The Case For and Against Bob Cole Calling Montreal-Philly
May 17, 2010 30 Comments
There’s a strange reaction you get whenever Bob Cole’s name is brought up these. A large portion of Canadian hockey fans, who’ve heard call hockey’s biggest moments for decades, have long grown tired of the man. There are many fans of teams who aren’t Toronto who feel that Cole is biased against, say, the Canadiens. There are Leafs fans who just plain don’t like the guy. The reaction across the border is a little lighter, as Cole’s voice is often heard as a promise of how great hockey broadcasting could be if it weren’t produced by damned yankees.
Regardless, he may be the most controversial voice in the sport, even more than Don Cherry, just based on his mere presence. Especially now that he’s calling CBC’s most prominent series since the Senators were in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, with the Canadiens fighting for the Eastern Conference championship. Cole called last night’s Game #1. I didn’t here it. I’m sure his voice sounded well, I’m sure he was able to play up the surprise of just how badly the Flyers jumped on Jaroslav Halak and Les Habitantes, and I’m sure he made a ton of mistakes and had trouble following the play.
See, these are things that one takes when listening to a Cole broadcast. You have to wonder, if Montreal makes it to the Stanley Cup Final, if Cole would be awarded that series as one last hurrah. He’s continually, beyond my surprise, been given the chance to call Hockey Night’s best chance at a Canadian Cup Winner for the first time since 1993 each round. I would’ve thought that now-main play-by-player Jim Hughson would be in Wachovia Center for this series, but he and Craig Simpson have been shunted off to clean-up Games 4-7 of the Chicago-San Jose series. This must be extremely frustrating for those two, as often times they are the games best announcing duo.
So here. Let’s lay out a few reasons Cole deserves to be here, and a few why he should probably be taking a breather and head out to Chicago for Game 4 of the Hawks series.
- Dude is a Legend, Let Him Finish When He’s Ready. It’s long been rumored by those who claim to be in the know that Cole was none too thrilled when CBC started transitioning him towards putting the Hockey Hall of Famer out to pasture starting last season. Though I can’t imagine being able to avoid most of the last two seasons of Leaf games can be considered much of a punishment. That said, maybe there’s something to be said for letting the old dog decide when he hasn’t any fight left. I can’t imagine VERSUS/NBC doing the same to Mike Emrick, same as I can’t imagine the Los Angeles Dodgers ever doing it to Vin Scully. In some cases in the business of broadcasting, there’s something to be said for respect.
- He’s Gotten A Lot Better Since He’s Stopped Working Every Week. It’s absolutely true. The calls have seemed to mean a lot more, especially this season. It’s as if he’s saying “I’ll show them!” to anyone who doubts he still has his mojo. His call of Game #7 of the Montreal-Pittsburgh series was next-to-immaculate, with the stunned tones of a man who’d seen everything over decades in the game, yet couldn’t quite wrap his brain around a team that barely made the post-season ousting the defending champs.
- That Voice Is Playoff Hockey. Whether you like the calls or not, whether you think he’s a homer or not, you have to admit: the man has the voice for hockey the way the aforementioned Scully and Ernie Harwell had the voice for baseball, the way Pat Summerall had the voice for football, and the way Joe Buck has the voice for being a self-satisfied dick in a box. Much like Summerall’s baritone, but tuned just fast enough that it can pace itself for hockey. Not to say that Cole overcalls it. His voice just fits the pace of the game. It’s very difficult to explain, but it almost at times – during his best moments – feels like the game is following him rather than him following the game.
- Improvement is One Thing, But He’s Still Lost a Step. More like a pronounced jog than a step. A step would be saying it nicely. The sad fact is that Cole sounds like a confused spectator many times. He’s missed game winning goals (as was pointed out in Round 1) and many other calls. Summerall didn’t know when to call it quits after his “transition” into retirement either, and his work is nowhere near as good as it was, even at the end of his Super Bowl era. Cole has become similar. Sometimes, you wonder why he just can’t accept this and fade away, staying around for maybe a few special games a year, a la Dick Irvin.
- Jim Hughson Really Should Be Calling These Games. Hughson is the best play-by-play man in the sport, currently. He is hockey’s version of Jon Miller, without the smugness or the idiotic, arcane partner. Hughson’s voice is golden, and could become the new sound of Stanley Cup Spring… if only CBC weren’t burying him on the later games of what is clearly the secondary series in Canada. If anything, Hughson/Simpson should’ve been scheduled to work Games 1-3 of Montreal-Philadelphia, and then shipped west, allowing them to see all four potential finalists, and allowing Cole to get a couple more games in, especially in Montreal.
- Hockey Night Really Does Need to Decide Whether or Not It’s Moving On From Him. In a way, they are sort of doing to Hughson/Simpson what NBC did to Conan O’Brien (and I promise this will be the last time you ever hear this analogy on Puck the Media, I swear). They’re desperately trying to have their cake and eat it too, giving Hughson some of the most desired Hockey Night broadcasts, but apparently, not quite all the ones that count. Yes, the Hawks-Canucks series was great, but the fact is, when you’ve got hockey’s most storied franchise facing the game’s biggest superstar, your network’s #1 voice needs to be there. VERSUS/NBC made certain of it in the states, and the fact is that CBC didn’t do the same.
In the end, its probably best put to the fans who should be calling the series. Cole creates wild amounts of controversy, while Hughson is generally accepted as a silky smooth, great announcer. CBC likely decided they wanted the legend who creates buzz rather than the still-in-his-prime veteran who does it better than anyone. It’s a sad choice, but can you blame CBC for making it?