Beloved sportscaster Bob Cole remembered for grit, talent and the 'gleam in his eye'

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The classic "Hockey Night in Canada" theme song resounded through a St. John's, N.L., church Friday where friends, family and colleagues gathered to remember Bob Cole, the legendary sportscaster who brought some of the sport's most important games to living rooms across the country.

Ron MacLean and former NHL goalie Glenn Healy, who both worked alongside Cole on "Hockey Night in Canada," were among the mourners assembled in St. Thomas' Anglican Church to pay tribute to Cole.

"We all remember the voice, but I remember the gleam in his eye," MacLean told reporters outside the navy-blue clapboard church in downtown St. John's. "There's no one that doesn't recognize that look that he had, which was half mischief and half master of a craft."

During his eulogy, MacLean said there was no better word to describe Cole than "grit." Cole died April 24 at the age of 90.

"A good friend is somebody who will always tell you things you don't want to hear, and Bob would always do that," MacLean told the mourners assembled in the church. "They will embolden you to become the person you were born to be, and he definitely did that for me. Even to the last Saturday, four days before Bob passed, he says, 'You're doing a great job.'"

Cole's broadcasting career spanned more than 50 years, but he was best known for his play-by-play commentary on "Hockey Night in Canada." With his signature wit, passion and "Oh baby!" exclamations, Cole was a giant in Canadian broadcasting and one of the most admired voices in hockey.

He called the 1972 Summit Series on radio. On TV, there was the 1976 game in Philadelphia when the Soviet Red Army players left the ice in protest of the Flyers take-no-prisoners tactics. "They're going home," said an incredulous Cole.

He was there for the 2002 Olympic final in Salt Lake City when Canada ended its 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought with a win over the United States in the final.

"Joe Sakic scores and that makes it 5-2 Canada. Surely that's got to be it?" said Cole. He narrated many Stanley Cup finals, including the Edmonton Oilers' first cup win with Wayne Gretzky at the helm.

Cole was a dedicated Newfoundlander, refusing every time his bosses asked to move away to be closer to his work, his daughter Megan Cole has said.

Outside the church on Friday, Healy said Cole was an authentic, beautiful man with a great spirit. He said Cole was "simply the best" at his job.

"He truly cared about the game, about the players, and he cared about the poetry that was on the ice," Healy told reporters.

Greg Millen, also a former NHL goalie who is now part of the Hockey Night in Canada team, said it was an honour to work with Cole, who wasn't shy to offer advice.

"I'd get a lecture every day on the way to the rink: 'Now, Greg, stay out of the way, it's all about the fans, it's not about us,'" Millen recalled outside the church. "He loved the fans, he loved the game, and he loved the players in the game. He taught us so much."

Cole died in his beloved home city of St. John's, surrounded by his family.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2024.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press