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Canada Hockey Night

One television program has been a part of my life for 18 years. It has served a variety of different purposes. Among other things, its functions have ranged from being a provider of quality time with my father to existing as an educational medium about a business in which I'm interested. Hockey Night in Canada on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been a significant part of my life.

Ever since I can remember watching television, on a small black and white television set in the corner of the living room, my Saturday nights included Hockey Night in Canada. I can't remember the players or specific details about the games but I do remember watching hockey. It aired at 8 p.m. I was so lucky to see the first ten minutes of the game because every other night of the week I had to be in bed much earlier. I was old enough to realize that this was a treat. From October until May I knew what I was doing on Saturday before bed. Maybe that's why I was so well-behaved in church on Sunday morning; I didn't want my hockey games taken away.

My father grew up in Syracuse and went to college in Toronto. He wasn't a big hockey fan during his childhood but he learned to appreciate the games at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. I don't really know why we always watched the games together, but it was always just the two of us. Mom would join us during the playoffs.

My first distinct memory of Hockey Night in Canada occurred in the autumn of 1981. The sun was still over Lake Ontario, a couple of hours had passed since dinner. My dad asked me to go to bed. It wasn't a punishment, simply a request. I was a little curious. It was still light outside and I hadn't gone to bed this early in a long time. He told me that if I went to bed for a couple of hours he would wake me up at 10 and we could watch the first game of the season together. The defending champion New York Islanders were playing! I certainly agreed and as promised my Dad woke me up at 10. He let me watch the whole game. My father took a picture of me during the game. I was sitting on our old green living room couch wearing Columbia blue pajamas with feet. On the coffee table in front of me was a small bowl of potato chips and a glass of orange juice. The next afternoon NFL football was meaningless. I was first and foremost a hockey fan.

A month later I began to learn how to skate, and that only made my Saturday nights more meaningful. A chance to sit down with my father and watch the game that I was beginning to fall in love with. As I got older the television set changed. I could now associate colors with the teams and the set was a little bigger. At the beginning of the game my father urged me to stand up during the playing of the national anthems. He taught me the words and I sung along. I actually knew the words to "Oh! Canada!" before I could handle the "Star-Spangled Banner."

I had picked out the Chicago Blackhawks as my favorite team. Their distinguished Native American logo appealed to me. Unfortunately they weren't the game of choice very often for the CBC. Our Kingston, Ontario, affiliate usually showed the Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadians. I distinctly remember one night in December. We had made Christmas cookies during the afternoon. My sister and I were assigned to put the frosting on the cookies later that evening. My Dad set up a card table in the living room and we frosted the cookies in front of the television. My sister wanted to watch "The Sound of Music" but she would have to wait until next year. The Hockey Night in Canada game of the week featured my favorite team, the Blackhawks, live from Chicago Stadium.

A couple of years had gone by and I was old enough to recognize my favorite players. My allegiance went from Chicago to Boston. The Bruins were now my team and their high-scoring centreman Rick Middleton was my favorite player. We talked about the games in school and at hockey practice. Sometimes these discussions turned into arguments. Andy Grimshaw liked the Canadians, Boston's arch-rival. And Mike Nicholson cheered for the Edmonton Oilers, who had won three Stanley Cups in a row. My bedtime was stretched to 9 and I tried to squeeze every extra minute out of the clock so that I might be able to see the start of the second period. But Coach's Corner usually marked my bedtime.

Coach's Corner is a unique feature of Hockey Night in Canada. A fairly successful coach during the 1970s and early 1980s named Don Cherry sat in the Hockey Night in Canada studios and voiced his opinions to the studio host and the television audience during the first intermission of the game. He had a pretty large ego during his coaching days and carried it into his television career. "Grapes" is usually loud, sometimes obnoxious, but always very passionate about the game he loves. Coach's Corner taught me to say what I feel, even though it might not be popular with everyone else.

In sixth grade I stopped playing hockey. I was on a basketball team during middle school but that didn't change my love for hockey. I could still be found in front of the television on Saturday night, tuned into the CBC. Something was missing from those memories though. My father didn't join me for as many games. Hockey Night in Canada became a gathering place for my friends and me.

Throughout middle school and our ninth and tenth grade years, my buddies and I got together on Friday nights and some Saturdays to play hockey in Joe Ford's basement. We put plywood up around the open spaces to serve as boards and drew advertisements to put on the walls. The basement floor had red and blue tape on it to represent the red and blue lines. Goalie creases and face-off circles were put on the floor as well.

Some of my teachers from high school like to tell the story of a particular Friday in April of 1992. The six players who were chosen to participate in the Ford Hockey Association Game of the Week put on pants, a nice shirt, and a tie. Over the shirt and tie we each wore our hockey sweaters, as if we had been drafted by the team on our shirts. It wasn't common attire in the halls of Oswego High School which caused quite a few smiles among the faculty.

We had divided our group of six into two teams of three earlier in the week. This was done to give teammates a chance to discuss strategy, and opponents to begin the insults and predictions that went on before every game. These actions usually took place during history or biology classes. We showed up to the basement on Country Lane, which we affectionately called the Ford Memorial Gardens, equipped with our sticks, tape, sweat pants, and hockey gloves. The warm-ups began as music by the X-Clan played in the background. After everyone had arrived, all of the loose tennis balls were placed back in the bucket and the teams lined up on their respective blue lines. All six players sang "Oh! Canada!" and the game began. It was an intense battle from the start and after I caught an elbow from Jared Leduc, I dropped my gloves and began to chase him. Before I could grab a hold of him he had shed his gloves and we began to fight. We each landed a couple of shots. When all was said and done I had a puffy lower lip from the original elbow. There was some discoloration under his left eye, which as I later found out, was caused by my right fist.

You can imagine that Jared and I weren't on the best of terms for a while after that. But that wasn't the case. When the game had ended, the six teammates sat together in our "dressing rooms" drinking Crystal Pepsi and talking about school, girls, the fight (which was common in our games), and some of the goals that we had scored during our games both on the ice and in the basement. The next night we all got together and watched Hockey Night in Canada. I sat next to Jared. Our faces bore reminders of the previous night's conflict but that didn't interrupt our friendship. We were two friends, sharing something we loved.

And if the basement league decided to meet on a Saturday, the VCR would be set to record Hockey Night in Canada. When we had finished our game in the cellar, the tape went in and we watched the game together. Hockey Night in Canada was no longer a family thing as it had been for the first fifteen years of our lives. It was where friends got together and had a good time.

It was a part of our friendship throughout high school. Hockey Night in Canada was something we could count on. We graduated from Oswego High School on the morning of June 24, 1995. During the afternoon our families had parties for us and we were able to celebrate that special day with people we loved. Graduation night was a chance to celebrate the end of an important part of our lives with the friends that played a significant part in it. My friends and I got together and watched the closing game of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals. We talked about our past and our futures, and Hockey Night in Canada was there.

I was on my way to the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. People in my hometown knew who I was. I was the "sports guy" on WBUC, the high school's television station that had its programs broadcast on local cable. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about the television business through hands-on experience. We produced a daily news show, where I served as Sports Director and Sports Anchor. I was also the play-by-play man for WBUC Prime Time Sports. We took our portable studio out to games and broadcast them on a tape-delay basis to the community. My first goal was to convince the producer that we could, and should, broadcast the hockey games. He agreed. His innovations and my enthusiasm made hockey our number one sports presentation. It didn't hurt that our team was state-ranked and the city has traditionally been very supportive of the game.

Hockey Night in Canada became a learning tool. I began to look at the games from a producer's standpoint, asking myself questions about camera shot sequences, CG design and presentation, and the announcer's word choice and tactics. The games were no longer strictly for my enjoyment. I looked at the CBC broadcasts with a critical eye and tried to learn from their expertise.

My generation has seen the birth of the compact disc, expansion of computing capabilities, and wireless communications. But these amazing technologies haven't had a significant impact on my life. Hockey Night in Canada helped me to define and celebrate relationships. It's been an educator about a profession in which I'm interested. But most importantly, it's just always been there. I can always count on Hockey Night in Canada.

October 22, 1997

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