Make no mistake, it is still awesome to listen to Bob Cole call a Stanley Cup Playoff game on Hockey Night in Canada. He is still an absolute master at his craft. He knows when to talk. He knows when not to talk. And he knows how to pace his words so it almost sounds like he’s not talking even when he is. And the richness of his voice is unmatched anywhere in the hockey broadcasting kingdom.
On Tuesday night, Cole, Garry Galley and Glenn Healy called the Scotiabank Shootout, with the Penguins defeating the Senators, 7-4, in Game Four. Cole began calling NHL games on radio in 1969. As Maple Leafs’ lead play-by-play man Bill Hewitt’s role lessened during the 1980s, Cole’s expanded. Cole, and his long-time analyst Harry Neale, were the perfect combination. Harry was funny. Bob was not. Harry liked to laugh on the air. Bob stuck to the nuts-and-bolts of the game. Harry’s patter wandered. Bob simply called the games. It kept the broadcasts with Harry straight on the track.
I have had the pleasure of working with Bob in two different roles – as his statistician in the broadcast booth and as his producer in the television mobile. Both were very tough jobs. In the booth, there were several serious rules to follow. The primary one being – do not touch Bob. Do not touch his papers. Do not brush his baby blue Hockey Night jacket. Do not touch his arm. I made that last mistake – once. I got, “Don’t be touchin’ me, kid! Don’t ever be touchin’ me!”
From a producer’s standpoint, Bob often missed cues and requests that were given to him over headset. He often had very strong opinions about what should, or should not, be happening on the broadcast. If they conflicted with the producer’s, too bad for the guy in the truck. And Cole never made any apologies for his single-mindedness. But it didn’t really matter because Bob has a masterful sense of the game.
And that’s why I’m going to miss Bob. For several years now, two different heads of CBC Sports have been actively trying to phase Bob out of the Hockey Night picture. The only reason he’s working right now is because CBC is airing four series. Jim Hughson has replaced Bob as the main pxp man on Maple Leafs’ Saturday night games.
The reasons given are that Bob makes mistakes these days. His eyes have always been an issue for Bob. I remember a game at Madison Square Garden in 1986. Canadiens’ rookie netminder Patrick Roy made 13 overtime saves, then the Canadiens had a breakaway and scored. The Canadiens’ goalscorer had jumped and danced his way back to centre ice before Cole yelled, “Claude Lemieux…scores!” Cole would tell me later that he hated the MSG booth because it’s so far away from the ice.
And his erroneous call of Brett Hull’s Stanley Cup winning goal in 1999 necessitated an edit-room correction so the goal could be used in the future. In the current series, I have heard him mis-announce the shot totals at the end of a period. And he has occasionally misidentified players. Who cares? That’s small potatoes. Look at the big picture, folks. The cadence. The drama. The “Oh, baby!”
Enjoy Bob Cole while you can. Years from now, he’ll be spoken of in the same breath as Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan. Pretty heady company.