North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Cole’s calls

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I was struck by a thought early on Saturday evening: there is an uncanny amount of Bob Cole in CBC’s new intro the Hockey Night. His calls seem omnipresent, yelling names from hockey’s modern age: Yzerman, Gretzky, Lemieux. He appears more, perhaps, then any other of the long list of Hockey Night personalities, but there’s one key difference: he’s the only one who doesn’t say his name.

Perhaps this is because his voice is so well-known among hockey fans. Perhaps it was a slight oversight. But perhaps – and this is my point today – the CBC is quickly moving towards the post-Bob Cole era.

For almost all of the 1980s and right up until last year, Bob Cole was the voice of Hockey Night In Canada. He called most of the Islanders four Stanley Cups, as well as all of the Oilers (in an oddity, the only year he didn’t – 1986, when CTV broadcasted the games nationally – the Oilers were upset by the Flames in the second round).

His streak at the microphone is not something altogether unheard of at the CBC. Foster Hewett called games for 40 years, for example. But in an age where announcers quickly become media personalities or spokespersons – one need only to look at John Madden or Marv Albert, for example – Cole remained primarily a hockey guy.

Not to say he didn’t dabble. He called Olympic events (including hockey). Curling.

But he never did anything self-promotional: there was no The Bob Cole Interview. No Bob Cole Hockey, though he did voice over work earlier this decade for 2k Sports. No books. Not even a radio show.

Granted, Cole was far from universally loved. Often criticized as a homer for the Leafs, the team whose games he usually broadcasted, Cole remains an enemy to a segment of devoted Habs and Senators fans. Fair enough. Others cite his tripping over names – Sedin becomes Sundin, etc – as a peeve.

But then, if some announcer from the past, like the always-objective Ray Scott, replaced Cole, these same fans would be complaining about the dry commentary: “Starr… to Dowler … touchdown” doesn’t sell like it used to. Fans love colour, they love subjectivity: this is why Gus Johnson is popular. This is why Chuck Swirsky is popular.

It’s why ESPN Classic used to use a Brent Musberger soundbite in its ads.

Anyway, just a thought about Cole.


Written by M.

October 26, 2008 at 12:23 am

Posted in nhl, Sports Media

Tagged with , , , ,

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