• While the Rest of Us Watch

    by  • June 5, 2012 • Features, Hockey, Mike Spry • 12 Comments

    The Downward Spiral of Hockey Night in Canada

    FALLING IN LOVE IS EASY. We’re conditioned for it. It can happen in an instant, a natural sensation born of basic human need and desire. Sometimes it lasts a few seconds, like when your eyes meet another’s on a morning subway commute or when a song reminds you of a moment long thought passed. Sometimes it lasts a bit longer, it penetrates the being, it becomes like oxygen, or blood, or whiskey. A need. A constant. Sometimes, it seemingly lasts forever. It is unsettling, and yet it is everything. It wakes you in a cold sweat. It asks how your day was. It promises to take you to Nicaragua. It complains about its mother. It tells you it’s all going to work out. It lies.

    But as easy as it is to fall in love, falling out of love is apocalyptic. It writes songs. It bears poetry. It drinks. Heavily. And within this context, within this slow spiraling death of what once had nothing but life, is the curse of audience. Of being a spectator in the film version of your own life, watching, hopelessly, as something, someone you love disintegrates. Becomes something you loath. Becomes that which you once, together, swore you’d never be. And as spring lists gently towards summer, and another long season of hockey comes to an end, we’ve collectively been witness to the sad, slow, merciless downfall of CBC’s Hockey Night in CanadaHNIC. Baby. We could’ve had something special.

    The CBC has been complicit in the downfall of its flagship enterprise. It has allowed what was once an ingrained and important part of Canadian culture to become parody. It has been ruined by the egos of Ron MacLean and Don Cherry. Where once the Coach’s Corner segment was an entertaining and engaging (if somewhat sophomoric) ten minutes of intermission, it is now an endorsement for narcissism; a tired, uninformed, out of date lesson in poorly evolved sports television. As both MacLean and Cherry became more popular, their stars rising in a starless country, they failed to embrace or recognize the change in the game and era. They have become poster boys for the “shake it off” generation, and have watched and excused a deeply flawed hockey culture. They encourage and forgive violence, and help foster a culture that breeds the Graham Jameses, the Derek Boogaards, the Mike Dantons, the David Frosts, the Dany Heatleys. And they do it with a national platform, with the ears of children, with the attention of a nation that should change the channel.

    But Hockey Night’s downfall isn’t limited to the wayward ramblings of two out of touch and woefully ignorant CBC employees. The entire production has disintegrated. Jim Hughson’s play-by-play does not live up to the standards of his predecessors, and his tireless attempt to develop “fakes, takes” into a catch phrase is embarrassing. Craig Simpson compliments Hughson the way gin compliments three day old coffee. Glen Healey’s entire motivation seems to be defending the players to a fault (as a former player and union employee) and reminding viewers that he used to sit on the bench next to some Hall of Famers, of whom he still has their email addresses. I’m not sure who PJ Stock’s agent is, but he must have photos of CBC execs doing untoward things to livestock. Stock’s partner on the unwatchable pre-game disaster, Andy Petrillo, is a pandering hire, as if HNIC is saying “Hey, look, we hired a girl! We’re so 1985!” Mark Lee seemingly doesn’t understand hockey, or simply doesn’t care. Mike Milbury is so out of touch with the era he almost makes MacLean and Cherry look contemporary. Eric Francis is nice enough to drop in from Calgary once a week to recite one of his Sun columns. When one compares TSN’s coverage to CBC’s, it’s as if they’re broadcasting entirely different sports.

    What is perhaps most frustrating about the downfall of HNIC, is the manner in which they waste the talent they do have. I don’t care if Bob Cole can’t always remember the players names, or keep up with the action. It’s not radio. I can see for myself what’s going on. But his throat is golden, his voice iconic, and when he calls a game I feel like I’m home. Elliotte Friedman is one of the premiere journalists in the game, but he is often a wasted presence, and one gets the feeling the others resent his youth and talent. Cassie Campbell-Pascall is a rising star, and at some point she’ll leave for TSN or Sportsnet, where they’ll appreciate her. Dean Brown should have been elevated to a prominent national level years ago, and those in the Ottawa Valley are fortunate he wasn’t. Simply a great game caller. Scott Oake is one of the most natural and funny broadcasters in sport, but is wasted in his west coast relegation, as is Kevin Weekes. Unfortunately, cronyism and false loyalties keep these talents from more prominent roles on HNIC, and reduce the production to a shameful display, a shadow of what was once the pinnacle of sports television, not just in Canada, but in the world.

