There is much about the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs that is unusual. Not the least of which is the prospect of Phoenix meeting New Jersey in the "Insolvent versus In Chapter 11" final series. But one tradition has endured into another playoff year: Bob Cole calling games for Hockey Night In Canada.
Not everyone is cheered by this, of course. While Cole still has the booming church-organ pipes, his recall of names and faces leaves a number of fans boiling. On the "either you love him or hate him" barometer Cole ranks right up there with Pierre McGuire and Greg Millen in terms of response. He's the link to HNIC's glorious past, but many of our correspondents feel he should already be a part of that past now.
It was no sure thing for Cole to get the second-round nod this year. Many, especially in the West, have come to see Mark Lee and Kevin Weekes as the de facto No. 2 pairing on HNIC for their work on the second game of doubleheaders. Cole and sidekick Garry Galley, meanwhile, were rarely heard outside regional eastern audiences. Yet the HNIC brass shelved their national duo Lee and Weekes in favour of the regional Eastern pair.
While no one is mistaking Lee for Danny Gallivan, he's made strides in recent years and qualifies as young on the HNIC roster (if, like, you're planning for a future at HNIC). Weekes, too, has loosened up from his first days and has nice potential. Galley is a pro, and Weekes has upside if HNIC carries on for the next contract due in 2014.
Usual Suspects isn't alone in noting that U.S. TV ratings for the "tame" Round 2 games are surpassing the boffo numbers for Round 1, which was described as the greatest display of carnage since the Mongols swept off the plains. Going into the weekend, four of the top five highest-rated games on U.S. cable in these playoffs have come from Round 2, topped by the New York Rangers- Washington Capitals Game 3 on NBC Sports Network, which attracted 1.85 million viewers. Only Game 7 of the Washington-Boston Round 1 series broke the top 5 monopoly of Round 2 games.
As Larry Brooks of the New York Post observes, "How could that be when, through Friday night, there had been more delay-of-game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass [seven]than fighting majors [six]in the conference semis?" Could it be that U.S. audiences are more attracted to skill hockey than kill hockey? Or are the numbers simply a reflection of the major media market teams still extant in the playoffs?
Not surprisingly, the numbers for Western Conference games have not reached top 10 status on NBCSN. Game 3 of Phoenix-Nashville drew just 231,000 viewers on CNBC, the second-lowest numbers of the 2012 playoffs. However, the surging Los Angeles Kings are seeing encouraging local TV numbers. Ratings for Game 2 of their cakewalk against St. Louis were 142-per-cent higher than Game 1. No wonder the L.A. Angels of Anaheim showed Kings Drew Doughty and Trevor Lewis sitting in the crowd at their game the other night.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Asked about the ratings for the 2012 playoffs, a respected Canadian broadcast executive told us, "Imagine how good they'd be if the league didn't schedule games against one another?" Indeed. So far, Canadian broadcasters have kept a low profile about the ratings in the no-Canadian-team Round 2.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Do we really need hockey announcers to tell us, "He scores!" when a goal is scored? It's been a sacred tradition since Foster Hewitt (inventing the genre as he went along) used the expression from his berth in the gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens. Generations of hockey announcers since have tried to fashion their own version of the call with varying degrees of success. At its best, a Danny Gallivan call was amazing. At its worst – see Dave Mishkin in Tampa or Rick Jeanneret in Buffalo – it's like cats on the fence.
But a season watching the English Premiership shows that no call is as effective as almost every alternative. The typical British style is to forgo the "he scores" for a pause to let the crowd noise swell and then punctuate the goal with something pithy like, "Brilliant!" or "Rooney!" or "Disaster!" In Sunday's game, of Manchester United against Swansea, the opener for United was simply, "Tucked in by Scholes ..." No one seemed the worse for it.
The poignant pause also saves announcers getting caught between two stools on a controversial goal such as the Patrick Kane goal that won the 2010 Stanley Cup for Chicago or Sidney Crosby's Olympic game winner in 2010. Maybe someone in hockey-announcer circles will give it a try. Fifty million Britons can't be all wrong.