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.