Guest Chair: Looking at CBC’s Coverage

Editor’s Note: Hey folks.  I know you’ve been reading a lot of opinion/analysis about the American networks, so I felt it was only fair the Canadians to get equal time with a review of the CBC’s coverage.  For that, we turn to real live Canadian Jared Clinton of the blog Cycle Down Low.  Please go and read his blog as intently as you do this article.

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs go from a field of sixteen to a mere two, the homegrown networks that Canadians are able to view the final battle for Lord Stanley’s mug dwindles down to just one: CBC. The Canadian media juggernaut takes over coverage for the Flyers and Blackhawks battling it out for the sports greatest prize, just as has happened since the beginning of time, or so it feels like. With the first two games already behind us with the Blackhawks jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, we can take a look at if the network we’ve all grown accustomed to has been played out or if there is still tread on the CBC’s Stanley Cup Finals broadcasting tires.

There are a great number of factors that go in to each specific networks broadcast coverage, and for most there really is a toss up between which of the Canadian networks does it best. With TSN, we are given an entirely different roster of analysts from backgrounds completely different of those on the CBC crew. The make-up of the CBC brings forth two goalies, a self-proclaimed fifth liner, a referee and some old guy who has a few screws loose and claims to own a crystal ball that helps him see into the future. But when you throw together a cast of characters like that, who would you be to say that it might not just be crazy enough to work?

The tandem of Ron Maclean and Don Cherry continue to open up each Finals broadcast with their back and forth about the keys to the game and Grapes’ ability to channel his inner Bill O’Reilly, using the “loud = right” equation to voice his opinion on what will be a factor and how the game will shake out. Don’t get me wrong; the man is a Canadian icon, but it is starting to become an issue when he is stumbling over his own words every other sentence. Undeniably, however, he does add flavour and character to the broadcast which surely has yet to truly hurt the product.

When Maclean and Cherry’s banter is complete, the camera has been thrown over to Elliot Friedman or Scott Oake where the two have given the broadcast arguably it’s best piece that isn’t the in-game action with Inside Hockey. The two broadcasters who have been with the network for several years take a look inside the dressing room, going behind the scenes and giving the viewers a look at the players underneath the jersey. Before game one, viewers were treated to a piece on Dustin Byfuglien that featured the Blackhawks big forward along with his mother and two grandparents and took a look at what he had to overcome in order to make his way to the NHL. The piece was a bit moving, as you see that for a guy who has such a love/hate following really did come from a pretty bare bones upbringing to make it to the show.

A really refreshing thing about the piece that some Canadians watching the Finals this year may not realize or take into account is that it went to show just how even the pre-game coverage has been with two American teams facing off for the Cup. With a Canadian team lacking in this year’s final two, and with the absence of Canadian hockey poster boy Sidney Crosby, there has been a great focus on the players on both sides of the ice rather than what can, quite frankly, be a very Canadian biased broadcast. Through two games we have already been given the ability to get to know players from both teams seemingly without prominent focus on either the ‘Hawks nor the Flyers. A lot of the praise for this falls on the team that calls the game.

For those of you who are NHL video game fans, you may recognize the voice of the CBC play-by-play team as none other than Jim Hughson, the former voice of the EA NHL series. A very distinguishable voice and a great ability to keep up with the action while showing a flare for injecting emotion, Hughson’s calls have been a delight this post season and continue to be for the Finals. The former Canucks play-by-play man has moved over to the big network and taken the number one job from that of, and I shudder when I say this, the legendary Bob Cole. (No offense to Cole, but I think we all prefer to know what’s going on in the moment instead of having to hear about the happenings of five minutes ago which he has yet to spew. Okay, maybe some offense.)

Hughson has shown that he can take a moment in these Finals and capitalize on the ability to burn his voice into your brain, most specifically with his near patented “Great Save!” call that can be heard in nearly every single game. If it doesn’t send chills down your spine when it is that big moment, you may not have a pulse. His call of each goal follows the same basic formula, but it’s tried and true, and he has been reason alone to stick with CBC this post-season when Canadians have the option of flipping south of the border and watching the NBC feed.

In the booth with Hughson is another recognizable voice, that of Craig Simpson. Simpson has taken over the chair that was vacated by Harry Neale, and the colour commentary has not skipped a beat — in fact most would say it has actually improved. Simpson’s insight of a former player is actually refreshing in that he doesn’t preach, but rather attempt to point out things that aren’t caught in a manner that evokes a better sense of understanding in the viewer. He doesn’t scream (ahem, Pierre), he just makes an effort to point out what may have been missed by a viewer stuck watching what those in the broadcasting trailer choose to show.

