From calling Panthers to announcing Canucks, Port Moody broadcaster finds her voice at the rink

photo supplied Jessica Kissel

Minutes before puck drop, Jessica Kissel looked down.

From a press booth high above the rink, she saw home ice, thousands of fans, and the bright, purple strobe lights pulsing in Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver.

In a few moments, her voice would reverberate throughout the stadium.


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Kissel, the Port Moody Panthers’ colour commentator for the 2022/23 season, had been invited to serve as guest public address announcer for the Vancouver Canucks, handling player introductions and advertisements for fans in the arena.

The game, which coincided with International Women’s Day, came just weeks after she helped make Pacific Junior Hockey League history by being part of the league’s first all-female broadcast team.

Kissel and broadcast partner Dominika Kwiatkowski. photo supplied Jessica Kissel

When Kissel arrived at Rogers Arena, clad in a pink suit and butterfly earrings, she took part in a production meeting. Following the meeting, a manager handed her a script: outlining camera shots and lines to be read through the night.

As pump-up music thumped and player introductions blared on the jumbotron, Kissel pored over the script.

Then a staff member grabbed her attention.

“In a minute, can you read this line?”

They pointed to the line, the crescendo of the pregame festivities.

Her heartbeat quickened. She grew up around hockey and developed a passion for being on camera but on this night, hundreds of thousands of fans were waiting for her voice to kickstart the game.

She strapped on a headset, took a deep breath, and hunched over a microphone.

“It’s time to welcome… your… VANCOOOUVER CANUCKS.”

Growing up on the ice

Kissel is no stranger to a hockey rink.

Growing up in Maple Ridge, she was a fixture at public skates as a toddler. Her parents loved to skate and dreamed of getting her involved in ringette and hockey at a young age.

Kissel ultimately played both sports for about five years. As a teenager she refereed to earn extra cash and satisfy her craving to be on the ice.

“I’ve pretty much been skating since I could walk,” Kissel said. “There’s something so nice about the crisp air and skating down the ice. You don’t get that feeling anywhere else.”

Alongside ringette and hockey, Kissel also developed a love for animation and performing. She produced and starred in various home movies as a kid, creating a cast of characters who would sing, jump, and dance in front of her family’s video camera.

“If you’re feeling down, a silly little animation will make you feel better,” she said. “I realized I could do that more effectively by being a personality.”

photo Josh Kozelj

Kissel picked up acting and pageantry as she got older, and in May 2022, she earned the title of Miss Teenage Maple Ridge. After graduating high school that same year, she enrolled in BCIT’s radio arts and entertainment program to try to blend the two mediums together.

Colour commentating, Kissel said, is another form of performance. Sports broadcasting incorporated multiple passions from her youth: hockey and being on camera.

In the fall, within the first few weeks of the program, she saw a job posting for a colour commentator position with the Port Moody Panthers. With her background, Kissel thought it was the perfect role for her skill set – even though she had never called a hockey game before.

She got the job.

Her hockey expertise helped her land the gig, explained Brian Wiebe, head of BCIT’s radio arts and entertainment program and general manager of the Panthers.

“Hockey knowledge is something that lends instant credibility to a broadcaster.”

Amplifying voices

Hockey has a history of being slow to accept diversity.

Despite having a woman, Sherry Ross, call play-by-play for a New Jersey Devils game in 2009, it’s been a slow process to incorporate more women in the broadcast booth.

Although the league and hockey fans are taking steps toward inclusion, some fans are resisting the change to have more diverse voices in the booth.

Last summer, after her first official season as a full-time broadcaster, Leah Hextall detailed multiple sexist messages that she had to overcome during the year.

Wiebe said he’s noticed more women getting prominent broadcasting roles – such as colour commentating, public address announcing, or hosting.

“Usually on International Women’s Day, [a network] will do an all-female broadcast,” Wiebe said.

“But to have a woman in that regular role calling play-by-play is still a rarity, if it happens at all.”

‘Maybe that will be you doing play-by-play one day’

After Kissel got the Panthers colour commentating job, she told her family she had aspirations to make it to the NHL in the same role. They joked that if she wanted to make it, she could serve as the “token” female on a broadcast.

Although Kissel laughed along, she said she believes the media landscape is changing.

In her short career in sports, she said she has never felt that her role was to promote a larger message about diversity or stand off to the side.

“I don’t feel like a token,” Kissel said. “When I went to help out with the Canucks, or when I’m doing colour commentary, I have a script and I have a job to do.”

Since the Canucks guest appearance, Kissel has also been called to serve as the public address announcer for the Coquitlam Express.

Tali Campbell, general manager of the Express, said Kissel’s clear enunciation and poise stood out.

“In the world of broadcasting, we generally talk very fast, we’re rushed and we’re nervous. She was clear in everything she would announce,” Campbell said. “Within the first 10 minutes of the game, we received an email from one of our longtime fans complimenting our new public address announcer.”

Kissel is still a year away from finishing her studies at BCIT. But no matter where her career goes in the future, or whether she stays in sports media, Kissel said she hopes to show young women they can get into broadcasting, just like men.

“You need to see more women in the industry so you can picture yourself in it,” she said.

That message was on display in the lead-up to a Panthers game in the winter.

Occasionally, when the team’s regular play-by-play commentator, Nick MacDonald, couldn’t attend a game, Kissel would fill in and call play-by-play herself.

The first time Kissel was thrust into solo play-by-play duty, before the game, Wiebe was setting up the broadcasting equipment in the Panthers home rink.

A mother and her young daughter stopped him to ask what he was doing.

Wiebe said he was setting up the streaming tools for the broadcast. He looked at her daughter and added that this night was particularly special: Kissel was the first woman to call play-by-play in the league.

The woman smiled and turned to her daughter.

“Hey!” she said.

“Maybe that will be you doing play-by-play one day.”

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