The Tradition Continues
It was September of 1952 and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was about to launch the first television stations in Canada. In anticipation of this, Imperial Oil, sponsor of Hockey Night in Canada on radio, had been engaged in talks with the CBC to begin televising hockey for the 1952-53 NHL season.
Although hockey on television was new to most Canadians, transmission of hockey games had occurred as far back as October 29, 1938 when the 2nd and 3rd periods of a game from Harringay arena in London, England were aired. On February 25, 1940, an experimental TV station in New York, W2XBS, broadcast a hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens to 300 fans. In November of 1946, KTLA in Los Angeles aired games from the Pacific Coast League and in the 1946-47 NHL season, the Rangers were the first NHL team to have their home games on television.
In preparation for the televising of hockey in Canada, an experimental video transmission of a Memorial Cup hockey game from Maple Leaf Gardens in April of 1952 took place. This telecast was a closed circuit viewing for the benefit of executives from CBC, Imperial Oil and the MacLarens advertising agency and all were impressed by Foster Hewitt’s call of the game.
But not everyone was convinced that televising hockey games was a good thing. In a March 9, 1949 edition of the Hockey News, NHL President Clarence Campbell charged that the new entertainment medium (TV) was a definite threat to hockey and would keep fans at home instead of at the rinks. Campbell also thought that television’s limited field of view would not be able to capture the fast end-to-end rushes that made hockey exciting to watch. However, according to an Imperial Oil Review article from the Spring of 1952, Conn Smythe, the president of Maple Leaf Gardens, disagreed that televising games was a menace to game attendance and he believed that hockey on television would eventually be a great salesman for the game. Even so, due to the potential for a slide in attendance because of televised games, HNIC would sign on at 9:30 pm each Saturday night that first season – one hour after the opening face-off. Games were picked up in progress midway through the second period.
For the 1952-53 season, Smythe asked Imperial Oil for only $100 as a fee for each televised game from Maple Leaf Gardens as he wanted to see how successful the new venture would be. After the great success of the first year, Smythe then sold the rights for $150,000 for a 3-year contract. By the early 1960s, the rights sold for $9 million over six years, or about $21,000 per game. Today, the rights per game can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
George Retzlaff, a 30-year-old technical director from Winnipeg was chosen to produce the hockey broadcasts in Toronto. And in Montreal, 24-year-old former print journalist Gerald Renaud was hired to be the pioneer of hockey telecasts in French only for that first season. Both Retzlaff and Renaud felt it was imperative that the right camera angles be used giving viewers at home the ‘best seat in the house’. They both dismissed suggestions of extra high angle cameras as well as ignoring proposals to install cameras on both sides of the rink. For a new technology at the time, the telecasts produced via their television ‘Production Trucks’ were seamless. Thirty years later, long time executive producer of HNIC Ralph Mellanby maintained that many of the procedures pioneered by the two early producers were still in use because they just could not be improved upon.
Foster Hewitt, who had been calling HNIC games on radio since 1931, was the obvious choice to be the play-by-play man for games from Toronto. Hewitt had been studying the telecasting of hockey for years since the early experiments from New York’s Madison Square Gardens. In Montreal, Rene Lecavalier, a former radio war correspondent and cultural commentator, was chosen to call the play for the French-language television production from the Montreal Forum. It was on October 11, 1952 that Lecavalier described the first televised hockey game in Canada between the visiting Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens. Three weeks later on November 1, 1952, Hewitt called the first game from Toronto between Boston and the Leafs.
Fortunately, part of that first telecast in Montreal was preserved on kinescope and the first televised Stanley Cup final cup game on April 16, 1953, including Elmer Lach’s overtime goal and cup celebrations, has also survived. Prior to the advent of videotape in the 1960’s, television shows including Hockey Night in Canada had to be preserved by the kinescope method. Filming the transmission off a TV monitor with a 16mm film camera produced these ‘kines’.
