

Or Gomez, who hails from Alaska, giving the boys pointers on how to ward off a bear attack with a small axe.

Regulars on the show, as well as listeners, are called “beauts” and “beauties.”

The podcasts open with Gaudette and Sawyer riffing on the hot hockey topics of the day — trades, winning streaks, scoring slumps, the ongoing travails of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the most recent episode they talked about the backlash against Russian hockey players, particularly Alex Ovechkin, over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ovechkin has declined to criticize Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“How do you put that in a hockey player’s lap? He’s not a politician,” said Sawyer. “You don’t think Putin would ruin Ovechkin if he spoke out? He has family over there.”

A measure of Gaudette and Sawyer’s success as podcasters is an invitation this June to a charity event in Toronto that will be attended by former Toronto Maple Leaf greats like Wendel Clark. The event will open up a gold mine of possible interviews.

“It’s pretty cool for the players. A lot of these guys listen to the big-time podcasts like 32 Thoughts and Spittin’ Chiclets of the world so it’s nice to get that local feel, to be part of something similar.”

“The interviews aren’t guaranteed but if we can go there and line something up, it would be huge for us,” said Gaudette. “It’s a big opportunity. These guys are legends. To be rubbing elbows with them is awesome.”

The podcast is heard in 19 countries, including the United States, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Finland; it has had more than 14,000 downloads.

Gaudette and Sawyer already have more than a dozen advertisers; GL Heritage Brewing Company in Amherstburg is a major sponsor. Possible revenue streams also include YouTube and Google which pay podcasters according to the number of views their shows receive.

As the podcast grows in popularity, Gaudette and Sawyer are allowing themselves the luxury of dreaming big. They are looking at taking the podcast on the road this summer to local bars and golf tournaments and expanding the guest list to include hockey players on Junior B and C teams elsewhere in Essex County.

Their big goal is to interview Paul (Biz Nasty) Bissonnette, who co-hosts the most popular hockey podcast in North America — Spittin’ Chiclets — with Ryan Whitney. The no-holds- barred Bissonnette, a legend in the hockey-podcast world, is also a pregame and intermission analyst for TNT hockey broadcasts in the U.S.

Because of contacts made with former NHL players who either know Bissonnette or know people who know Bissonnette, Gaudette is confident the former NHL enforcer will be on the show.

“We’ll get Biz,” he said.

The podcast is a family affair for Gaudette. His twin brother Drew edits the show and takes care of technical issues. He also digitally connects the show with hockey apps in the States.

“Without Drew, there is no show,” his brother said.

The show is a big booster of the Essex 73’s. Players are frequent guest. The coach, Mike Palley and Riley Jones, director of player personnel, are regulars.

“It’s pretty cool for the players,” said Jones. “A lot of these guys listen to the big-time podcasts like 32 Thoughts and Spittin’ Chiclets of the world so it’s nice to get that local feel, to be part of something similar.”

Sawyer said hockey stories are hockey stories — no matter who does the telling.

“Whatever level, they’re the same stories, from house league to the NHL. They are the same stories, just on a different level.”

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