    When someone, or something, you love becomes something you hate, it’s often a slow, painful process. But eventually, something happens to put you over the edge. Your friend sleeps with your ex. Your favourite band asks Nickleback to produce their new album. A writer you love is revealed as a racist. Your Russian former employer tells your peers you stole money. For HNIC, the last act of humiliation, the final step in evolution from icon to parody, came last week when Hockey Night added a parallel alternative broadcast entitled While the Men Watch.  A description of the show, in their own words:

    “Borne out of frustration with their sports-addicted men, Co-Hosts Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso created While The Men Watch doing their own version of sports commentary that women actually want to hear.”

    Sutherland and Mancuso have been producing their own parallel programming for sometime, but being added by the CBC to its HNIC stable is both sad and frustrating. The two women natter on about stereotypical nonsense: Brazilian waxes, fellatio, players they’d like to date, coaches who need makeovers. It’s as if the CBC was looking to counterbalance their inherent misogyny with, well, more overt and offensive misogyny. It crosses the blue line into the offensive zone. The notion that only men watch hockey, while their doting partners wait for the game to end so that they can pleasure them and then buy shoes is the lowest form of an attempt at humour, and simply beneath the dignity of both the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada. One gets the sense that Campbell-Pascall must want to attack these women with her gold medal stick. That, I would tune in for.

    Interestingly, the notion of a parallel broadcast is an inspired one, and surprising that it came from the CBC. But, as with the rest of HNIC, the execution is deeply flawed. The alternative feed could have been fanboys watching the game enjoying a few Molsons (sponsorship opportunity anyone?), or a feed absent of play-by-play (I mean, when I’m at the ACC, I don’t need Hughson whispering game action in my ear), or commentary by people new to hockey, or celebrities, or comedians, or for the love of Danny Gallivan, anything other than these two clichés in skirts digging their four inch heels into the temple of HNIC and pushing its head beneath the waters and further towards its inevitable death.

    And that death is inevitable. After the 2012-13 NHL season, the HNIC contract with the league expires and they simply can’t compete with the multi-platform, contemporary broadcast capabilities of the likes of TSN and SportsNet. Its death will take MacLean and Cherry with it, a graceless exit from a game they once admirably championed. It will take Stock, and Petrillo, and Lee, and thank the good Lord, Sutherland and Mancuso with it. And the humble ghosts of Danny Gallivan and Percy Lesueur and Doug Smith and Elmer Ferguson and Foster Hewitt will gracefully retreat to the fabric of our nation’s memory. And we’ll move on, and the game will move on. But somewhere, in the depths of fleeting recollections, in that small place in memory we reserve for that which we once loved, that which we found to be life itself, will be a flaw unhealed, a distant wonder of what once was, borne of broken hearts, and the pain of watching a good love die.


    Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others. He is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. The short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2012 ReLit Award. He lives in Wakefield, Quebec. His most recent work is the poetry collection Bourbon & Eventide from Invisible Publishing.


    12 Responses to While the Rest of Us Watch

    1. Jason
      June 5, 2012 at 19:26

      I must disagree with you, I am pained every time I have to watch a game on TSN. They have the worst camera angles and seem to always insist on using that stupid behind the net camera or give a random shot of a player changing instead of following the puck.

      As for Don Cherry, yes he is getting old but he still speaks the truth about the game. Every new rule will be abused, players are intentionally putting themselves in harms way “to protect the puck” or going into the trolly tracks with their heads down. I miss the time when player could be called out for putting themselves at risk.

      As for the obscene comments that Don Cherry helps create a Rapist like Graham James or David Frost, that is beyond crazy and kill any creditability you had with this post.

      As for the professional players who got paid a lifetimes wages to play a childs game and then O.D. on pain medication, this is clearly the problem of no medical oversight by the league, having multiple doctors giving him copious amounts of pain pill without seeing if another team doctor had already given him some. The style of hockey fighting is much safer then boxing due to the arm on the opposing fighters shoulder limiting hay makers.

      As for hiring hitmen and or driving too fast and losing control of one car, how is this relevant to the CBC.

      That being said I don’t have cable and prefer watching CBC online or over the air then having to pirate TSN or ESPN America.

    2. Rob Dewar
      June 6, 2012 at 17:37

      I don’t get how Don Cherry enables child molesters and I would be VERY careful if I was you in making that statement. He has lawyers…very good ones. TRust me on that. That was just idiotic and you should know it.

      AGree with most of your other points though. I mute Coach’s Corner and can’t stand Don Maclean and his “Smithers to Mr. Burns” lickspittle routine. It’s embarrassing. Don has a core of knowledge that most people around the game have but he is resentful of any player/coach who has more ability than he had (they number in the hundreds..lol) He likes players who play the game like he did. Clawing away, trying to hold onto a spot for dear life..he’s never grown out of his inadequacies and probably never will since he’s pulling down 800 big ones (allegedly) to do his stuff.

      When they lose HNIC , they will do so with some tears shed but also with a few catcalls sent their way by everyone who is not a Leafs fan. Their TO bias is well documented and the hatchet job they do on teams “Not the Leafs” is also well documented. As a national broadcaster their role is to bring Canada to Canadians and not be a bully pulpit for every horrid move the Leafs pull off in their everlasting quest to be the worst run sports team in North America. (recently the losing team in “worst value for the money spent by patrons” in a poll…lol..)

      The days of CBC-TV being a national symbol are almost gone. They are just another commercial channel that gets passed over by Canadians for better fare on cable and American networks. I long for the day when my team has its own channel and I don’t have to deal with Craig Simpson telling me how they suck in 50 ways…and how the Leafs are “making changes that will pay off” etc. He and Millen seem destined to be in Toranna’s front office.

    3. June 6, 2012 at 18:15

      Nowhere in the piece does it suggest that MacLean or Cherry are “responsible” for anything. Rather they are complicit in their irresponsibility. As I wrote, the two “help foster a culture that breeds the Graham Jameses, the Derek Boogaards, the Mike Dantons, the David Frosts, the Dany Heatleys. And they do it with a national platform, with the ears of children, with the attention of a nation that should change the channel.” When Cherry questions the selfless motives of Stu Grimson and Jim Thompson, or uses “his day” as a baseline for the discourse, or employs prejudice or racism, he contributes to the anachronistic and deeply flawed culture that has fostered the aforementioned issues.

    4. Shaun
      June 6, 2012 at 19:33

      Mike, well written and thoughtful. I share your sentiments that HNIC is going out with a whimper.

      Jason, I’d love to hear if more people feel as you do. I agree with Mike that TSN is so far superior to the CBC you cannot even make a fair comparison. But that is not to say they do everything perfectly or could not learn some tricks from CBC. It’s not about the CBCs nuts and bolts (which is to say the people who make it happen) but about the directors and stars. That’s where the broadcast fails hard.

      • Jason
        June 6, 2012 at 21:36

        Shaun, I prefer the CBC from top to bottom, as I mentioned before TSN has horrible camera work, they let Pierre McGuire speak, and worst of all they have simulcast NBC’s broadcast on TSN and just had a different people speaking during the intermissions (you can tell by the NBC logo on the TSN feed). I noticed this mostly two years ago during the Chicago’s cup run in the first two series when TSN was broadcasting the Hawks games. NBC should be simulcasting our broadcast not the other way around.

        I have been playing hockey since I was 4, I don’t care about intermission shows, I care about the broadcasting of the game and CBC’s camera work and colour commentary; both of which are much better on CBC then TSN’s

        Mike, please just admit you were trying to be sensationalist and by even bringing up Graham James or any of the other 4 people. Nothing about Cherry’s Pro Canada, Pro Supporting our Troops, Pro Safety platform that Cherry represents is creating the culture your are claiming. These people are statistical outliers (thank god). Most Minor/Junior hockey coaches are not abusing their players, Most enforcers don’t OD or kill themselves but some players in every generation do just like some non-athletes do too, finally most times a rich 22 year old driving too fast doesn’t crash there car killing their friend.

        TL:DR cherry picking outliers of 3 players out of a 700-1500 player league, an agent out of god knows how many, and 1 perverted coach leads to irresponsible fox “news” style “reporting”

        • June 6, 2012 at 21:48

          I wasn’t being a sensationalist at all. Provocative? I hope so. Pro Canada? Too easy. Pro Safety? Yes, I give him full marks for his stance there. Supporting our troops? Yes, admirable. But when you have the platform Cherry has, and you waste it in the near-satire like fashion he does, it’s sad and irresponsible. But I’ve been vocal about this in the past as well: http://maisonneuve.org/blog/2011/10/7/why-cbc-needs-fire-don-cherry-and-ron-maclean/

          • Jason
            June 6, 2012 at 23:11

            Mike being sensational or provocative, pretty much means the exact same thing, saying something in order to cause an intense emotional response, with provocative normally designed to create anger or sex appeal while sensation is design to invoke intense curiosity. I think sensational makes you sound better.

            Now forgetting word choice, it seems the bulk of your issue with Cherry is belief that Canadians are better than any other country at hockey and that traditionally European players are not as good at playing a tougher style of hockey. In particular in the Playoffs North America’s tend to play better, makes sense considering the Stanley Cup is always played on North American ice and North American kids grew up dreaming of the trophy while European players have different championships and actually care about the so called world championship tournament that is played each Spring. As immigration policy has changed and Russians are coming over more often now, Europeans are more familiar with the Stanley Cup at a young age. It is now I hope the dream for 4 year olds in Russia as it is for Canadians. But no one can argue that Cherry prefers North Americans over Europeans.

            As for the issue about depression, Cherry’s comments are harsh, he is a straight shooter and sometimes he says something that he thinks is clear and other people misunderstand him. Cherry was trying to say that people will take the case of these troubled hockey players who needed help and never received it as a way of trying to eliminate fighting from hockey.There is little to evidence supporting that it is only fighters who abuse drugs/alcohol and commit suicide, being a professional athlete is a very difficult job and requires a lot of commitment and you are treated like property by the team owners.

            Cherry’s issue is former fighters speaking out against fighting, the job that allowed them to become famous, beloved, and make a lifetimes wages over short period of time instead of getting a normal 30-50k a year job. This is making it more difficult for similar style players to break into the league, become fan favorites and make a living.

            These fighters should be speaking out about the lack of support for retired players having to deal with not having hockey anymore , the over prescribing of pain killers by team doctors and the culture of acceptance about alcohol in excess. These teams are family, they can see who has a habit and needs help. These are very similar to issues facing the NFL at the moment especially after the Seau suicide.

            Instead we have the scape goat which is fighting and those who defend it.

    5. Roy Shroud
      June 7, 2012 at 10:08

      Spot on, HNIC has reduced itself to Tabloid journalism at its lowest level.

      Instead of having analysts who actually know the game HNIC has trended towards those who create controversy.

      Blame the editorial content on MacLean who has complete control editorially!

      Come quickly 2013-2014 and put MacLean, Cherry, Stock, Cole etal out to pasture where they belong!

      The only thing that possibly could save HNIC is government intervention in some sort of cultural sense.

    6. Wayne
      June 7, 2012 at 18:59

      “One gets the sense that Campbell-Pascall must want to attack these women with her gold medal stick.”

      I didn’t get that sense when she came out in FAVOUR of WTMW in an interview. Though admittedly not as positively as Andi Petrillo did in her tweet of support.

    7. Joe
      June 10, 2012 at 12:29

      Thanks Mike could not agree more. My friends and I have been saying these same things for the past 2 years. I also would love to see the game broadcast with no play by play. Also hate the fact that they never give updates or show hi-lites of the other games on Saturday nights during the regular season, you would swear that what ever game they are showing is the only one being played, more hi-lites less jack ass talking!

    8. A.J
      June 26, 2012 at 13:47

      “Craig Simpson compliments Hughson the way gin compliments three day old coffee.”

      You sir, are a great writer. This and the “Hockey’s Worst Year” article – both fantastic pieces.

      • June 26, 2012 at 21:38

        Thank you. You’re too kind.

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