Some qualifiers should be made clear first: (1) While I have had a close, and sometimes intense relationship with ice hockey for many years, I am completely aware, and will openly extol, that it is only a game. (2) I am a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, but over the years have become a bigger fan of good hockey first. Further, I do not place watching “my team” as a priority in my life. (3) I realize that professional ice hockey is an entertainment business and should be consumed as entertainment, not a means to happiness or despair.
With those apparent, it must still be stated that the CBC’s Saturday April 7th coverage of the Montreal Canadiens vs the Toronto Maple Leafs was perhaps the worst display of television sport production I have ever seen. The two teams faced off for their final game of the regular season, and the outcome had a direct impact on the play-off chances of both. The CBC is a national television network, pumped into the homes of every TV in Canada. The coverage of Saturday’s game was almost completely orchestrated as if the CBC were a Toronto television station catering only to the Toronto market.
Many people will quickly note that I should not be surprised at this characteristic of the CBC, that its biased regional coverage is not something new. However, on Saturday it became so utterly embarrassing to watch, that my frustration reached a venting point. The pre-game commentators repeatedly referred to the Leafs as “us” and “we” while the Habs were “the visitors” and “them”. It is no secret that CBC’s most infamous off-ice commentator/analyst is a hardened Toronto Maple Leaf fan. But the network continues to sit by while giving him carte blanche to talk as though Canadians outside of Ontario have turned off their television, or have no interest in hearing unbiased forecasts of match-ups that include the Leafs. Further, the CBCs “number-one” play-by-play announcer has become so unbalanced in his calling of games that it is shameful to the sport. On speaking to any hockey fan, or even casual observer, there is unanimous agreement that he is simply incompetent at giving balanced coverage to non-Toronto teams. He does not know the players well, he does not know the organizations well, and he chooses to call the game as if he was doing a regional broadcast. On Saturday, if a Leaf player was assessed a penalty it was “trouble for Toronto”. If a Montreal player was sent to the box it was “an opportunity for Toronto”. He has little to offer in terms of meaningful analysis or commentary, instead preferring to repeat obvious facts. On no less than a dozen occasions he repeated the phrase that “this is an all-important game”, often times (but not always) adding “for Toronto”. He felt compelled to point out five or six times that the Canadiens goaltender had not played since February 14, in case viewers were having trouble with their short term memory. Needless to say, this was also an incorrect statement, as Huet had played the night previously. He had not started since February. The examples could only go on. The greater blame lies with the production crew and the network itself. They are the ones who continue to stick with this announcer. Who choose to show the shots of Toronto’s management much more often than opponents’. They are the ones who provide their hosts, commentators and announcers with background material.
I was disappointed to see Montreal eliminated. However, my disappointment ended quickly – hockey is not life. My utter frustration at the CBC and their horrible coverage lingered. I noted that in the opening qualifiers that the NHL should be viewed as entertainment first. However, hockey is undeniably an important facet of Canada’s culture. I was embarrassed to sit with a non-Canadian friend and watch a national television network provide such unbalanced coverage between two teams that serve as cultural mainstays in Canada. He was neither a Toronto or Montreal fan, but very knowledgeable about hockey, and all he could do was laugh at the way the game was being broadcast.
This afternoon I turned on the TV to check some scores and caught the last five minutes of the game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders. The television feed was from a New York area broadcaster, a station that obviously had a specific contract to carry Islanders’ games. I shook my head as it became apparent after just a minute of watching that the commentary and coverage of this regional USA station was a much better balanced and finished product than the previous night’s national broadcast in Canada.
Now that I’ve vented, I will lose no sleep. It will not bother me that it will continue, I have no control, and in the grand scheme it matters little. Just had to get it out there. Thanks.