Early in the second intermission, Sportsnet reporter Kyle Bukauskas leaned in toward his guest to make sure he could be heard above the noise of the crowd. It was Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, in Tampa, and not only was his guest well-known among the crowd, but also to viewers across North America.
Charles Barkley opened with a compliment.
“I gotta say a couple things,” the retired NBA star told his Canadian interviewer. “No. 1: Your hair is freaking awesome.”
Moments later: “Hey, you’re a good-looking man, too — you’re like the Canadian Tom Brady to me.”
At 28, Bukauskas has not yet won a Super Bowl, but he has been a fixture at the network for the better part of a decade. He joined Sportsnet in October 2013, when he was only 20, and he will be one of the reporters on the ice whenever the Stanley Cup is raised this month.
Raised in Campbell River, BC, but now based in Ottawa, Bukauskas took time out of his schedule to field questions from The Athletictalking about Sir Charles, a tight-lipped Brad Marchand and that now-famous hair.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Charles Barkley is right…
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 21, 2022
Who is the Canadian Tom Brady?
(Laughs) Oh, that’s good. Let me think about that. It’s certainly not me. You know what? I would have put Ryan Reynolds in that category. I know he’s not an athlete, per se, but in terms of the look and the charm … he would have been my pick. I would have been nowhere near the top 100 or 1,000.
So why did Charles Barkley anoint you?
You know what? I think he was having a great time at the game. His buddy Jon Cooper and the Lightning were having a great night through two periods. I don’t know. I guess you’d truly have to ask him why he decided to go that route. I’d never put the man before. I never had the chance to talk to him. For a man who’s, what, 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10, he made me feel incredibly comfortable. You’ve got this sports and television and pop culture icon standing next to you, and he’s massive. It’s very easy to feel intimidated. But once we got going, I didn’t really feel that at all. He was just incredibly kind and warm and welcoming. It just felt like having a conversation with someone who was interested in chatting with you.
Had Charles Barkley given any indication that was where he was going before you went on air?
No. None. I kept asking him if he was texting Jon Cooper any words of encouragement before the game. It didn’t seem like he did, so I wasn’t going to go that route with my line of questioning. But there was nothing about hair, and nothing about any kind of celebrity lookalikes. So my shock was as much, if not bigger, than everyone else’s.
How do you handle unexpected moments in front of a camera knowing so many people are watching at home?
In the moment, you’re like, “How can I get out of this smoothly?” And how can you weave your way out without tripping over yourself too much along the way? I guess it just comes with time. And again, it was the fact he made me feel kind of comfortable in that scenario. If you’re talking to someone and you’re a little bit on edge and something happens that kind of throws you off, then maybe my response might have been different. But it was a fun conversation that we’re just trying to enjoy.
What might most viewers not fully understand about the life of a rinkside reporter?
It’s probably all the work that goes into the stuff that has nothing to do with interviews. Because that is where most viewers see me the most: I’m interviewing a player or a coach, or someone of note in the crowd. Certainly, that’s a big part of the job. But I’ll agonize — whether it’s the night before, or the morning of — about the 45 seconds or a minute we have right off the top of the show. Ron MacLean does his opening and then comes to me rinkside. That little bit there for me, that’s one of the biggest moments. That kind of sets the stage for your night. If that goes well, it’s not unlike a player: You’ve got a good first shift under your belt, and now you’re into the game.
Why has the intermission interview with out-of-breath players survived after all these years?
You know, I thought it was on the way out. Because quite frankly, we had stopped doing them for a while. Part of it was because on Saturdays, with “32 Thoughts,” that takes time out of the second intermission blocks, and there isn’t enough time to squeeze in an 80-second player interview. And we had stopped doing them in the first intermission for a long time, too, because we got that feeling, as well. You weren’t getting a ton out of it, understandably. You don’t criticize the player in that scenario, by any stretch. I’m sure it’s the last thing he wants to do, to speak with me or whoever at the end of the period. So then it’s, “Let’s drop that,” and whatever time we would have for doing that, let’s use that at the start of the period to do some storytelling. Only recently, we’ve come back to that. …Why it survived? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just been so ingrained in the foundation of hockey broadcasts that it won’t totally go away. There’s certainly times where you do one and you go, “Man, we could have gone without.” But every now and then, you get a little nugget where you think, “All right, that’s why we keep coming back.”
