CBC fades to black as owner of Hockey Night In Canada

Chris Zelkovich
·Chris Zelkovich
CBC fades to black as owner of Hockey Night In Canada

The moving final montage for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada on Friday night -- at times both weird and wonderful -- was even more fitting than creator Tim Thompson had planned.

Near the end of the mash-up of the show's incredible 62 years as the king of hockey, there was a two-second blackout. While a subliminal message might have been intended, this one was surely pure happenstance.

Regardless, the CBC only wishes their blackout was that short. Theirs could last 12 years -- and maybe an eternity.

The fifth game of the Stanley Cup final marked one of the most incredible runs in all of sports, the last hurrah for a network whose hockey productions meant so much to so many for so long. Every hockey fan in this country grew up watching Saturday night games on CBC.

From its first telecast in 1952, CBC brought Canadians almost every moment in NHL history in a manner that paved the way for the industry.

Everybody -- everybody -- who televises hockey does it based on the Hockey Night In Canada model. It was, and still is, the blueprint for hockey coverage despite its foibles.

But its days on the top line are over now, the CBC shunted to the second line after Rogers cornered the hockey market in this country. This is not the end of hockey on CBC, but with Rogers now calling the shots and CBC a mere sub-contractor, there has been a major passing of the torch.

There will still be a Hockey Night In Canada and it will still be on CBC. In fact, considering how many more viewers CBC can deliver compared with Sportsnet and City, it's likely to remain on CBC well past the dictates of the current four-year sub-licensing deal.

But starting next season it won't be CBC's HNIC. It will be Rogers' Hockey Night In Canada. And although the biggest games of the week, and the most important playoff games, will remain on CBC they won't be the same.

For one, Rogers will be in charge of production. That means calling all the shots, from who appears on camera to how the intermissions are presented to graphics and right down to who keeps the stats.

Rogers isn't about to reinvent the wheel and it isn't about to fix what isn't broken. But after investing a breath-taking $5.2 billion on this hockey thing, you can be sure Rogers will want to make sure everybody knows this is their show.

There will be changes. Many will involve those who appear between periods and in pre-game shows. Some of these changes are already known: George Stromboulopoulos will be the host; Don Cherry and Ron MacLean will be back, but their roles will be reduced; Jim Hughson, Bob Cole, Paul Romanuk and Dave Randorf will call the games.

But many have yet to be decided, or at least announced. Expect to see Rogers people all over Hockey Night In Canada as part of the panels and doing the interviews -- and an endless stream of plugs for Rogers cellphones, home alarms and cable TV packages.

You can also expect to see some of the CBC crew, both on and off camera. It's hard to imagine Rogers not wanting the likes of Glenn Healy, Craig Simpson, Kelly Hrudey and Gary Galley. On the other hand, there are only so many jobs to go around so some of the aforementioned could be looking for work. (Can P.J. Stock really survive in this brave new world?)

The tone will change, too. Rogers has already said that it aims to promote the game's stars more than they've been featured in the past. Expect lots more features on Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Quick and fewer of those inside-hockey discussions on rule changes and rumours.

In many ways, that will be an improvement. Discussing important issues is something that Rogers must continue to do, but the CBC spent far too much discussing things that most fans either didn't care about or didn't understand. The frequent references to Coley, Shanny and Burkey only made the clubby feel of it all even stronger.

Focusing on the game's stars will improve the show as will reducing Cherry's domination.

But Rogers faces a big challenge: continuing the legacy of the show that made hockey in Canada. It won't be easy.