The only surviving televised footage from the first season of English HNIC telecasts is the final Leaf home game on March 21, 1953 with the Leafs defeating the Rangers 5-0. In that telecast, the long time radio tradition ‘Hot Stove League’ is the primary intermission feature. Canadian actor Murray Westgate played the part of an Imperial Oil gas station attendant and together with Dave Price, Charlie Conacher, Harold Cotton and Ed Fitkin, supplied the between periods entertainment. In Montreal, there was a similar ‘Hot Stove’ setup with Philippe Robert portraying the French version of the Esso dealer and Jean Maurice Bailly as the ‘storekeeper’ or host. The commercials in the intermissions were aired ‘live’ and Westgate and Robert rehearsed their ads while the game was being played. There were no time outs during game action and Esso commercials were superimposed on the screen. Besides the radio ‘Hot Stove’ transition to television, the Imperial Oil ‘3 Star’ selection, which originated as an Imperial Oil gasoline promotion was retained. The three star selections are still used on HNIC today.
One of the more popular features of the Hot Stove intermissions in the mid-50’s had artist George Feyer drawing caricatures and cartoons on a giant artist’s easel to illustrate Imperial Oil’s commercials and hockey related stories. Christmastime intermissions usually had the President of Imperial Oil giving a Christmas message. And in December 1955, Lorne Greene, known as the ‘Voice of Doom’ during World War II, recited a Christmas poem for the HNIC audience. Towards the middle of the 1950’s, long time Leaf star Syl Apps became a fixture on the Hot Stove League. But this radio intermission tradition was not as effective on television and was replaced in 1957 by hosts including Scott Young, Wes McKnight and Tom Foley who worked the national broadcast from either Toronto or Montreal. Intermissions then consisted of mainly player interviews.
With the new medium of television an immediate hit in Canada, HNIC became one of Canada’s most watched shows. In fact, many hockey fans invested in the expensive sets at the time just to watch hockey. By 1954, television sets in Canada were increasing by about 50,000 monthly with most of the sets in Montreal and Toronto where the pioneer TV stations were located. HNIC was the top-rated show on TV and Montreal had the highest ratings where 77% of the sets were tuned into games from the Montreal Forum. A major step in the popularity of HNIC came with the introduction of successful coast-to-coast telecasts starting in 1957, when the country was finally networked by microwave. Prior to that, kinescopes had to be shipped across the country and shown on a delayed basis – a technical term known as ‘bicycling.’
On November 22, 1957, during the ‘Cold War’, the successful but still mysterious Soviet hockey team arrived in Canada and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto for the very first time to play the Allan Cup champion Whitby Dunlops. Because of the immense interest from hockey fans across the country, HNIC decided to show the game as a special Friday night telecast. Foster Hewitt opened with “this is one of the best hockey games we’ve seen here in a while.” Although both teams wore dark uniforms and it was difficult to distinguish players in the black & white television world at the time, Hewitt had no problem in calling the frantic action in an eventual 7-2 victory for the ‘Dunnies’. The viewers observed a slick passing Soviet team with some players actually wearing toques while skating. The intermission feature was an opportunity to learn more about these visitors from behind the Iron Curtain. Scott Young, in his first season hosting games from Toronto, had no luck obtaining any information about the Soviet players from an unsmiling Russian Colonel and his very grim interpreter.
By the late 1950’s, HNIC began experimenting with the game coverage. After the final whistle of a playoff game in Toronto on April 4, 1959, the CBC network switched live to the Chicago Stadium to join the Montreal vs Chicago game in progress. Danny Gallivan, who had commenced calling the Montreal games in English since 1953, welcomed the Toronto audience as the 2nd period was winding down. As it turned out, the 3rd period of that game happened to be one of the most tumultuous in NHL history with irate Chicago fans attacking referee Red Storey on the ice. It was the last game for the beleaguered referee as he resigned after the game. This ‘bonus’ coverage was especially memorable for HNIC.
Foster Hewitt continued television play by play until the end of the 1957-58 season. In the opening game of the next season on October 11, 1958, Foster introduced his son Bill to the audience and announced that Bill would be taking over television play by play duties. Foster stayed on television for the next 3 seasons as the first Toronto ‘colour’ man. At the start of the 1961-62 season, Foster switched back to radio only and Bill continued on television. By 1963-64, HNIC brought back the colour commentator by rotating various newspaper writers in the booth with Bill. Then for the 1965-66 season, Brian McFarlane became the regular colour man in the booth. In Montreal during the 60’s, Keith Dancy worked in the booth alongside Danny Gallivan giving his expert analyses.