What might you ask a player who scores the final goal in a 4-1 win for Rich’s Auto Collision Midget A Tyees, helping them to become the first Campbell River, BC, team to win a Vancouver Island midget title, in 2010?
(Laughs) You’ve done your homework here. Probably would have asked how long that moment was coming for them. I know, for my age group, we didn’t win a lot growing up, certainly at the rep level. The year you’re speaking of, we played Nanaimo in the final. You played the same teams up and down the island your entire life. I started hockey at age 5. I did not beat a team from Nanaimo until earlier that year. I was, what, 16 then? So there’s 11 years of your life where you’re constantly being beaten by Nanaimo, time and time again. To beat them in the third and deciding game on their ice was a pretty damned good feeling.
What was going on in Campbell River that it took so long to win?
I think it was just our age group. We didn’t have the best crop of talent. Certainly, as the years went by, we tried like heck. But you play other teams within our league, on Vancouver Island, and the other players were just flat-out better. And it wasn’t a Campbell River thing. It was just my age group. There have been plenty of great teams that have come through there at a minor-hockey-league level. We just must have been an off-birthday year.
Why did Bruins forward Brad Marchand skate away from you when you asked him about getting his skates sharpened before a playoff game in 2019?
Well, probably because I was a bit of a smartass, and I just picked the wrong time to ask that question. Certainly, there was the narrative out there that I was trying to have a “gotcha” moment with him. And honest to God, I wasn’t. I was trying to play into the storyline that he had created the day before. He talked to the media between Games 1 and 2, after he had stepped on Cam Atkinson’s stick in Game 1 and said, “Yeah, the guy was trying to dull my skate blade, he put his stick there on purpose and I stepped on it .” I was laughing. I thought that was brilliant. So I tried to go into his own storyline, that he had created. It was just bad timing on my part.
Here’s the video of an earlier (in the series) exchange between Kyle Bukauskas and Marchand that some believe is the reason for this type of response. pic.twitter.com/xVx5yAXbZs
—hockeyfights (@hockeyfights) May 7, 2019
Misunderstandings like that: Is it a hazard of the job when you only have 45 to 60 seconds of airtime?
Yeah. That just comes with the territory, I think. … That happened in 2019, in the playoffs. I went back to do the conference final. In the next round, they played Carolina. On one of the off-days, I was out at their practice facility and went to their PR and said, “Hey, can I talk to him for a couple minutes?” I’m thinking he’s probably already forgotten about it. But I still wanted to check in, and if there was any issue, I just wanted to smooth it out. They came back and said he was busy — they had meetings and what have you — and I said, “No problem.” At that point, I just decided I’m not going to spend the rest of the playoffs running around trying to speak with him. If it’s not a big deal for him, then no worries, it won’t be for me, either. We’ll just move on.
Where is your focus immediately after the final buzzer goes and a Stanley Cup winner is crowned?
Well, it’s “Who is ESPN interviewing?” And then I’ll know who I’m going to interview. They get first dibs down here in the States. Once you know the first guest, then you can process what your first question is going to be. I went through it for the first time last year when Tampa won, being down at ice level doing interviews after the Cup gets handed out. It’s all happening so quickly. Scott Oake was great at so many things — and he still is, doing his job — but I really felt he made his money every year when that moment arrived. The Cup is handed out and it was just like, “Here comes this player, here comes that player.” He was always so sharp, and he had the personal touch for each player. It was clear the work had been put in to know each player’s backstory. To me, he’s been the standard in that moment.
Getting back to Charles: He also complimented your hair — how didn’t you blush?
(Laughs) I thanked him for that, and then I let him keep going. I’ll have to give a shoutout to my friend Dino Nocita, who’s been cutting my hair for eight years now, in Ottawa. I never got any real compliments on my hair before I went to see him. And that’s not to criticize anyone who cut my hair before him, but it was a different look that he gave me. Once they started to come — there’s the Rick Astley comparisons, the Johnny Bravo — I would always tell him, “You’ve created a monster.”
How long is the hair process on game day?
I’ve got it down to about 10 minutes now. Get it dry, and then I’ve got two different types of product I use before a game to make sure it’s set in place. Set it and forget it, that’s kind of the thought process behind it, right?
Where are you the day after the Stanley Cup is hoisted: Vacation?
No. I’m back home in Ottawa. My fiancée hasn’t seen a lot of me over the last two months. I’ve got a great amount of debt to pay off, in terms of spending some time with her and trying to get some of that time back. No vacation. Just some home time for a little while.
(Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today)