However, as Poison once said, every rose has it’s thorns. It actually may be even more fitting that Poison was the artist of that 80s hair metal jam, because that’s exactly what ex-goaltender (read: funnel) Glenn Healy is to the team of Hughson and Simpson. Healy’s often abrasive manner in expressing what he finds relevant is much too much in the way of frustrating for a hockey fan, as he chimes in only when he has something negative to say and does so with a hint of arrogance in his voice. It has been a tough enough task to deal with him every Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada, but for a seven game series, the prospect of Healy not being muffled at all is horrifying, to say the least. Through two games, I am sure many of us have already had our fill of him. Healy is, for sake of comparison, the Pierre McGuire of Canadian hockey broadcasts. Keep in mind that McGuire is often featured alongside TSNs crew. Now I’ll wait as the American viewers count their lucky stars.

Done? Perfect. Moving on.

Between periods the action has been broken up with a few segments which have become staples of the network’s hockey telecast. Every game night, we know it’s coming, and it often doesn’t disappoint whether you’re a fan or not. Yes, I’m talking about Coaches Corner. Don Cherry makes another appearance in our living rooms and sports bars next to his best pal Ron Maclean, dropping on us his knowledge with ever increasingly senile ideas. Cherry, always adorned in an eye-popping and head-shake-worthy suit, will break down the first stanzas action and gives us several “Cherry-isms.” Credit must be given where it is due, however, as Donald S. has been giving praise to those warriors who often aren’t seen in the headlines of post game wraps. Whether you loathe him or love him, Cherry does spice it up in between periods and is often worth at least a chuckle, be it with or at him. That’s something we can all enjoy… at least for another few years before he goes even further the way of the Fonz and jumps the shark.

If you’re not a fan of Cherry’s at all, you should at least applaud CBC for it’s ability to give the viewer a different opinion through the first two games through the “iDesk.” The iDesk features stories from around the league often supplemented by online content via Twitter or one of many hockey-centric blogs from around the web. Jeff Marek and Scott Morrison run the segment and, though it is really in it’s infancy, it has been an excellent idea and something that brings uniqueness to the broadcast. It is a true feature that they can call their own, as the Maclean/Cherry formula has seen attempts at replication several times. Even if you choose to watch the games on NBC, the intermission coverage given by the iDesk is worth five minutes of your time during both extended breaks, as it makes appearances flanking the aforementioned Coaches Corner in the first and After 40 Minutes in the second.

After 40 Minutes, a long running segment for the telecast, usually features the face of CBC hockey, Maclean, once again. In game two, the viewers were treated to an interview with Blackhawks legend and Hall of Famer Stan Mikita. Many things could be said about Maclean, but his ability to interview the stars of the game, both past and present, should never be denied as he has a certain professional flare that really makes the interview his own. With Mikita, Maclean did more of the same and the legend voiced his feelings and opinions on all things about the Blackhawks and the Finals. His interview with Mikita was excellent, even if Mikita was giving his best hockey answers, and further interviews during these next several games are something to look forward to.

As each night’s action comes to a close, we get a short post game report from outside both dressing rooms with a player interview from each team. Oake and Friedman drop in again to guide us through the interviews and, as the evening closes out, we are treated to a bit of post game. The coverage of the press conferences has been lacking, as the network often chooses to cut to the National (Canada wide news coverage), something that I am certain all of us diehard hockey fans would love to be able to catch a bit of.

It is tough to complain about a lack of post game as anyone with an internet connection and a real want to get that information can easily go online and watch it, but it is without a doubt something that could easily be added to complete the package and wrap up the night nicely. I am sure it would be met with high praise, too, as some of the best quotes and interviews come after a game when the players are either elated or feeling the pressure of a tough loss in the biggest series of their respective seasons.

All in all, games one and two have been what Canadians have come to expect of CBCs coverage. Ron and Don and the rest of the crew dropping in to our households to give us our fix. As time goes on, you have got to think this act is getting tired, though. Throughout the other rounds, it was refreshing to have the option of watching the games on TSN and get the TSN Panel with Duthie, Dreger, Mackenzie et al. CBC has been doing well enough, but the idea of alternating broadcast networks for the Finals is an idea that should really be thrown around, as it is almost becoming old hat on the country’s largest network.

You can’t blame the network for anything they have done and really, their coverage has been well done as one would come to expect from the Canadian media giant, but when we are only given the chance to see what they can put out there without TSN being given the chance to shine, it seems a bit tainted. The remainder of the series has been well done, but you can’t help but feel they could be done better if there was some competition. Competition brings out the best in everyone, maybe it’s time CBC had some.

Jared Clinton is the editor of Cycle Down Low.


7 Responses to Guest Chair: Looking at CBC’s Coverage

  1. NWM says:

    Hockey Night In Canada is the gold standard of hockey broadcasts. Even with their ‘thorns’ (and I would include Friedman and Hrudey as smaller thorns) HNIC is by far the best way to watch the NHL.

    The team of Hughson and Simpson add so much to the game. Hughson’s voice is gold, and Simpson’s hockey vision is second to none. He see’s things that most people miss, and can tell you exactly what happened without need for a replay.

    I could go on about how good the rest of the cast is on HNIC, but I think it has been well covered in this article.