As HNIC moved into the 1960’s, there were changes in the intermission content. Besides player interviews in the late 50’s, a ‘Hockey Quiz’ was a popular feature with Johnny Wayne of ‘Wayne & Shuster’ fame as a regular participant. By the start of the 1959-60 season, Ward Cornell had become the permanent host in Toronto and Ed Fitkin joined Cornell with the “videotaped highlights” for the first time. At the start of the 1963-64 season, HNIC signed on at 8:30 pm. With play being picked up near the end of the first period. With 2 intermissions now to cover, the HNIC crew presented film features, interviews and news around the NHL. In the mid-60’s long time HNIC personality Jack Dennett hosted a ‘Hockey Roundup’ show that covered events around the league. In 1967-68, HNIC commentator Brian McFarlane hosted a ‘Hockey Instructional Series’. Some of the players participating included Tim Horton, Harry Howell and Ralph Backstrom. In Montreal, Frank Selke Jr. introduced similar intermissions features while hosting from 1960 to 1967 when he left HNIC to run the expansion Oakland Seals.
A side note: although it could not use the name Hockey Night in Canada, CTV began televising Wednesday night hockey games featuring the Leafs or the Canadiens during the 1963-64 broadcast season. The first producer/director of these telecasts was CFCF-TV’s Ralph Mellanby, who was later to be hired by Frank Selke Jnr. to be the Executive Producer for Hockey Night in Canada.
There were two new technical advances introduced in the 1964-65 playoffs. Although a process called ‘hot processing’ was developed in the mid-50’s for instant replay, it wasn’t until 1965 that Ty Lemberg, a Retzlaff staffer from CBC Sports, developed a workable technique that enabled replays to become a regular, and very popular feature. The replay was not very elaborate, as it would only replay a fixed number of seconds preceding the goal. In those same playoffs, another innovation was revealed in an intermission, when executive producer George Retzlaff gave the viewers a demonstration of the new hand held camera or ‘creepie peepie’ as it was referred to at the time.
A long forgotten tradition in Canada for many years was ‘Young Canada Night’ that usually fell on the last Saturday prior to Christmas. Parents were encouraged to bring their sons or daughters to the hockey game on that particular night. The tradition of ‘Young Canada Night’ for HNIC originated in 1936 when Foster Hewitt had his 8 year old son Bill call a few minutes of play by play at the start of the 3rd period. Many years later on television in the early 60’s, Bill Hewitt’s son Bruce would describe action for a few minutes in the 3rd period of games on ‘Young Canada Night’.
On March 24, 1965, HNIC televised a game between Montreal and Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens in colour for test purposes. It proved successful even without any enhanced lighting. But it wasn’t until the start of the 1966-67 season that televised games in colour became permanent. Increased lighting was then installed in Maple Leaf Gardens and the Forum in preparation for the colour broadcasts. The players had to adjust to this new, brighter lighting and some had applied burnt cork under their eyes to dull the glare. That same season, slow-motion replays were tested but the technology had not been mastered and the picture quality was very poor. A much-improved ‘slo-mo’ was introduced a few years later.
On May 2, 1967, George Armstrong of the Leafs scored into the vacant Montreal Canadiens net to clinch the last Stanley Cup in the ‘Original 6’ NHL. A month later, the ‘Great Expansion’ took place with six expansion teams from Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Oakland stocking their teams with players left available by the established teams. Fans were now challenged to recognize all the new NHL players but they were quite pleased that at the start of the 1968-69 season, HNIC televised the entire game starting at 8:00 pm.
Up to the 1968-69 season, the theme song used to open the telecasts was the Esso “Happy Motoring” song. In 1968, the ‘Hockey Theme’ written by Dolores Claman opened each HNIC broadcast. This theme song has often been referred to as Canada’s second national anthem.
With the entry of the Vancouver Canucks and the Buffalo Sabres in the 1970-71 season, HNIC would now have Saturday night telecasts from 3 Canadian cities.
