Tessa Bonhomme has never been one to shy away when a new opportunity presents itself.
Take on an obstacle course in which you are certain to be sent flying helplessly into water on Wipeout Canada? Why not?
Trade in hockey skates for figure skates and perform on Battle of the Blades? Been there, won that.
So when TSN called with an invitation to cover women’s hockey at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Bonhomme gladly accepted. The disappointment of being released from Canada’s National Women’s Team gave way to the excitement of another new challenge.
“It was a dream of mine to not only play at the Olympics but also cover them, and what better opportunity than that,” says Bonhomme. “I got to brag about some of my best friends and their abilities on the ice and commentate on their victory.”
Bonhomme admits that broadcasting “kind of fell in my lap” during Battle of the Blades in 2011. Leafs TV offered her a part-time gig, the perfect position to help alleviate the monetary stress of moving to Toronto and balance with her training schedule as a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team and the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
“It’s neat to find another passion in a somewhat different discipline,” she says. “I’m still enthralled in sports and surrounded by hockey, but just not competing anymore.”
Bonhomme retired from Team Canada in September 2014. In addition to a gold medal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Bonhomme won two gold medals at the IIHF Women’s World Championship and six more at the 4 Nations Cup.
She joined TSN full time, earning a regular spot anchoring SportsCentre. (After her Olympic gig, Bonhomme was contracted to host the network’s French Open coverage.) The role pushed her to learn more about other sports but allowed her to stay close to the one nearest to her.
“I remember the 2014 Olympic Games differently than the girls, but it was still emotional for me because you’re so invested in them and you’ve created stories around the ladies,” she says. “When things turn out you kind of feel a part of it still.
“Unique experiences like that…I definitely want to be reporting on hockey, so it meant a lot to me to be on the desk for the live show after the Stanley Cup Final this year.”
The transition from athlete to broadcaster was more difficult than Bonhomme initially anticipated. The tables turned and she was the one asking the questions, not answering them. She experienced sensory overload: the little red light indicating when she should talk, and voices in her head – a producer and director – speaking to her as she spoke to the camera.
“I thought the job was going to be just chatting hockey,” she says. “But for some reason once that red light goes on everything changes. Just learning how to verbalize what you know and bringing in your experiences and sharing them properly. I’m still learning things to this day.”
Another new feeling greeted her at this year’s women’s worlds in Kamloops, B.C. She wore media credentials around her neck instead of player accreditation. Bonhomme admits the itch to play – especially in a 0-0 game in overtime – still hits from time to time; however, it fades just as quickly.
“I think about everything that went into having to get there and all of a sudden my back starts to ache and my knees start to creak and I realize I’m happier up there on the desk,” she says, laughing.
It’s fun to relive experiences through the eyes of younger players and share their stories, she says. “I’m here to help promote the women’s game, so it’s nice to have been there and done that so I can speak from experience.”
Bonhomme is also doing her part to promote games of all varieties as an ambassador for Kraft Heinz Project Play. The initiative will award communities across the country with funds to revitalize neighbourhood play facilities.
“There’s no better place to be a kid than at a playground, whether that be a soccer field, a basketball court, an outdoor hockey rink or a just a regular old playground,” says Bonhomme, who in her role will do site visits for the finalists. “It’s important for kids to have that at their disposal and keep them being kids for as long as possible. I had so many great childhood memories on the playground and soccer pitch. It would be a shame for a young individual to grow up without the opportunity to create those memories as well.”