Thank You, Hockey Night In Canada


Alec Martinez‘s double-overtime goal not only gave the Los Angeles Kings their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, it also ended the run for Hockey Night in Canada as we know it.

I’m a Canadian through and through, and I’m one of many who will tell you about how tuning in to Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night, by radio or television, was almost a way of life, a certainty near the level of death and taxes.

I’m only old enough to remember the seminal combination of Ron MacLean and Don Cherry in studio, with Bob Cole and Harry Neale serving as the primary play-by-play voices until Jim Hughson’s presence became more prominent on the national airwaves.

However, if you ask other people, you’ll hear stories about other Hockey Night legends like Dave Hodge, Danny Gallivan, Dick Irvin, Jr. (son of the former Montreal Canadiens head coach), and of course the original, Foster Hewitt (whose name adorns the press box at the Air Canada Centre), and how their voices help lend credence to some of the biggest moments in NHL history.

If you looked at Twitter, you would have seen a flood of support for Hockey Night in Canada from all corners, including Fox Sports Live anchor Dan O’Toole, a Canadian who worked on SportsCentre on TSN, the previous NHL national broadcast rights holder.

Indeed, such was the institution of Hockey Night in Canada over the last eight decades that it was a well-parodied item on CBC’s Royal Canadian Air Farce, with this clip being among my favourites.

But that’s over now, as the Hockey Night in Canada becomes property of Rogers Communications with the deal signed back in November for the NHL’s Canadian broadcasting rights, though it remains on the CBC airwaves for the next four years.

As is the case with any show with Hockey Night in Canada’s longevity, it wasn’t without its controversy, primarily centered on Coach’s Corner, where Cherry has infamously remarked about Europeans and visors, women in the locker room, and how hockey has gone soft, among many other things.

However, Hockey Night in Canada wouldn’t have been the same show without Don Cherry. When he said something, you listened, whether it was out of legitimate interest or the interest of ridiculing him afterward.

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Despite his tendency to break off into some sort of rant, he was a loveable character, as his troubles with pronouncing names and his impressive suit collection are both items of legend.

The winds of change started to blow harder in 2008, when CBC lost the rights to The Hockey Theme to TSN, perhaps signifying the start of a new era without the masses fully realizing it.

This fall, televised hockey in Canada will have a much different look, as George Stroumboulopoulos is set to take over as host, MacLean will contribute to a new show, Hometown Hockey, and Cherry will have a smaller role in the new era.

I’ll be very interested to see how Rogers, whose game productions will be helmed by veteran hockey producer Mark Askin, will handle everything with the spotlight squarely on them. Having spoken to Mr. Askin, his excitement about being in the truck and ensuring everything goes smoothly is certainly reason for optimism for the in-game presentation.

As for the in-studio component, I voiced my thoughts on the Stroumboulopoulos hire when the news first came out, but I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the show works. Watching some junior hockey on Sportsnet recently has made me a fan of Jeff Marek (also of Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast fame), and I believe he could one day become the face of the package if Stroumboulopoulos decides to move on at any point.

How the analyst situation shakes out will also be interesting to watch, as the CBC contingent of the excellent Elliotte Friedman, along with former players Kevin Weekes, P.J. Stock, and Kelly Hrudey will join the like of established Sportsnet personalities like Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean, along with Damien Cox and John Shannon, himself a former Hockey Night in Canada producer.

The play-by-play teams have started to sort themselves out, but the colour commentary is still yet to be announced, meaning the roles of in-game analysts like Glenn Healy, Greg Millen, Garry Galley, and Craig Simpson (who I assume will stay with Hughson in the booth) are still to be determined.

One way or another, this is the end for CBC as the undisputed home for Hockey Night in Canada. With that in mind, the incomparable Tim Thompson (@b0undless on Twitter) created a closing montage to perfectly encapsulate the end of the playoffs, along with the end of an era. (The montage itself starts at 1:18, following some MacLean preamble.)

Freddie Mercury said it much better than I ever could, so I’ll try to paraphrase: It’s not easy to think about what happens next, but it’s one of those things where you can look back fondly on all the memories it provided while pushing ahead into what could be a very bright future.

Thank you, Hockey Night in Canada, for being that one constant in my childhood, something I knew I could count on. While NHL on TSN may have pushed the broadcasting standard even higher, I know I wouldn’t have the same kind of appreciation for this amazing sport without the roots established by Hockey Night in Canada.