Now a national broadcast could originate from Vancouver as well as Montreal and Toronto. Up to 1970, Toronto and Montreal alternated each week hosting the show that was seen coast to coast. The opposite game was then downgraded to regional status for airing in Ontario or Quebec. The new Vancouver crew included play-by-play man Jim Robson, hosts Bill Good Jr. Ted Reynolds and the colourful former Leaf Babe Pratt as the analyst. The HNIC producer for the Vancouver games that first season was Ron Harrison who would later succeed Don Wallace as the HNIC executive producer in 1988. Harrison had his hands full with Pratt getting too emotional over the inept play of the expansion Canucks. Pratt had no problem with telling like he saw it but as Harrison later explained: ‘Pratt was like the Don Cherry in those days, except he did it right to the players’ faces.’
For the 1971-72 season, Dave Hodge replaced Ward Cornell as the regular host of HNIC games from Toronto. During the 1970’s, ex-NHL player Bob Goldham was a fixture doing analysis from the booth and showing taped highlights between periods. Howie Meeker also made his debut as a regular analyst in the early 70’s. Unlike anyone before him, Meeker pulled no punches and told it like he saw it. HNIC Executive Producer Ralph Mellanby deserves much credit for hiring Meeker and bringing more ‘spice’ to the telecasts. According to Mellanby, “no one broadcaster ever changed TV hockey coverage more than Howie.”
In Montreal during the late 60’s and 70’s, Dan Kelly, Ted Darling, Dave Reynolds, Mike Anscombe, Dick Irvin Jr. and Brian McFarlane all hosted games from the Forum while Danny Gallivan continued play by play with Irvin also joining him in the booth. At the start of the 1976-77 season, TV news personality and broadcaster Helen Hutchinson joined the Toronto crew to become the first woman co-host in the 23-year history of HNIC.
In another key development in February of 1976, Imperial Oil after 40 years of affiliation with HNIC on radio and television, decided to end their sponsorship of the program leaving Molsons and Ford as the remaining major sponsors. This caused a financial crisis for the ‘Canadian Sports Network’. CSN was the production arm of MacLaren Advertising that had been involved in producing Hockey Night in Canada since 1931 on radio. Ted Hough, the forward thinking President of CSN, was faced with replacing the $3.5 million shortfall in sponsorship money. Hough, who had been involved behind the scenes with HNIC since 1938, was able to restructure the financing of the show with the assistance of Molsons and the CBC in a new partnership. By 1988, the ‘middleman’ MacLaren’s was phased out, leading to the show officially being renamed ‘Molson Hockey Night in Canada’, only to revert back to the original name years later when Molsons left the show.
One of Hough’s best skills was the ability to hire the finest people for the job.
Because there was a lack of liaison between the HNIC units in Montreal and Toronto, Hough hired sports producer Ralph Mellanby in 1966 as the executive director of HNIC for both cities. The innovative Mellanby, in addition to directing sports at CFCF-TV, had also directed some variety and entertainment specials and series for CTV. Hough saw this experiences as a potential asset to HNIC, and Mellanby, who spent the next 20 years with HNIC, immediately sought to make the coverage more appealing to the viewers. Two of his many contributions were insisting on scripted openings to sell the personality of each game and using directional microphones to catch the ‘sounds of the game’. During the 70’s, HNIC’s greatest strength was Mellanby’s ingenuity and his ability to get the job done despite limited resources.
Fans of HNIC of the 1970’s remember fondly two intermission features – ‘Peter Puck’ and the ‘Showdown’ series. ‘Peter Puck’ was an animated puck that explained hockey rules and the history of the game in an entertaining style. Long time HNIC celebrity Brian McFarlane was the originator of this cartoonish character and ‘Peter’ was also a mainstay on the U.S. national broadcasts on NBC in the 1970’s. ‘Showdown’ was a series of contests of hockey skill that had current and retired NHL players as well as European stars pitted against each other in the on ice competitions. Brian McFarlane and Howie Meeker were hosts on that popular show. In Montreal, a popular feature was ‘Fisher Report’ with Dick Irvin Jr. and newspaper columnist Red Fisher.