    TSN is also not without talent (Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert), but their ‘thorns’ (basically everyone but Miller and Cutbert) make watching hockey too painful. If it wasn’t for the random rotating cast on the TSN Panel I wouldn’t know that the segment was a new one, as they seem to rely on cliches that could describe any game, and offer no current content. At best TSN coverage of a game is an extended highlight show.

    • Josh says:

      NWM :Even with their ‘thorns’ (and I would include Friedman and Hrudey as smaller thorns) HNIC is by far the best way to watch the NHL.

      I guess it’s all perspective, eh? I think Friedman and Hrudey are up there with the best aspects of HNIC.

  2. Josh says:

    Well, this article is nothing if not thorough! (Minor quibble: Canadians can actually watch the finals on as many as three channels – CBC, NBC and RDS.)

    I hugely disagree with one thing you mention right off the top: that the analysts at TSN are somehow that different from those at CBC. How? How is, say, Glenn Healy different in any major way from Ray Ferraro? They are both Canadians who played hockey from the mid-80s until the early-2000s. They were even teammates on two separate occasions! How are they so different?

    “You can’t blame the network for anything they have done and really, their coverage has been well done as one would come to expect from the Canadian media giant, but when we are only given the chance to see what they can put out there without TSN being given the chance to shine, it seems a bit tainted. The remainder of the series has been well done, but you can’t help but feel they could be done better if there was some competition. Competition brings out the best in everyone, maybe it’s time CBC had some.”

    Really? You think the NHL should give the Finals to *two* networks broadcasting in the same language, to the same country? That would be kind of unprecedented. I think there were one or two really early Super Bowls that were aired on more than one American network, but in the modern era, this just doesn’t happen. What’s the point of paying rights fees for a big event if you don’t get e-x-c-l-u-s-i-v-i-t-y> And it’s not going to happen, either. CBC is available to pretty much every last Canadian with a television. You can camping in the woods outside of a remote northern town, and if you have a little 4-incher with batteries, you can pick up the CBC. For that reason, as long as CBC wants to keep airing the finals, the NHL is going to be happy to let them do so.

  3. I think my point in regards to the two networks was misinterpreted.

    What I meant was that I would like to see it switch every year — or few years — so that TSN could show us what they could bring to the table. ESPN is the network that the NHL truly wants to bite on their product, make no mistake about that, so I find it hard to think that their sister/brother/third-cousin twice removed up in Canada wouldn’t expect a fair shot. I don’t think the NHL has to make either exclusive, but TSN is the nation’s sports powerhouse, it could really be 12 hours of the day on TSN as opposed to the four or five given on CBC.

    When it comes to the availability, that was an excellent point, Josh. I do agree that CBC has a huge advantage in that it can be picked up from anywhere by anyone from coast to coast, but with that said, 90% of the viewership isn’t from the bushes and the term “basic cable” is almost a thing of the past.

    I could see the switch being made, but it wouldn’t come for a few years. Hell, who ever thought that song would ever leave CBC. I see it as a great opportunity for both networks and the NHL to really get the BEST coverage possible and give us an even better product.

    • Josh says:

      I understand where you’re coming from, Jared, but I still think the finals should remain on CBC, as a matter of principle. ESPN, for all its might, still hasn’t been able to crack the championships of any of the other three big, pro sports in the US. The NBA Finals, the World Series and the Super Bowl are all to this day carried on over-the-air, traditional TV networks in the US.

      My feeling is that the SCF are basically to Canada what those three are to the US, and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t remain on a tradition, OTA broadcaster in Canada. And I think a lot of people would agree: if you look at the ratings of the Grey Cup for the last year the game was on CBC, and then the first year it was on TSN (and those were both under the old ratings system, before PPMs), they took a very significant dive once the game switched to cable.

      Most hockey fans probably wouldn’t notice *much* if the SCF went to TSN, but there are a lot of grannies and very casual fans out there who watch the games simply because they’re on CBC. Those people wouldn’t follow the finals to TSN.

      (I still think it’s criminal that the Habs/NHL ditched Radio-Canada in favour of RDS though. I think as a matter of principle, something like the Stanley Cup Final should be available to all Canadians, no matter their income, no matter whether they have cable.)

  4. Gumper says:

    This article proves how self centered and arrogant NBC is. I didn’t realize till now that NBC can be seen in Canada. Yet, here in the US we don’t have the option of seeing CBC. This goes to show you how much of a bully NBC is to dictate what coverage I can see. Shameful.

    • Josh says:

      It’s not NBC that makes the decision on that, Gumper, it’s individual cable and satellite companies. Cable companies along the border (Seattle, Detroit, Buffalo, Vermont, etc.) routinely offer CBC to their customers because those are places where CBC comes in over the air from places like Vancouver, Windsor, Toronto and Montreal.

      If you want CBC on your cable/satellite package, I suggest you write to Comcast, DirecTV or whoever. (Although it’s not likely to make them change their ways.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: