Ohhhh baby! Bob Cole, the voice of my generation

BobCole07There’s a lot of little Canadian hockey stories that float around during this time of year. Some don’t get past the lips of those who live through it. Some do. I think it’s important to truly understand every aspect of the game, right down to the people who flood the rinks. It’s also important to understand how they got there.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the people of the world were put through many twists and turns in their everyday lives. In between fighting two big wars in Europe, the world plunged into economic turmoil as the stock markets crashed. On that Black Tuesday in 1929, Canada and the rest of the world entered the Great Depression.

Out on the Eastern coast of the country Newfoundland was particularly hit the hardest. As they were still a Dominion of the British Empire and not a province of Canada just yet, the Depression drove in a nail to their deathbed having the challenging economy pile on top of reparations from World War I, construction of the Newfoundland railroad and the collapse of fisheries.

As violent protests and riots seemed the norm across the area, the people of Newfoundland found themselves suffering from malnutrition and diseases like tuberculosis began to spread. It’s hard to believe that something this bad was happening within Canada’s borders but, that’s history.

In June of 1933 in the Dominion of Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s, Robert Cecil Cole was born into those trying times. However, the resilience of a Newfoundlander is tested many times through life and they will always prevail.

The man who came to be known in hockey households worldwide as Bob Cole, begin his broadcasting career as a 23 year old working for St. John’s AM radio station, “Voice Of the Common Man”. Started in a house by another St. John’s lad Walter Williams in 1936, the VOCM radio station gave Cole the chance to find his voice as an announcer and newsreader.

After gaining his bearings and some confidence under his belt Cole made his way inland to Toronto where he met up with legendary hockey announcer Foster Hewitt. Hewitt, who was then the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, provided Cole with valuable advice. Cole managed to leave some of his demo tapes behind and well, the rest is history. I like to think that Hewitt’s famous Hockey Night in Canada sign on of “Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland”, was foreshadowing of a future Newfoundland takeover. (It wasn’t. Like I mentioned earlier, Newfoundland wasn’t apart of Canada when Hewitt wrote that line.)

Cole started off in 1969 with CBC Radio. A short four years later (and after calling Paul Henderson’s winning goal over the USSR in 1972), Cole transferred over to television for the newly expanded version of Hockey Night in Canada. Along with Danny Gallivan in Montreal, and Bill Hewitt (Foster’s son), the CBC had a very strong three punch announcing tandem. Upon Hewitt’s retirement, Cole became the voice of the Leafs. Cole also was the voice for many international and Olympic match ups. One of his most famous calls is my all time favourite:

Foster Hewitt was the voice of a generation. He was the hockey voice of my parents’ generation. However there is nothing more nostalgic then hearing Bob Cole and his color commentator Harry Neale call a hockey game. I’m instantly brought back to my cold Canadian winter childhoods of watching HNIC every Saturday night. Hell, even when they only started broadcasting the game at the second period.

There are a lot of hidden gems in hockey’s history. Thankfully this one didn’t stay hidden for long.

Ohhh baby.

 

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The NHL is back and it’s just not the same

bryzThe NHL is back for yet another season. Yet here I am, unmoved and slightly not as interested as I was in years past.

To say that the National Hockey League has changed since the days when I was younger would be a huge understatement. The face of everything in the sport has changed 100% completely. From teams and players to broadcasting and television hosts; it’s just not the same. You could attribute it to just growing up and being nostalgic about the past but deep down I think it’s simply much more than that.

In a nostalgic sense, I’m lost without Saturday night viewings of Hockey Night in Canada ringing out from the television screen. I realize it’s still going and I’m anxious to see what it’s going to look like but it hasn’t been the same since TSN bought the rights to its historic theme song. Gone are the days of hearing the Coach’s Corner theme song, listening to Don Cherry and Ron McLean banter back and forth during the first intermission break and people actually stopping what they’re doing to listen to Cherry speak (no joke, my family used to drop what they were doing.). Or during the second intermission, sitting through Satellite Hotstove and not Hotstove Tonight itching to get the third period started.

Afternoon games were unheard of on television. It was a privilege to be able to stay up and watch your favourite team on a school night.

The age of the enforcer is dying out. It’s just going to be a chapter in a hockey history book someday. When guys like Mike Milbury, who beat up a fan in the stands with his own shoe, is calling for the end of fighting in the sport you know times have changed. While I could sit here and list all the points as to why fighting and enforcing needs to stay in the game, there’s no point. With the advancement of how concussions and mental health have affected the competitive athlete, it’s a no brainer to end it when your own health is on the line. However, all these same things could happen with a body check, or a trip, or a slash, or even a hard face wash. Taking fighting out isn’t going to stop that.

(Photo: Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)
(Photo: Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Everything has a price tag or an endorsement on it. I’m not against making money obviously, but everything just seems so over the top and extravagant. I miss the days of walking into an arena, smelling the fresh PLAIN ice that would just feature the faceoff circles, the goaltenders crease, two blue lines and a red line. Do we really need ref cams? It’s a cool feature but we’re getting a little overboard here.

There’s no loyalty with players anymore. Yes they sign 8 year deals but how many of them actually stick them out? They go where the coin is. You can’t blame them either; that’s all on the owner’s and GM’s but how does one grow attached to a player now? On the same note, there’s a lot of lazy players in the game today. Just want to skate by and grab their cheque. Like, I said, maybe it’s because I’m much older now and see the world differently but I can’t be the only one feeling this way.

That’s why I enjoy the minors and other professional leagues. These guys feel the need to prove something to their fans night in and night out just to keep their jobs. In reality, that’s exactly what it is. Professional hockey is their full time job. With the exception of the NHL and AHL, nobody is getting paid huge wads.

I’m starting to sound like I’m bitter about everything, but I’m not. Hell, if I was offered a $50 million dollar, 8 year contract I’d take it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? But that’s just one area that proves how much the game has changed.

Maybe the spark of the NHL will come back and flicker in my eyes a few more weeks into the season. Maybe it won’t. Things change and evolve over time, that’s just life. Even though it’s changed so much since the days of my youth there’s one thing I can be grateful for.

It gave me the sport I love.

Disclaimer: I realize that there are millions of people around the world who are super excited for this season and I couldn’t be happier! This is just some thoughts coming from someone who has followed the game for over 20 years now.

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Coach’s Corner Saturday: Don Cherry And The Russians

55652-bigthumbnailHere’s the first installment of our look back at vintage and not so vintage Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner rants.

This one is a beaut. This took place at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey in Vancouver. Grapes flips his lid over the Russians in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s to the point where he say they suck. Also points out the Federov is a diver and harps on the other European teams.

And calls Mike Liut a siev. He goes berserk, it’s amazing.