“Henderson has scored for Canada” are four words that the legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt will always be associated with. Incredibly, when the historic 1972 Summit Series was announced, there was some opposition to having the venerable pioneer of hockey broadcasting call the eight game series between the Soviets and Canada’s best. In reality though, there was no one else who should have been chosen to call the most important series in hockey history outside of the NHL. Although HNIC was outbid for the broadcast rights by a partnership of Harold Ballard and Bobby Orr, HNIC staffers were used in the series. Hewitt described the action from the stunning 7-3 loss to the Soviets in Montreal to Paul Henderson’s dramatic game winning goals in the last three games in Moscow. Howie Meeker was the analyst between periods for all eight games and he marveled at the skilful hockey the Russians played, with his ‘golly gee whiz’ style.
Viewers will remember the temporary losses of picture due to technical problems of the signal being transmitted from Moscow to Helsinki to London where it was converted to NTSC before traveling across the Atlantic to a landline in Nova Scotia. Years later, when there were requests from fans to relive the excitement of the series, it was discovered that tapes of the eight games could not be found in their entirety. Today, it would seem scandalous that such an historic series of games would not be recorded and kept. But in the 1970’s it was routine to recycle the 2″ Quad tapes used at the time. After lengthy searches across Canada, the video of the eight games was pieced together from various sources using both the English and French language video. Audio from reel-to-reel tapes recorded by a fan off his television set in 1972 enabled the English sound to be transferred onto the French video to make a complete set in English of the historic series.
With the demise of the World Hockey Association in 1979 after seven seasons, three former WHA Canadian teams – Edmonton, Winnipeg and Quebec City –joined the NHL. To start the 1980-81 season, the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary to give the NHL seven Canadian teams. There was still a national broadcast but HNIC included games from every Canadian city that were shown regionally. The addition of Ottawa to the league in 1991 brought the number of Canadian teams to eight, before being reduced to six in the mid-90’s when the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado and the Winnipeg Jets relocated to Phoenix.
During the 1980’s, the “This Week In the NHL” intermission feature and the ‘NHL Tonight’ post game show had reports originating from all Canadian cities. Some of the new HNIC on air personnel included Don Wittman, Gerry Pinder, Steve Armitage, John Wells, Gary Dornhoefer, Mickey Redmond, and John Davidson. The Montreal French crew consisted of Lionel Duval, Richard Garneau and Gilles Tremblay. The renowned Danny Gallivan retired in 1984 with Rene Lecavalier leaving HNIC a year later. Dick Irvin took over the play-by-play from Montreal and retired in 1999 after 33 years in HNIC.
It was a Montreal and Toronto exhibition game at Maple Leaf Gardens in September of 1981 that would mark the last time a Hewitt called a game on HNIC. Bill Hewitt, who had been describing play for HNIC games on television on a regular basis since 1958, became ill and retired from broadcasting after this last game. A 50-year tradition of Hewitts on HNIC had ended abruptly. Danny Gallivan from Montreal joined the Toronto crew for mid-week games but it was long time CBC broadcaster Bob Cole who took over the national broadcasts from Toronto.
In 1984, Don Wallace, the eventual successor to Ralph Mellanby as HNIC executive producer, astutely hired former NHL coach Harry Neale as a colour commentator and paired Neale with Cole in the booth and they were the top duo on HNIC for over 20 years. Another notable change in the HNIC crew occurred in March of 1987. Dave Hodge, perturbed that the CBC did not switch to coverage of an out of town game still in progress in overtime, protested on air and was subsequently replaced as HNIC’s full-time national host by Ron McLean, a former Calgary weatherman.
HNIC executive producer Ralph Mellanby was continuously seeking new talent for the show and he had the foresight to recognize that former coach Don ‘Grapes’ Cherry would someday be a star on HNIC. Mellanby knew that Cherry could speak ‘hockey’ to the average fan and would be popular with the many fans watching from bars across the country. Mellanby hired Cherry after the 1979-80 season to do some colour commentating during the game but the opinionated Cherry soon settled into an intermission feature called ‘Coach’s Corner’.
