The End of an Era in Televised Hockey

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When the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night, an era ended in Canada. The CBC drew the curtain on its last in-house production of a Hockey Night in Canada telecast. The program lasted for 62 years, from November 1, 1962 to June 14, 2014.

Why do all the American hockey fans I know love Hockey Night in Canada, despite the fact that most of us rarely get to see it as it is intended to be presented?

Maybe it's because we would love The NHL on NBC to be what Hockey Night in Canada has been, at least three extravagant hockey productions a week (essentially a double header, but the early game split into two broadcasts; one for the Francophones {Canadians}, one for the Anglophones {Toronto}, and the late game from either Calgary, Edmonton, or Vancouver), hockey on Saturday night rather than Sunday afternoon, hockey tradition oozing all over the place. We imagine Hockey Night in Canada to be like Monday Night Football in its heyday on ABC, and it has looked like that in some ways.

The CBC is not as commercial as our national TV networks because it's also funded directly by the Canadian federal government, but hockey fans from America wouldn't realize the implications because we only watch the hockey they produce. I spent a couple of evenings watching the CBC when I was in Victoria working with the Government of British Columbia, and I realized it's not really a commercial network like we have in the U.S.. You could say it's like PBS, but PBS airs more non-commercial programming. My Canadian friends are laughing at me now, but this is one thing that I'm convinced most Americans never understood or cared about.

So what made Hockey Night in Canada so loved? It wasn't just Coach's Corner with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean. It was things like airing sponsored activities like Kraft Hockeyville where one town in Canada is selected per year as the epitome of hockey culture. It was the constant reminders, which seem to have become less frequent in recent years, to "the kids watching at home" of the right way to make a play in a given situation. It was probably the fact that Canadians my age watched games on Saturday night with their entire families the way we watched Emergency and Adam-12 on Saturday nights in the 1970s, and everything they see is filtered through those memories.

Most of all, it's probably that the program always remembered the roots of hockey in Canada, without it seeming like obsequious name-dropping of cities and teams-- a la Pierre McGuire.

If you haven't seen it, watch the Hockey Night in Canada Closing Montage. This five minute video montage of Stanley Cup Playoff Highlights set to music has been aired by the CBC for years at the conclusion of the broadcast of the final game. But this one is particularly significant, with control of the program passing to Rogers next season.

This year, the producers chose the Queen song "The Show Must Go On" to play behind the highlights, which is a good choice considering it's both sadly nostalgic and somewhat hopeful at the same time.

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Photo: CBC