As the second intermission began, Sportsnet reporter Kyle Bukauskas leaned towards his guest to make sure he could be heard above the noise of the crowd. It was Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Tampa, and not only was his guest well known to the crowd, but also to viewers across North America.
Charles Barkley began with a compliment.
“I have to say a few things,” the retired NBA star told his Canadian interviewer. “No. 1: Your hair is really awesome.”
Moments later: “Hey, you’re a handsome man too – you’re like the Canadian Tom Brady to me.”
At 28, Bukauskas has yet to win a Super Bowl, but he’s been on the network for the better part of a decade. He joined Sportsnet in October 2013, when he was just 20, and will be one of the on-ice reporters whenever the Stanley Cup is lifted this month.
Raised in Campbell River, British Columbia, but now based in Ottawa, Bukauskas took the time to answer questions from Athleticismspeaking of Sir Charles, a pursed-lipped Brad Marchand and that now-famous hairstyle.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Charles Barkley is right…
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 21, 2022
Who is Canadian Tom Brady?
(Laughs) Oh it’s good. Let me think about it. It’s definitely 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 looks and charm… he would have been my choice. I would have been far from being in the top 100 or 1,000.
So why did Charles Barkley anoint you?
You know what? I think he had fun during the game. His buddy Jon Cooper and the Lightning had a great night for two periods. I do not know. I guess you really should ask him why he decided to go this route. I had never met this man before. I never had the opportunity to speak to him. For a man who is, what, 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10, he made me feel incredibly comfortable. You’ve got this sports, TV, and pop culture icon next to you, and he’s huge. It is very easy to feel intimidated. But once we started, I didn’t really feel that at all. He was just incredibly kind, warm and welcoming. It was just like having a conversation with someone who was interested in chatting with you.
Did Charles Barkley give directions to where he was going before you went on the air?
No None. I kept asking him if he sent Jon Cooper words of encouragement before the game. It didn’t look like he did, so I wasn’t going to go down that route with my line of questioning. But there was nothing about hair, and nothing about celebrity lookalikes. So my shock was as much, if not greater, than everyone else.
How do you deal with unexpected moments in front of a camera knowing that so many people are watching at home?
In the moment, you say to yourself, “How can I get out of this smoothly?” And how do you get out of it without tripping too much along the way? I guess it just comes with time. And again, it was the fact that he made me feel comfortable in this scenario. If you’re talking to someone and you’re a little on edge and something happens that baffles you, then maybe my answer could have been different. But it was a fun conversation that we just try to enjoy.
What might most viewers not fully understand about the life of a reporter at the edge of the rink?
It’s probably all the work that goes into things that have nothing to do with the interviews. Because that’s where most viewers see me the most: I’m interviewing a player or a coach, or someone notable in the audience. Admittedly, that’s a big part of the job. But I’m going to agonize — whether it’s the night before or the morning — about the 45 seconds or one minute we have from the start of the show. Ron MacLean does his opening and then comes to me at the edge of the rink. That little bit there for me is one of the greatest moments. This sets the stage for your evening. If it’s going well, it’s no different than a player: you’ve got a good first shift under your belt, and now you’re in the game.
Why has the intermission interview with breathless players survived after all these years?
You know, I thought it was when I was leaving. Because frankly, we had stopped doing them for a while. That’s partly because Saturday, with “32 Thoughts,” takes time on the second intermission blocks, and there isn’t enough time to squeeze in an 80-second player interview. And we had stopped doing them at the first intermission for a long time too, because we had that feeling too. You weren’t getting a ton out of it, that’s understandable. You are not criticizing the player in this scenario, far from it. I’m sure that’s the last thing he wants to do, talk to me or anyone at the end of the period. So it’s, “Let’s drop that,” and whatever time we have to do that, let’s use it at the beginning of the period to tell a story. It is only recently that we returned to it. … Why did he survive? I am not sure. Maybe it’s so entrenched in the grassroots of hockey shows that it won’t go away completely. There are definitely times when you do one and go, “Man, we could have done without it.” But every now and then you get a little nugget where you think, “Okay, that’s why we keep coming back.”