In its original form in 1980, ‘Coach’s Corner’ had a somewhat subdued Cherry alone on a set analyzing various technical aspects of the game using highlights. Dave Hodge then joined Cherry on the set on a regular basis, followed by master punster Ron McLean who became ‘Grapes’ sidekick after Hodge’s departure from HNIC. Over the years, Cherry has become an immensely popular figure in Canada due to his argumentative and controversial remarks.
With his loud suits and high collars, Cherry often caused controversy by glorifying the fighting aspect of the game while taking shots at European and French Canadian players for their lack of aggressiveness. Ratings for ‘Coach’s Corner’ sometimes surpass that of the game itself. At one time, the CBC put Coach’s Corner on a seven-second delay, so that the producer could cut any material he felt was inappropriate. This arrangement however lasted for less than one season.
From 1980 to 1986, Cherry appeared in the second intermission of Eastern-based games, while Howie Meeker used his telestrator for Western based games.
John Shannon, the progressive HNIC executive produce for Western-based games from 1994 to 2000, proved inventive with a number of enhancements. During the first NHL ‘lockout’ in 1994, a modernized version of the old ‘Hot Stove League’ debuted during the airing of HNIC’s ‘Classic Games’ with host Ron McLean and panel members John Davidson, Jim Hughson and Scott Morrison. When hockey returned in January of 1995, Jim Kelley, Fisher, Morrison, Strachan and others rotated, and Hughson and Davidson were regulars, in this new ‘Satellite Hot Stove’ that was seen in the second intermission. In January of 1995, Shannon changed HNIC into a doubleheader format on Saturday nights with the eastern games from Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa followed by the western games usually originating from Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary.
These extra games added greater exposure to the Canadian teams out west. Don Wittman or Chris Cuthbert would call the second game with John Garrett and Greg Millen often working as analysts. Ron McLean hosted both games of the doubleheader with Don Cherry making appearances in the pre-game and intermissions as well. Shannon also oversaw the creation of the pre-game show in 1997 and Hockey Day in Canada in February of 2000.
When HNIC debuted in 1952, the telecast started at 9:30 pm and ended a shade after 10:30 pm. In the 21st century, the entire HNIC package began at 6:30 pm with the pre-game show and doesn’t end until past midnight in the Eastern Time zones. As of 2011, Ron McLean was continuing to host the entire broadcast, with Jim Hughson doing the play-by-play for the first feature game, and with colour commentary by Craig Simpson. Elliotte Freedman and Glenn Healy provided roving commentary from rinkside.
In the second game of the doubleheader, featuring one of the three Western Canadian teams, Mark Lee and Kevin Weekes would be the usual broadcast team, with Scott Oake reporting from down by the ice. Former NHL goaltender Kelly Hrudey provided analyses in his Coast to Coast feature in the first intermission.
‘Hockey Day in Canada’, has appeared annually except for the 2004-05 season when there was no NHL hockey because of the ‘lockout’. HDIC became immensely popular as the Hockey Night in Canada crew traveled to small town Canada to show grassroots hockey featuring local hockey events. Host locations for HDIC have included Red Deer, Alberta, Windsor, Nova Scotia, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, Stephenville, Newfoundland, Labrador and Nelson, B.C. On Hockey Day in Canada, HNIC shows a triple-header of games with all the Canadian teams in action.
Prior to the start of the 2002-03 season, Joel Darling, senior executive producer for Hockey Night in Canada, announced that after more than a quarter of a century, there would once again be a female presence on HNIC. Brenda Irving and Martine Gaillard would work as sideline reporters on the show. For the 2006-07 season, Cassie Campbell, the former captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team, would be brought on staff. In addition to working on features and interviews, Campbell worked as the colour commentator alongside Bob Cole in the booth.
HNIC took a hiatus during the 2004-05 season because of a lockout of the players by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners. The NHL felt that a new economic structure was necessary to keep the teams financially viable. The Players Association and the NHL finally signed a new agreement that included a salary cap and when hockey and HNIC returned in the fall of 2005, the ratings initially soared demonstrating that hockey fans missed their Saturday night ritual of HNIC.
