Rogers shoots,

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - BRAD OSWALD

THIS is not your fa­ther’s Hockey Night in Canada. When the puck drops on the first of many, many Satur­days that are cov­ered by Rogers Me­dia’s 12-year, $5.2-bil­lion deal for the na­tional-broad­cast rights for NHL games in Canada, fans of tele­vised hockey will find a very dif­fer­ent kind of Hockey Night in Canada on their flat-screen TVs. Yes, the ven­er­a­ble Satur­day night in­sti­tu­tion will still oc­cupy its usual dou­ble­header place on CBC — the pub­lic broad­caster will still carry HNIC for at least four more years, but it no longer has any fi­nan­cial stake or reaps any fi­nan­cial re­wards from the show — but the real home of Hockey Night in 2014-15 and beyond will be Roger­sowned Ci­tytv and its var­i­ous Sport­snet spe­cialty chan­nels. On the open­ing Satur­day of the new NHL sea­son, CBC will carry a dou­ble­header in­volv­ing Pitts­burgh at Toronto fol­lowed by Ed­mon­ton at Van­cou­ver; Ci­tytv’s first-ever Satur­day-night HNIC ef­fort will fea­ture Mon­treal at Philadel­phia, and Sport­snet 360 will air Cal­gary at St. Louis fol­lowed by the Win­nipeg Jets’ visit to San Jose. Over on TSN, which un­til this sea­son touted it­self as the home of hockey in Canada, view­ers will find — spread over five chan­nels that, on this Satur­day, are de­void of NHL ac­tion — a mix of Ma­jor League Soc­cer and NASCAR fol­lowed by a late CFL game fea­tur­ing the Ot­tawa RedBlacks and B.C. Lions. The Satur­day shakeup is sig­nif­i­cant, but even more note­wor­thy is the fact that Rogers, in an ef­fort to so­lid­ify its im­age as hockey’s new north-of-the-bor­der home, will ex­pand the ap­point­ment-TV def­i­ni­tion of “hockey night” to in­clude Sun­days and Wed­nes­days, as well. This Sun­day marks the launch of Ci­tytv’s new Rogers Home­town Hockey broad­cast, fea­tur­ing a weekly pre-game show that finds long­time HNIC host Ron Ma­cLean in a dif­fer­ent Cana­dian town each week (think CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada, but on a weekly ba­sis). The first fea­tured home­town is London, Ont.; the ex­tended Home­town Hockey road­show will make three stops in Man­i­toba this sea­son: Selkirk (Oct. 19), Bran­don (Nov. 30) and Thomp­son (March 8). Ma­cLean will also still be part­nered with Don Cherry for Coach’s Cor­ner seg­ments on Satur­day nights, but he will no longer be the most prom­i­nent face in the HNIC roster. That role falls to George Stroum­boulopou­los, who left CBC and the late-night talk realm ear­lier this year to be­come Rogers’ go-to guy for all things hockey.

He will act as pri­mary host of Rogers’ hockey cov­er­age, work­ing from a mas­sive new $4.5-mil­lion, 11,000-square-foot stu­dio in Toronto (lo­cated, iron­i­cally, in CBC’s Front Street head­quar­ters) that fea­tures a bit of tech­nol­ogy nick­named Go­liath — which at 3.5 me­tres high and 11.5 me­tres long is the largest high-def­i­ni­tion mon­i­tor in use on Cana­dian TV. Rogers will also seek to re-es­tab­lish Wed­nes­day as a hockey night, harken­ing back to the early ’60s, when CTV briefly launched a coast-to-coast Wed­nes­day-night hockey tele­cast to com­pete with HNIC. Sport­snet will carry na­tional NHL broad­casts on Wed­nes­day nights, of­ten in dou­ble­header fash­ion. Sport­net will also con­tinue its hockey cov­er­age — mostly with re­gion-spe­cific ac­cess — on other nights. A to­tal of 554 games will be car­ried across Rogers’ clus­ter of nine chan­nels in 2014-15. Of course, TSN has not been shut com­pletely out of the good ol’ hockey game — thanks to a trio of long-term re­gional-rights deals that pre­dated Rogers’ takeover of the NHL pack­age. TSN will con­tinue to carry lo­cal-mar­ket broad­casts in Win­nipeg (60 games), Ot­tawa (54 games) and Toronto (26 games). The re­lo­ca­tion of hockey has also meant a reshuf­fling of an­nounc­ers and an­a­lysts across sev­eral Cana­dian net­works. Rogers’ core group of playby-play an­nounc­ers will in­clude Bob Cole — who, at 81, must be near­ing the end of his ca­reer — Jim Hugh­son, Dave Ran­dorf and Paul Ro­manuk. Craig Simp­son and Glenn Healy will han­dle the majority of colour/anal­y­sis du­ties, and HNIC holdovers Scott Oake and El­liotte Friedman will con­tinue as ice-level in­ter­view­ers. Also worth not­ing is Rogers’ ad­di­tion of Man­i­toba prod­uct Leah Hex­tall, who has re­turned to Canada after spend­ing sev­eral years at Bos­ton-based NESN. Whether Rogers will turn a profit on its huge TV-rights in­vest­ment prob­a­bly won’t be known for at least half a decade. A big chunk of its $5.2-bil­lion bet is surely based on the belief that the multi-plat­form por­tion (fo­cused on on­line, wire­less and hand­held de­vices) of the rights deal will be­come more lu­cra­tive to­ward the end of the 12-year con­tract. For NHL fans with a par­tic­u­lar af­fec­tion for the Win­nipeg Jets, what this all adds up to is a great win­ter for watch­ing the home team on TV. All 82 of the Jets’ reg­u­lar-sea­son games will be car­ried on TV in one form or another — 60 on TSN3 (free ac­cess as TSN scram­bles to fill its ex­panded five-chan­nel slate while at the same time try­ing to keep its brand as­so­ci­ated with hockey in view­ers’ minds in as many ways pos­si­ble), 12 on HNIC, seven on Sport­snet chan­nels and three on Ci­tytv. Hockey on Satur­day. Hockey on Sun­day. Hockey on Wed­nes­day. Hockey on more than a dozen dif­fer­ent chan­nels, pretty much ev­ery night of the week. As the new era be­gins, ev­ery night is hockey night. No, it isn’t your fa­ther’s Hockey Night, but Foster Hewitt, Ward Cor­nell and Danny Gal­li­van would prob­a­bly ap­prove.


Ron Ma­cLean, left, and Don Cherry, right, are still on Coach’s Cor­ner, but make no mis­take, the ap­pear­ance of George Stroum­boulopou­los is a sym­bol for the new-look Hockey Night in Canada.

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