Since 1952, "Hockey Night in Canada" has been one of that country’s most popular TV shows.
Broadcaster Scott Oake is one of the hosts of an interview segment called “After Hours.” “After Hours” is more about life in hockey than it is about the game itself. But the segment gets even more personal when Oake interviews NHL wing Ryan Reaves.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, while Scott Oake was establishing himself as one of Canada’s foremost sports broadcasters, Ryan Reaves was growing up across the street in Winnipeg. As young children, Ryan and his brother befriended Scott Oake’s two sons, Bruce and Darcy.
"I literally did everything with them," Reaves says. "Playing hockey in the streets. Playing, you know, in the middle of winter, making snowmen. Everything kids do, that was me and the Oakes family."
"I recall vividly our family sitting down to dinner and you coming into the house in your robe saying, ‘I’m getting in the hot tub,’ " Oake told Reaves in an "After Hours" segment in 2017. "And you just walking past us to get in the tub while we had dinner."
"Well, you guys are my second family," Reaves said. "I was very comfortable walking in your house with a robe."
Reaves left Winnipeg at 17 to play junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. A year later, he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Draft. Through it all, he remained a close family friend of the Oakes’.
But things changed dramatically for Scott Oake and his wife, Ann, in 2011.
"Bruce had been struggling for four or five years with addiction," Oake says. "His life had become a roller coaster of active addiction, recovery, relapse. And, despite how much love and support we gave him — and we gave him a lot, because we did everything we possibly could to keep Bruce alive — that roller coaster just went on and on, until March 28, 2011. There were to be no more attempts at recovery, because we got the call that no parent should ever get. And that was that Bruce was dead of an overdose in Calgary."
"I was in St. Louis for the first time," Reaves says. "I just got called up for the first time in my career. That was the first time I had ever played in the NHL. So my dream had just come true. A couple of weeks later, one of my best friends died."
Reaves wasn’t sure whether he should take a leave from his new team.
"I didn’t know — I didn’t really know how to handle it," Reaves says. "Whether I should get back to Winnipeg for the funeral or whatever. So I called Scott and Ann. And Scott told me, ‘Don’t you dare come back. You’re chasing your dream right now, and I don’t think Bruce would want you to come back.’ So it was a really tough decision not to go say ‘bye’ for the last time. But just having Scott and Ann’s blessing to stay here was enough for me."
Life After Bruce
Reaves stayed with the team and eventually earned an everyday spot in the lineup. After that 2010–11 season ended, he returned to Winnipeg for the first time since Bruce’s death — with a special tribute to his late friend.
"So, I got a tattoo of an empty boxing locker, basically with a pair of boxing gloves hanging and a microphone sitting on the locker," Reaves says. "Bruce was taking boxing, and he was really big into the underground freestyle scene. So that’s what the microphone and the boxing gloves are for."
"I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that is neat,’ " Oake says. "It kind of took my breath away."
Reaves continued to establish his place in the league. After seven seasons with the Blues, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2017. Less than a year later, he was traded again to the Vegas Golden Knights. By then, Reaves had already been interviewed by Oake for that 2017 "After Hours" segment. But it was as a member of the Golden Knights that Reaves’ on-air relationship with his childhood neighbor flourished.
Last summer, as Vegas embarked on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, Reaves and Oake became something of a regular feature on "Hockey Night in Canada." Their exchanges became especially colorful when Vegas played Reaves’ and Oakes’ hometown team, the Winnipeg Jets, in the Western Conference Final. Naturally, Oake was there, live on the air, a microphone in his hand.
The exchanges were typically lighthearted and fun — like in Game 5 of that series, when Oake interviewed Reaves during intermission.
"And he decided to rub my head," Oake says. "Because Ryan always has to have the last word. And it’s not a good look for me, because I’m follically-challenged, as most people would know. But, anyway, what could I do about it? And then he scored the goal that eventually finished the Jets. And so the rubbing the head thing became a standard thing for him. He thinks it’s a form of good luck and does it whenever he has an opportunity. But I go along with it."
It’s all just the latest chapter in the special relationship between two men who have become family.
"I think it’s just fun that we can share in the good times and help each other in the bad times," Reaves says. "I think it’s fun that you can just be able to go through that with a very close family of yours like that."
"It’s like watching one of your own kids grow up," Oake says. "He’s done really well. As a family — as an entire family, my wife and Darcy and I — we’re very proud of him."
Eight years after Bruce’s death, the Oake family is about to break ground on the Bruce Oake Recovery Center in Winnipeg. Scott Oake says Ryan Reaves has made several generous contributions to the family’s foundation, and he still visits them in Winnipeg over the offseason.
This segment aired on May 18, 2019.