Hockey changed over the years with the addition of a second referee on the ice, video replay judges and many other changes. The NHL increased to thirty teams with numerous players from Europe or the United States. All players were mandated to wear helmets and many wore visors and hence were not as easily recognizable to fans. Over the years, HNIC has been able to change with the times and adopt new technology to make the coverage the best it can be. Multi cameras were now used to provide isolation shots and various angle replays. High Definition broadcasts further enhanced the viewing for the devoted hockey fans.
Hockey Night in Canada became an institution in Canada as the most consistently watched TV program and at times attracted audiences of over 3 million people. And, to continue their successful partnership, the CBC and the NHL announced in March 2007 a new deal that would keep Hockey Night in Canada on the CBC until the year 2014. The new deal included national English language broadcast and multimedia rights to NHL games in Canada.
Hockey on CBC consistently upgraded the quality of its productions, with successive executive producers each bringing their own extensive experience to the job. Sherali Najak succeeded Joel Darling in 2007, and was in turn replaced by Trevor Pilling in 2010.
As the 2011-2012 season approached Winnipeg fans were delighted to celebrate the rebirth of the Winnipeg Jets, when an NHL team franchise returned to the city following the demise of the Atlanta Thrashers. The original Winnipeg team had moved to Phoenix after the 1996 season.
To mark the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg, the 2011-2012 season got under way on Thursday, Oct. 6, with Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off, live from The Forks in Winnipeg, including live musical performances from Three Days Grace and hometown legends Bachman and Turner. Ron MacLean hosted the broadcast from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, while CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos was in Winnipeg to host the festivities from The Forks alongside new Hockey Night team member Andi Petrillo.
The opening game featured the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens, followed by the Vancouver Canucks versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Don Cherry returned with Coach’s Corner in the first intermission.
Hockey Night in Canada 2012 introduced a new weekly one-hour Saturday show HNIC Game Day, starting on October 8th, hosted by Andi Petrillo with veteran P.J. Stock. Stock began his fifth season with the broadcast, while Andi Petrillo joined from Leafs TV, where she hosted and reported.
With the return of Coach’s Corner, Don Cherry marked his 32nd season with Hockey Night in Canada. The Hot Stove also returned, with Ron MacLean, Mike Milbury, Kelly Hrudey, Elliotte Friedman , Eric Francis and P.J Stock as regular contributors. After Hours with hosts Scott Oake and Kevin Weekes was also back to round out the evening with live post-game interviews.
New to the 2012 season was Elliotte Friedman’s Chevy iDesk, with inside stories on all aspects of the game. Jim Hughson, Bob Cole, Mark Lee and Dean Brown returned to provide the play-by-play, supported by analysts Craig Simpson, Glenn Healy, Greg Millen, Garry Galley, Kevin Weekes, Kelly Hrudey and Mike Milbury. Elliotte Friedman, Cassie Campbell-Pascal and Scott Oake handled rink-side reports.
On Tuesday November 26th 2013, Rogers Communications and The National Hockey League announced jointly that they had concluded a 12-year, $5.232 billion (Canadian) agreement for broadcast and multimedia rights to NHL Hockey. The agreement was described as “the largest media rights deal in NHL history and one of the largest media rights deals in Canadian history, including the largest-ever sports-media rights agreement”.
As part of the agreement, Rogers announced that the CBC would continue to broadcast Hockey Night in Canada and TVA would have all of the Canadian French-language multi-media rights. However, in an unusual move, Rogers agreed to make the Saturday games available to the CBC with no broadcast rights costs, but Rogers would retain and sell the advertising inventory and have total production control, including the choice of on-air personalities.
The partnership between the NHL and Rogers would begin with the 2014-15 season and would run through the 2025-26 season.
The deal gave Rogers national rights to all NHL games, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Stanley Cup Final, on all of its platforms in all languages.
The agreement was subject to approval by the NHL’s Board of Governors, which would be meeting Dec. 9-10 in Pebble Beach, Calif.
In addition to game coverage, Rogers would provide expanded pre- and post-game coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays. In addition to its exclusive rights for all playoff and Stanley Cup Final games, Rogers had negotiated exclusive rights to special events such as future NHL All-Star Games and NHL Drafts.
The agreement guaranteed that there would be no further regionalization of games or local blackouts. Rogers had three exclusive windows to broadcast any game involving a Canadian team — Wednesday nights, Saturday nights (including CBC games) and Sunday nights.
