Simmons: Beloved broadcasting giant Darren Dutchyshen gone too soon at 57

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Before you ever saw him, you heard him.

His voice was that loud, distinct and powerful. His personality was larger and more forceful than his giant-sized muscles.

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Darren Dutchyshen was like a Saskatchewan wind, forever blowing, so proud of his upbringing, so full of life, so blessed to be the Canadian sports broadcaster who owned whatever stage he happened to be part of.

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Dutchyshen passed away Wednesday at the young age of 57 after a giant career and a long battle with cancer, leaving behind his three adult children, his mom, his longtime partner Kate Beirness, those he worked with at TSN and a nation that embraced his energy, his enthusiasm, his enormous personality and his absolute joy of bringing sports to a country that embraces it.

A country mourns today for a sports broadcaster, which tells you just how revered Dutchyshen was.

“I’m laughing through the tears thinking of him,” said Jennifer Hedger, who spent almost 20 years in the seat next to Dutch on TSN’s SportsCentre.

“I’m gutted — and I’m honestly surprised. I knew this day was coming. I thought I was prepared for it. But the people who are reaching out now and saying the things that they’re saying — he was such a huge personality and so beloved.

“He was the best at that job. And I was lucky enough to be sitting beside him. We hosted SportsCentre longer than anyone. The show was great because of him. He was my partner for 20 years and, as much I knew when we did our last show together last fall, I don’t think I truly believed he wasn’t coming back.”

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Dutchyshen had left SportsCentre once before to undergo treatments for cancer. He returned. The cancer came back and unfortunately spread.

“This tells you all you need to know about cancer. He was the strongest, healthiest person I knew and it got him,” Hedger added.

Hedger met Dutchyshen for a drink in mid-January, just before they were off to a women’s hockey game. As Hedger went to leave, Dutchy grabbed her and didn’t say anything.

“We met for a beer at Scotland Yard,” she said. “Then he was going to be going off to Europe with Kate. When I was walking out (that night) I got this massive hug, with an extra squeeze. Like he didn’t want to let go. And he just held on to me.”

That was the last time she saw Dutchyshen.

“Dutch said the things out loud that other people were thinking and would never say,” Hedger said. “That was his charm and that occasionally got him in trouble. But he was the ultimate guy to have a beer with, to just talk sports or perogies or country music or boxing or whatever you wanted to talk about. He was so disarming. He treated the farmer in Saskatchewan with the same reverence he would treat the owner of your hockey team.

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“He made everybody feel better about themselves. Even as a young broadcaster, there was something about him. He had a swagger, a charisma that you want to watch and listen to him. He made me laugh every day.”

The tributes online that poured in after TSN announced the death of Dutchyshen early Thursday morning.

“Dutchy was a was a ball of Western Canadian energy,” longtime broadcaster Mike Richards tweeted.

“Dutchy made you smile from the moment he barged into the room,” Tampa Bay broadcaster Dave Randorf wrote.

Wrote fellow Western Canadian Darren Dreger, from the TSN family: “Dutchy. Positive energy, bombastic personality and sharp sense of humour. There will be a hole at TSN that can never be filled.”

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“He was the brightest light in the building,” TSN’s David Naylor wrote.

“We’ve lost a legend,” wrote longtime producer and director Jamie Reidel. “He was as genuine a guy as there is. I cherish the memories I have with him.”

Wrote television’s John Shannon: “The sports world is not the same today.”

And James Duthie, his former partner on SportsCentre, wrote, calling Dutchy “a giant of a man. In statue, personality, humour and heart. Especially heart. He was SportsCentre. We loved him a ton and will miss him equally.”

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I got to know Dutchy rather well from my years at TSN, but moreso from being at events together.

We shared a love of boxing and an affinity for the Canadian Football League, especially Grey Cup Week — he definitely loved Grey Cup Week.

And as he was doing SportsCentre, he also was doing In This Corner, a weekly boxing show with Russ Anber. We’d talk often about what fight was coming up next or which one we wanted to see.

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We were in Las Vegas together for the Connor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather debacle in the summer of 2017. He was well dressed — always — and ready to do our hit from ringside when he turned to me and said: “Can you believe they let a kid from Porcupine Plain (Sask.) do this? Can you believe how lucky we are?”

We were lucky — to know Darren Dutchyshen, to see him, to hear him, to be part of his world. Either personally or through a television screen.

And we laugh and we cry this day as we cherish the personal memories at this most challenging time.

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