Reworked Hockey Night In Canada almost a Cherry-free zone

Eh Game
The Ron and Don show ain't what it used to be. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Ron and Don show ain't what it used to be. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Rogers redrew the NHL broadcasting map, it promised that it would make changes to the venerable institution known as Hockey Night In Canada.

Well, in its first kick at the can Saturday night Rogers lived up to it promise -- most notably by shuffling its former stars to the sidelines. The guys CBC had made the face of Saturday night were barely noticeable, which is quite an accomplishment considering the suit and tie Don Cherry wore in his first appearance on Coach's Corner, Rogers Edition.

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He and sidekick/enabler Ron MacLean have gone from being the stars of the show to mere afterthoughts.

Whereas Cherry usually made at least two appearances prior to Coach's Corner in the past -- with MacLean routinely throwing in a few "well, as Grapes says," comments to boot -- new host George Stroumboulopoulos didn't invoke the G-word until 20 minutes into the pre-game show, and simply to say that he was up after the first period. In the past, while Cherry would also have made an appearance post-game in order to tell viewers what had really happened, he wasn't seen or heard from after the first intermission.

At least MacLean was referred to several times in reverential tones as Christine SImpson touted the debut of his new role on Sunday nights. 

While those who believe Cherry is the modern-day Socrates won't be happy with this turn of events, others will be happy to see his fist-first views no longer dominate proceedings. Under CBC, MacLean and Cherry had become bigger than the game itself. Under Rogers, they will be bit players -- a move that was long overdue.

Even Cherry's acolytes will admit that his first appearance on the Saturday night dais was nothing more than a warmed-over rant that has been part of his repetoire for, well, for as long as he's been doing this. His beloved Leafs, whom he honoured by wearing a team tie and cranking up a Leaf wind-up toy, are bad because they don't draft enough Canadians. 

For all we know, Cherry didn't even show up for this but simply sent in a tape from an old show. It was the same old, same old.

He did, however, set a new standard by referring to Leaf draft picks as "a Swinn and a Fede."The rest of the show, however, wes anything but old.

Hearing Strombo's voice must have been jarring to viewers accustomed to MacLean's delivery. It wasn't necessarily an improvement -- in fact, many hard-core types were already complaining about the new host's inferior knowledge of the game. Strombo's new at this, so it's going to take him years to get up to speed on the inner workings of the game, but he's not there to match MacLean's knowledge.

He's there to attract those who normally don't watch hockey. How that will work -- Hey, Martha, let's forget the symphony and see what Strombo's wearing tonight -- is still a mystery.

Strombo's debut featured both hits and misses. His strength is as an interviewer and in that regard he's miles ahead of MacLean. The old host didn't so much pose questions as he did express his own opinions and ask for either approval or disapproval.

As he has shown twice already, Strombo knows how to get the most out of his subjects. The Strombo interview should be a staple.

On other matters, he certainly looks pretty hip, at least for a hockey broadcast. That's something that befits the first HNIC employee outside of Cassie Campbell to sport an earring. He may also be the first male on the show to appear without a tie.

He has an attractive breezy style, but might be advised to avoid cringe-inducing occasions such as holding a hockey stick while standing on a fake rink with Nick Kypreos. The fact he was wearing what appeared to be yoga pants or tights didn't help.

There was a bit of fun with a fake pushing match between the two, though let's hope we don't see it again.

But Strombo wasn't all that was new. The pre-game show panel of Kypreos, Mark Messier, Elliotte Friedman and Damien Cox provided a round-table discussion of hockey issues, rumours and inside stuff. It wasn't necessarily any better than the old show, but for a first try it showed promise.

The sticks came out again in the second intermission, though this time held only by Kypreos and Messier. This was a major upgrade from the old version of HNIC, which was basically a gabfest. The two former NHLers did an excellent job of illustrating how the new faceoff rule will change the game while Friedman and Cox added news and rumours.

While they didn't provide much different from what the old show offered, there was a major improvement in tone. Because Cox and Friedman are journalists, there was none of those clubby references to players or executives by their first name or, worse, nicknames.

Viewers are going to need time to adjust to this new look and new approach, just as the guys on the set are going to have to adjust. 

And Don Cherry fans will have to make the biggest adjustment of all.

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