Sportsnet got it right this time, and Bob Cole will keep calling hockey games longer than planned.
Bob Cole has been the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs and a great hockey announcer for a very long time. His career doing play-by-play for Canadian hockey games has lasted for 50 years, and he’s very good at it. He’s been, without question, one of the NHL’s leading hockey announcers – ever. He’s also a Canadian icon.
So, when Sportsnet announced that Cole’s last game would in fact not be this weekend, I trust other Canadian hockey fans were as pleased as I was. Instead of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ game against the New York Rangers on Dec. 22, Cole’s contract was extended six more games. His final Hockey Night in Canada broadcast is now scheduled to be the season final between the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens at Montreal’s Bell Centre on April 6.
As Cole says, he couldn’t be happier to call a few more games. For him, “It’s a pretty good way to go out. There’s such a tradition between these two teams and lots of history. Of course, the city of Montreal is a special place. I always enjoyed calling games at the Forum and now the Bell Centre.”
A Perfect Ending?
For a great Canadian like Cole, calling a Maple Leafs’ game against the Canadiens couldn’t be more perfect. Thus, his farewell season and farewell NHL tour comes to a more fitting conclusion than leaving after a game against the New York Rangers – not that the Rangers aren’t a good-enough team. They’re just not a Canadian team. And, a final call against Canada’s two Original Six teams he is calling – how good is that?
Cole deserves such a send-off. Even at 85-years-old, Cole prepares well for every game by watching the teams he will call the week before to make sure he’ll be ready. Personally, I have never heard him not be ready.
Cole, who’s from St. John’s, N.L., got his first job in hockey broadcasting in his hometown VOCM Radio in 1969. He moved into television in 1973. Cole’s first play-by-play was for CBC Radio on April 24, 1969. And, what a game – double overtime, ended by the Canadiens’ Jean Béliveau’s goal to beat the Boston Bruins and clinch the semifinals.
Cole has been recognized for his broadcasting, receiving the Gemini Award in 2007. He was presented the Order of Canada in 2016 and also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996 when he received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster.
As Sportsnet president Scott Moore notes, “few broadcasters and voices in sport … transcend the way Bob’s has over the last half a century.” He added that Cole pours “his heart and soul into games” to do “the job that he loves.”
His call of the 2002 Olympics Salt Lake City had a Canadian audience of 10.6 million viewers and was the most-watched CBC Sports program ever. Prior to the 2002 Olympics’ Finals, the final game of the 1992 Summit Series between an NHL all-star team and the Soviet Union had been the most-watched sports program Canadian television history. When Foster Hewitt called Paul Henderson’s Summit Series-winning goal on television, Cole made the same call on the radio.
How Could Cole’s Finale Be More Perfect?
Although what’s happening this season to Cole seems a perfect ending, it’s not that Cole wants it to end. If he had his way, he would continue calling games past this season’s final weekend. He also admitted being hurt not to be part of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs. For the first time in 49 years, he wasn’t part of the playoff’s call.
Perhaps the hockey world will unfold so that Cole would be able to call a Maple Leafs and Canadiens’ playoff game in Stanley Cup this spring. Before that, two things must happen: first, those two teams have to meet, which hasn’t happened for 40 years – since 1979. Second, Sportsnet would have to ask Cole back one more time – one final playoff game. Surely, if Toronto and Montreal meet, another Cole play-by-play game would be even more perfect.
Sportsnet’s brass changed its mind once. Is it possible the network would reverse its decision one more time? One can only hope.