Viewers on Saturday nights would get every game regardless of where they resided, and certain games involving two U.S.-based teams. The new Sunday night national broadcast would feature marquee matchups.
The agreement also guaranteed there would be no further regionalization of games or local blackouts. Rogers would have three exclusive windows to broadcast any game involving a Canadian team — Wednesday nights, Saturday nights and Sunday nights. Fans would have the ability to watch any of those games regardless of geographical location within Canada.
As part of the agreement, CBC would continue to broadcast Hockey Night in Canada for at least the next four seasons, but Rogers would control the production and execution, including editorial content and on-air talent. Rogers would also earn the revenue from those broadcasts.
CBC would not receive any revenue from Hockey Night in Canada, but it would not have to spend any of its public dollars toward broadcasting it. The Stanley Cup Final would be broadcast on CBC.
TSN would continue with its regional coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens.
As of February 6th 2014, no decision had been announced as to whether Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner feature with Don Cherry would continue beyond the current season.
On March 10th 2014, Rogers unveiled the details of the new broadcast team for Hockey Night in Canada and Rogers’ other hockey properties. Replacing Ron MacLean as the lead host would be CBC broadcast personality George Stroumboulopoulos, who before becoming a talk show host had spent four years as a sports broadcaster at The Fan 590 in Toronto.
Ron MacLean would return with a reduced role, but would continue to host Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays, and would be seen on Sunday nights hosting Hometown Hockey Community Celebration.
Jeff Marek, former host of Hockey Night in Canada on radio, would host Thursday Night Hockey on Sportsnet Radio 360, as well as the weekend afternoon NHL pre-game shows. Daren Millard, a seasoned broadcaster with Sportsnet since its inception, would host Wednesday Night hockey on Sportsnet Radio, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs regional radio broadcasts on Sportsnet.
On June 27th 2016, Rogers’ Sportsnet confirmed spreading rumours with the announcement that Ron MacLean would be returning to host Hockey Night in Canada in the Fall, alongside David Amber, and would continue to host Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry. MacLean would also continue to host Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sundays throughout the season.
“The impact (MacLean) has had on the game and in communities across the country is immeasurable. Hockey fans, young and old, have a deep connection with him,” said Scott Moore, President of Sportsnet & NHL Properties, Rogers. David Amber had been a reporter with Hockey Night in Canada for the previous five years. He had had nearly 20 years of sports broadcast experience, including eight years as anchor and reporter with ESPN, as well as covering four Olympic Games and a two-year stint hosting NHL On The Fly. He would also contribute to Saturday’s pre-game show.
Panelists Elliotte Friedman, Kelly Hrudey, and Nick Kypreos would join MacLean and Amber in-studio on Saturday nights, while Daren Millard would continue to host Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, alongside panelists Friedman and Doug MacLean.
On the November 9, 2019 edition of Hockey Night In Canada’s Coach’s Corner segment, commentator Don Cherry (85) made a comment about “you people” when referring to new Canadian immigrants who did not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. Many people found the comment to be racist. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council received so many complaints that its system was overwhelmed. Two days after the broadcast, Cherry was fired and Sportsnet issued the following statement: “Sports brings people together – it unites us, not divides us. Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down. During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for. Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank [him] for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.” In the end, Cherry refused to apologize, saying his comments were not racist and could be applied to any immigrants. Not long after, Cherry was again speaking to Canadian hockey fans via his own podcast.
Howie Meeker, 97, died on November 8, 2020. Meeker’s played eight seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs (1946-55) and followed that with a short coaching stint from 1956-57. He spent one term as a Progressive Conservative MP. Meeker joined Hockey Night in Canada in the 1970’s as the colour commentator and also was the colour analyst for the 1972 Team Canada-Soviet series. Howie Meeker’s Hockey School, a weekly instructional series, also ran on CBC-TV from 1973-77. Meeker later served as a Vancouver Canucks play-by-play announcer on BCTV and joined TSN in 1987 when they acquired the broadcast rights, staying with the network until his retirement in 1998. That year Meeker was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a broadcaster, and honoured with the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for Excellence in Hockey Broadcasting. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2010.