It didn’t take Scott Moore long to learn that any changes to Hockey Night in Canada are made at the network’s peril, but the executive director of CBC Sports believes the show needed to evolve.
This season Hockey Night in Canada will feature a new theme song and Jim Hughson taking over the role of lead announcer on the early games from veteran Bob Cole.
“Every brand needs to be a little refreshed,” Moore said in a telephone interview. “It needs to get a little younger, it needs to get a little more relevant every year.
“We made a lot of changes last year, probably more changes than in the last 10 years prior to that. This year we have made more.”
While CBC still control televisions on Saturday nights, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet will also offer plenty of hockey coverage this season. In the United States, games will be shown on NBC and on Versus.
The NHL Network will also broadcast a 40-game schedule.
Hughson will work with analyst Craig Simpson, the former Edmonton Oilers player and coach, in doing the play-by-play of the opening game of CBC’s Saturday night double-headers. Mark Lee and Marc Crawford, who was fired as head coach by the Los Angeles Kings at the end of last season, will work the second game.
Hughson said there is a huge responsibility in taking over a job once held by Canadian icons like Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin Jr.
“There are very few people who have done it,” he said. “The bar is set very high. I’m honoured to be part of that when I think about it.
“Most times I just go to work and it’s my regular job.”
Cole will continue to announce some games along with Greg Millen while Dean Brown will work with Garry Galley.
Overall, CBC will show 87 games this year, plus the playoffs.
Don Cherry will return to pontificate about the game on Coach’s Corner, with Ron MacLean riding shotgun. One of the changes for the second game this year will be Mike Milbury, the former New York Islanders general manager, joining Kelly Hrudey and MacLean during the first intermission for an expanded Coast to Coast.
One of the most anticipated changes this year will be Hockey Night in Canada’s new anthem, made necessary when CBC couldn’t reach an agreement to license the old song.
CBC has narrowed its choice for the new anthem down to five songs. Viewers can vote on their favourite with the winner being unveiled Oct. 11.
“It’s a fresh coat of paint that was made necessary for a number of reasons,” said Moore.
In another twist this year, CBCSports.ca will broadcast 55 games in Punjabi, including the 57th all-star game on Jan. 25.
Hockey fans dying to hear the old Hockey Night in Canada theme only have to switch channels. TSN and TSN2 will broadcast 115 games and will use a digitally re-mixed and re-mastered version of the popular song.
TSN will show 81 games while TSN2 will have 34. For the first time all the games will be available in high definition. Of those, 71 will feature at least one Canadian team.
The network will also show the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Joining the broadcast team this year will be John Tortorella, who coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004, and Ray Ferraro, a veteran of 18 seasons as a player.
Doing play-by-play for the network will be Chris Cuthbert and Gord Miller.
Sportsnet likes to brag its total of 206 regular-season games – with over half in high definition – is more than TSN and CBC combined. The network’s regional coverage includes 47 Edmonton Oilers games, 46 for the Calgary Flames, 45 for the Vancouver Canucks, 40 for the Ottawa Senators and 28 for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We have the best games because every one of our games features the home team,” Sportsnet vice-president David Ballingall said in a release.
While hockey dominates the Canadian market, the NHL is still struggling to make strides in the U.S.
Eddie Olczyk, the former NHL player who now works with Versus and NBC, said he thinks the sport is gaining ground.
“We’re continuing momentum,” said Olczyk. “It’s a lot bigger than it was three seasons ago, and that’s positive.
“I think that the broadcasts are much better. That’s a credit not only to the people that are bringing the game behind the scenes but the product on the ice.”
Hughson hopes the American market grows but not at the expense of the game.
“I’m really tired of the TV people constantly going into America and trying a million different ways to show the game,” he said. “Show the game, help people understand the game and why things are happening. Don’t rely on gimmicks and glicks and spazzles to try and draw people in.
“Yes, you try and build (hockey) as much as you can but do not do it at the expense of your foundation, which is Canada. And make sure you never overlook the fact that you’ve got a passionate, large following in Canada and make sure they are served first.”