What more could you ask of a player who scores the last goal in a 4-1 victory for Rich’s Auto Collision Midget A Tyees, helping them become the first team from Campbell River, BC to win a midget title from Vancouver Island in 2010?
(Laughs) You have done your homework here. They probably would have wondered how long this moment would come for them. I know, for my age group, we haven’t gained much growing up, certainly at the rep level. The year you’re talking about, we faced Nanaimo in the final. You’ve played against the same teams across the island your whole life. I started hockey at the age of 5. I only beat a Nanaimo team earlier that year. I was, what, 16 then? So there are 11 years of your life where you are constantly beaten by Nanaimo, time and time again. Beating them in the third and decisive game on their ice was a damn 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. Granted, over the years we’ve tried as heck. But you’re playing against other teams in our league, on Vancouver Island, and the other players were just better. And it wasn’t a Campbell River thing. It was just my age group. There have been a lot of great teams that have come through this at the minor league hockey level. We just had to be an unborn year.
Why did Bruins forward Brad Marchand skate away from you when you asked him to sharpen his skates before a playoff game in 2019?
Well, probably because I was being a little smart, and I just picked the wrong time to ask that question. Granted, there was the narrative there that I was trying to have a “gotcha” moment with him. And honest to God, I wasn’t. I was trying to play in the scenario he had created the day before. He spoke to the media between Games 1 and 2, after stepping on Cam Atkinson’s stick in Game 1 and said, “Yeah, the guy was trying to dull my skate blade, he put his stick on purpose and I walked on it.” I was joking. I thought that was awesome. So I tried to get into his own story, which he had created. It was just bad timing on my part.
Here’s video of an earlier exchange (in the series) between Kyle Bukauskas and Marchand that some believe is the reason for this type of response. pic.twitter.com/xVx5yAXbZs
— hockey fights (@hockeyfights) May 7, 2019
Misunderstandings like this: is it a work hazard when you only have 45 to 60 seconds of airtime?
Yeah. It just comes with the territory, I think. … It happened in 2019, in the playoffs. I went back to do the conference final. In the next round, they faced Carolina. One of the days off, I was in their training center and I went to their PR and said, “Hey, can I talk to him for a few minutes?” I think he probably forgot it already. But I still wanted to check in, and if there was a problem, I just wanted to fix it. They came back and said he was busy – they had meetings and so on – and I said, ‘No problem.’ At that point, I just decided that I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the playoffs trying to talk to him. If it’s not a big deal for him, then no worries, it won’t be for me either. We will continue.
What do you focus on immediately after the final buzzer sounds and a Stanley Cup winner is crowned?
Well, it’s “Who is being interviewed by ESPN?” And then I’ll know who I’m going to interview. They get the first dibs here in the United States. Once you know the first guest, you can process what your first question will be. I experienced it for the first time last year when Tampa won, being on the ice to do interviews after the Cup was awarded. Everything is happening so fast. Scott Oake was good at so many things – and he still is, doing his job – but I definitely felt like he was making money every year when that moment came. The Cup is distributed and it was like “Here is this player, here is this player.” He was always so sharp and he had a personal touch for each player. It was clear that the work had been done to know the backstory of each player. For me, he was the norm at that time.
Back to Charles: He also complimented your hair – how did you not blush?
(Laughs) I thanked him, then let him continue. I will have to thank my friend Dino Nocita, who has been cutting my hair for eight years now, in Ottawa. I never received real compliments on my hair until I went to see him. And that’s not to criticize anyone who cut my hair before him, but it’s a different look he gave me. Once they started coming – there’s the Rick Asley comparisons, the Johnny Bravo – I always said to him, “You created a monster.
How long does the capillary process take on game day?
I’ve cut it down to about 10 minutes now. Let it dry, then I have two different types of products that I use before a game to make sure it’s in place. Set it and forget it, it’s kind of the thought process behind it, isn’t it?
Where are you the day after the Stanley Cup hoisting: vacation?
No. I’m back in Ottawa. My fiancée hasn’t seen me much for the past two months. I have a lot of debt to pay off, spending 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)