The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Hockey rules the airwaves

·Chris Zelkovich

There's an old line in the Canadian sports broadcasting business that says when it comes to attracting big audiences hockey is first and everything else is tied for second. The second part of that may be an oversimplification, but there's no denying that nothing yanks the cranks of Canadian sports fans more than their favourite NHL teams.

An all-Canadian matchup between the country's top two teams, Vancouver and Toronto, drew 2.376 million viewers to CBC on Saturday night. That will likely put it among the top three most-watched shows in the country for the week.

A split broadcast of games involving mediocre Montreal and awful Edmonton drew 1.1 million. despite a 10 p.m. EDT start.

The drop after that was precipitous. Nothing else even came close to a million viewers. In fact, only three football games -- two CFL and one NFL -- broke the half-million mark. Granted, none of the CFL games meant anything and the NFL matchups were pretty much yawners, but it does highlight hockey's power in this country.

That's why the CBC will do everything it can to keep Hockey Night In Canada -- and surely will. Outside of the Grey Cup, Super Bowl and an Olympic gold medal final involving Team Canada, nothing in this country can touch the NHL.

Certainly not the World Series, which averaged 591,000 viewers on Rogers Sportsnet this year -- a 22 per cent drop from last year. And certainly not the Toronto Raptors, who drew only 215,000 to TSN on Saturday night and a paltry 71,000 to Sportsnet One on Friday.

Here are the most-watched national sports shows according to BBM Canada overnight ratings:

1. NHL, Leafs at Canucks, Saturday, CBC: 2,376,000

2. NHL, Habs-Avs/Wings-Oilers, Saturday, CBC: 1,103,000

3. CFL, Esks at Riders, Saturday, TSN: 613,000

4. NFL, 1 p.m. games, Sunday, CTV: 555,000

5. CFL, Lions at Stamps, Friday, TSN: 543,000

6. NFL, Steelers at Pats, Sunday, CityTV: 497,000

7. NHL, Hawks at Jets, Saturday, CBC: 493,000

8. CFL, Als at Argos, Friday, TSN: 487,000

9. NFL, Bengals at Dolphins, Thursday, Sportsnet: 448,300

10. CFL, Ticats at Bombers, Saturday, TSN: 437,000

11. NFL, Colts at Texans, Sunday, TSN: 408,000 (NBC audience not calculated)

12. Curling, Grand Slam men's final, Sunday, CBC: 402,000

13. Auto racing, NASCAR Texas 500, Sunday, TSN: 312,000

14. Curling, Grand Slam men's semi, Saturday, Sportsnet: 234,000

15. Soccer, Arsenal at Liverpool, Saturday, Sportsnet: 224,000

16. NBA, Raptors at Bucks, Saturday, TSN: 215,000

17. Curling, Grand Slam quarterfinal, Saturday, CBC: 214,000

18. Auto racing, Abu Dhabi GP, Sunday, TSN: 213,000

19. Curling, Grand Slam women's final, Sunday, Sportsnet: 213,000

THREE TO WATCH

Revenge of the Leafs?: The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs met the Boston Bruins in a game that mattered, the Leafs staged one of the biggest collapses in their history. Or maybe it was the Bruins who staged one of the biggest comebacks in theirs. Either way, this should be a great game -- even if you don't care which team Don Cherry openly roots for. Saturday, 7 p.m., CBC.

Guelph hits the big time: The road to the Grey Cup apparently goes through Guelph this year as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats bizarre season on the road continues. The Ticats host the Montreal Alouettes, who will be led by a quarterback to be named later, in one CFL semifinal (1 p.m., Sunday, TSN.) The more conventional West semifinal sees the B.C. Lions travel to Saskatchewan to take on the Roughriders (4:30 p.m., Sunday, TSN.)

The real battle of Ontario: The road to the Vanier Cup, on the other, goes through someplace it always seems to go through: Western University. The undefeated Mustangs host the Queen's Golden Gaels in the Ontario university football final. Saturday, 1 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario.