Sports

NHL PREVIEW

Meet the new faces of hockey in Canada

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

Host George Stroumboulopoulos speaks as Sportsnet unveils its multi-milion dollar 11,000 sq. ft. television studio to be used for their hockey broadcast at the CBC building in Toronto on Monday September 29, 2014. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

Host George Stroumboulopoulos speaks as Sportsnet unveils its multi-milion dollar 11,000 sq. ft. television studio to be used for their hockey broadcast at the CBC building in Toronto on Monday September 29, 2014. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

It is both tempting and convenient to paint George Stroumboulopoulos as the “young” host and face of Hockey Night in Canada and the Rogers NHL package.

Upon further review, however, his two predecessors in the HNIC host chair — Dave Hodge and Ron MacLean — were more than a decade younger when they took over than the man they call Strombo is now.

That said, the 42-year-old Mississauga native is expected to bring a fresher look and style to the country’s most-watched broadcast than the one overseen most recently by MacLean.

Welcome, in other words, to Strombo Night in Canada.

“We wanted a different look and feel, to be seen as a little younger and a little more casual with a real tip of the hat to the tradition of Hockey Night,” says Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet and NHL Properties at Rogers.


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“George is the ultimate interviewer. He’s also more of a moderator than an editorialist and get more out of the panel.

“It wasn’t an obvious choice. It was an interesting and fun choice.”

The obvious first choice, according to sources, was TSN’s James Duthie. But when the veteran hockey host decided not to jump networks and follow the national rights, Strombo, a 10-time Gemini Award winner, became a focus of Rogers’ recruiting.

Soon, the broadcasting giant hopes, he will become the face of Canadian hockey.

His hire was not so much fun for MacLean, who will be partially re-invented in his involvement in hockey coverage. He’ll still do Coach’s Corner with sidekick Don Cherry, of course, but his biggest assignment will be host of Hometown Hockey, Rogers’ bold new venture of airing a game coast-to-Canadian-coast every Sunday night.

You never know what goes on behind closed doors, but it is well-known that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not always see eye-to-eye with MacLean.



Overall, Rogers has put together a deep roster of on-air talent to handle the more than 500 NHL games it will show this season. It’s a mix of familiar Sportsnet faces and voices, as well as aggressive recruiting from the disbanded CBC crew, some TSN bodies and elsewhere.

“Canadian hockey fans deserve a broadcast team that is just as passionate about the game as they are,” Rogers vice-president of production, Gord Cutler, said when the team was announced.

“It was important that we assemble a crew of experienced, knowledgeable, entertaining and accomplished broadcasters to create a fresh, new viewing experience.”

SHUFFLED AROUND

National Play by Play

Jim Hughson

As the now long-time lead play-by-play voice of Hockey Night in Canada, Hughson was a natural focus of the Rogers efforts. And with no more cheques coming from CBC, it likely wasn’t a difficult pitch. Landing Hughson ensured credibility on the big Saturday-night shows and gave Rogers its signature play-by-play man.

Bob Cole

Who knows how many more seasons the iconic Newfoundlander has left in him, but as the soundtrack for a generation-plus of NHL fans, giving Cole a roster spot is a great way to entrench tradition. In his most recent years at Hockey Night, Cole primarily worked Montreal games on Saturday nights. Here’s hoping he makes the occasional visit to the Air Canada Centre.

Dave Randorf

One of the few on-air folks to leave TSN, Randorf has called play-by-play at the world championships and world junior and, for the past four seasons, was the regional voice of the Montreal Canadiens.

Paul Romanuk

Before he moved to England, Romanuk was a regular at TSN where he called both national games and was the regional voice on Canadiens broadcasts from 1998-2001. Most recently, he has been heard on international events based in Europe, but he’s thrilled to return to North America for what amounts to a prime position based on his status as the regional voice of the Maple Leafs as well.“I can’t say enough about how thrilled I am to be coming back to Canada to call play-by-play for the greatest hockey league in the world,” Romanuk said.

National analysts

Craig Simpson

He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner and a former NHL assistant coach, but with 15 years in the broadcast booth, Simpson is one of the highest-profile analysts in hockey. As he did at the CBC version of Hockey Night in Canada, Simpson will work with Hughson, primarily on Saturday nights and primarily (we expect) on Leafs games.

Glenn Healy

Popular and outspoken on Hockey Night in Canada for the past several years, Healy will once again split duties between game and studio analysis. As usual, Healy will be expected to bring an edge to whatever forum he has. The foursome of national colour men will be rounded out by Mike Johnson (who has worked at TSN) and Garry Galley (another Hockey Night in Canada recruit.)

The Insiders

Led by Bob McKenzie at TSN and Nick Kypreos at Sportsnet, both networks will continue to have a strong presence in breaking and reporting news from around the league. Will Rogers’ relationship with the league carry more weight than in the past and give them an edge? Possible, but reporters such as McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and the rest of their TSN colleagues have a deep network of contacts that aren’t about to dry up overnight. Rogers has boosted its lineup with the addition of CBC’s Elliotte Friedman and Kelly Hrudey, who will team up with Sportsnet veterans such as Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Scott Morrison and others.

The hosts

Stroumboulopoulos will be the de facto face of Rogers hockey coverage as the host of Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL on Sportsnet. MacLean’s role on Hometown Hockey may originally seemed to be a demotion, but he definitely won’t be in the background. Besides his regular spot beside Don Cherry, MacLean will be the engine behind the Sunday-night Hometown Hockey theme. Each week, the game will be hosted from a different venue across the country, the type of homespun charm MacLean thrives in.

“I can’t overestimate the impact of having Ron out in 25 different communities,” Moore said.

The opening segment will come from London, Ont., on Oct. 12 and feature the Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers. Others slated to appear regularly on host assignments on various nights will be Sportsnet veteran Daren Millard, Jeff Marek and Leah Hextall, who left her job with NESN in Boston.


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QUICK CUTS

With both a national and regional contract for Rogers to carry Leafs contests, plus 26 Toronto dates on TSN, games will no longer appear on the club-owned Leafs TV. That means the end of an era as the team’s long-time home voice, Joe Bowen, will be radio-only with his partner, Jim Ralph ... So who will call Leafs games on the tube? On Saturdays, it will be mostly the duo of Hughson-Simpson, on TSN it will primarily be Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro, while regionally on Rogers, Paul Romanuk will team with Greg Millen ... Cassie Campbell-Pascall, whose role continued to grow as a rinkside reporter for HNIC, will fill a similar assignment in the Rogers empire, as well as some work on Sunday Hometown Hockey ... Another Rogers recruit from CBC will be studio analyst P.J. Stock, who will be called upon to bring an edge to the telecasts ... Simpson will share the airwaves with his sister Christine Simpson, a feature reporter and interviewer for Rogers, marking what is believed to be the first time two siblings will work together on a Canadian NHL broadcast ... MacLean, by the way, has not officially left CBC. He has a four-year deal with the public broadcaster and will host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

FULL HEAD OF STREAM

Will live streaming lead to a substantial revenue stream?

Rogers is certainly hoping that will be the case as it begins the first year of its 12-season deal with the NHL, a rights package that cost $5.2 billion.

As expected, the telecommunications giant will rely on tablets and smartphones with its GameCentre Live plan. Included to subscribers will be 1,000 regular-season games and the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

For the initial season anyway, Rogers data and Internet customers will have access to the games for free. Non-Rogers subscribers can get on the action for $199.99 for the entire season.

In its pitch to the league, Rogers executives aggressively promised to focus on new platforms. The package comes with a warning, however. Regular data fees apply.


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