“I can’t not say what I think after what I’ve seen,” the veteran colour commentator said during a telephone interview.
Simple and honest, with a touch of humour. That’s Neale style.
With the puck set to drop this week on another NHL season, Canada’s television networks are ready to show every goal and check between the opening faceoff until the Stanley Cup is hoisted next spring.
Neale will give his insight and opinions on between 115 to 125 games working with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Leaf TV, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet.
For the former coach and general manager it’s sometimes a labour but there’s always a love for the sport.
“I always look forward to the game,” he said. “There are some games that aren’t as good as others.
“I can’t remember a night where I didn’t find lots of things I like in a hockey game.”
Favourite memories? Neale has many.
“When you’ve done it as long as I have it’s the next moment that’s the best one,” he said.
He remembers the night in New Jersey during the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs when Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld’s tirade towards referee Don Koharski triggered a walkout by the officials. Neale and play-by-play man Bob Cole were forced to keep talking until the game finally started.
“It was nothing but hot air,” Neale chuckled.
Then there was the 1987 playoff game that went into four overtime periods before Pat Lafontaine scored to give the New York Islanders a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals.
“I remember how hungry I was,” Neale said. “I was also getting to the age where I couldn’t go seven periods without going to the bathroom.
“The washroom in the old Washington rink was quite a hike and fairly crowded by the time I could get to it.”
Neale has seen the evolution of TV’s coverage of hockey. Now there’s more cameras with different angles, reporters in the penalty boxes, instant statistics.
“It’s certainly created fans,” he said. “There are many more people who have never seen an NHL game that are avid hockey fans than have seen an NHL game live.”
TSN kicks off its 69-game, regular-season coverage Wednesday with two games. Viewers will see the Ottawa Senators face the Toronto Maple Leafs followed by the Dallas Stars at the Colorado Avalanche.
During the season TSN will show 39 games in high definition and provide coverage of the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Hockey Night In Canada returns to CBC on Thursday with its own doubleheader.
Eastern viewers can watch a rematch of the Leafs and Senators in Ottawa while fans in the West will see the Vancouver Canucks play the Detroit Red Wings. The full network will then be shown the Calgary Flames in Edmonton against the Stanley Cup-finalist Oilers.
CBC has an 81-game schedule, 19 more than last year, with 30 games broadcast in high-definition. A second high-definition truck is expected to be ready for the playoffs. The network will show 28 all-Canadian matchups, seven afternoon games, six triple-headers, the all-star game and the playoffs.
“It’s one of the best and busiest schedules in years,” said Joel Darling, executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada.
Sportsnet’s breakdown of regional broadcasts includes 35 Senator games, 45 Canucks, 48 Oilers, 40 Flames and 15 Leafs.
Joining TSN’s broadcast team will be Darren Dreger and former Leaf Tie Domi, who recently retired after a 16-year career.
New additions to Hockey Night include analysts Drew Remenda and Scott Morrison. Cassie Campbell, the recently retired captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team, will work as a rink-side reporter for 14 games.
Regular features include Behind the Mask with former goalie Kelly Hrudey, the Satellite Hotstove and the interactive post-game show After Hours.
The always colourful Don Cherry will again appear on Coach’s Corner with Ron MacLean along as a buffer.
While Cherry sometimes sparks controversy, Neale said he does his job by putting people in front of televisions.
“You watch him to make sure you love him or hate him,” Neale said. “I don’t agree with everything he says.
“I do agree with a lot of things he says.”
After all these years, one moment each season still brings a lump to Neale’s throat.
“I still get a great charge out of watching the presentation of the Stanley Cup,” he said. “There’s a large amount of envy in my mind when I see the coach that has just won the Stanley Cup.
“I can’t think of a time when tears weren’t coming to my eyes when I saw a team win it, and also my feelings for the team that almost won it.”