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It's lockout night in Canada

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Rock    18

It's lockout night in Canada

A Saturday night tradition fades out as television is left without hockey



Saturday, October 16, 2004 - Page S1

When the National Hockey League locked out its players, it also shut down Canada's longest-running and most popular television show.

Hockey Night in Canada would have made its season debut tonight. The Ottawa Senators, with their new coach, Bryan Murray, would have been in Toronto to play the Maple Leafs. The Philadelphia Flyers would have visited Montreal for a game against the Canadiens. In the West, the schedule had the Detroit Red Wings in Vancouver to play the Canucks.

Ron MacLean, the host of the show, will be on the CBC tonight, and he will be in a hockey arena. But instead of setting up the Ottawa-Toronto rivalry at the Air Canada Centre, he will be in the Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena in Hamilton to introduce the CBC's three Saturday night replacement movies -- Dinosaur, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws. His spots were shot five days ago, but he won't be watching tonight.

"I'll have the television on to make sure the Nielsen [audience measurement] box gets it," MacLean quipped this week. "But I've seen them."

For MacLean and others at Hockey Night, the effect of the lockout has been profound.

"If you've been doing something for 24 years and all of a sudden it's not there, it's really a kick," said Don Cherry, the show's star commentator.

"It hasn't hit me yet, to tell you the truth. I still think I'm going down [to the Air Canada Centre]. Like I used to tell people, 'I've got so much to say, I can hardly wait to hear myself.' It's frustrating, do doubt about it.''

Close to 100 people, freelancers as well as CBC employees, would have been involved in tonight's game productions in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. But Sherali Najak, the senior producer, said the impact reaches beyond the workplace.

"It's a way of life," he said. "It's such a fraternity that you miss the people, you miss the work and, by extension, you miss the game itself. There's a real void."

Chris Cuthbert, who calls Western games, said the full effect hasn't hit him yet.

"Everybody's been gnashing their teeth for a month," he said. "But, for me, this is when the season starts and it will be disappointing.''

Colour commentator Harry Neale, who lives in East Amherst, N.Y., said his family looks forward to the hockey season almost as much as he does

. "I start getting asked, 'Isn't there a game you can go to?' I haven't heard that lately, but that's usually the routine.''

The CBC is airing a slate of movies on Saturday nights in the hope of drawing an audience somewhere close to the 1.2 million viewers who watch the Hockey Night game at 7 p.m. EDT each Saturday. Advertising revenue needs to be maintained because a protracted lockout would have a devastating economic impact on the network.

A few weeks ago, the CBC announced that 55 employees were being laid off. If the league closes for the full season, more people will be thrown out of work.

"The next round of cuts may be just as severe," a CBC source said this week. "I know they're watching every cent. It's gone beyond the sports department. The lockout is rocking the whole network.''

Hockey Night is the CBC's big revenue producer. The network breaks even on the telecasts during the regular season, but earns huge dollars in the playoffs, when advertising rates are boosted and as many as eight games are aired in one week. The CBC pays the NHL about $60-million a year for TV rights and earns twice that amount in revenue. The profit funds network programming across the board.

The good news? Colour commentator Greg Millen, who lives near Peterborough, Ont., will be able to watch his 12-year-old son play hockey at 6 o'clock tonight. Normally, he would be in Vancouver with Cuthbert to call the Canucks' game.

For Cuthbert, who lives in Brampton, Ont., today marks a special occasion.

"It's the first Saturday, I think, since I graduated from Queen's University that I'm not working, or at least thousands of miles from a Queen's football game," he said. "I'm planning to go to McMaster and watch Queen's play and see how my alma mater handles [McMaster running back] Jesse Lumsden."

As for Cherry, he will be in Windsor, Ont., tonight for TV producer Ralph Mellanby's induction into the Windsor Essex Sports Hall of Fame. Cherry said he owes his job at Hockey Night to Mellanby, who hired him in 1980 and then backed him when the network tried to fire him after just a few appearances because of poor grammar.

"He put his job on the line for me," Cherry said. "Isn't it ironic that the first night I miss Hockey Night, I'm at his Hall of Fame induction?

Cherry said that since the lockout started, he's been swamped with requests to make appearances, but he quit doing banquets some time ago. Too many autographs to sign.

"People seem to think I'm at home twiddling my thumbs," he said. "They don't realize the show is only one night.''

Cherry continues to watch hockey. He attends Greater Toronto Hockey League games with his son, Tim, who is a scout for the NHL. He also takes in games involving the Mississauga Ice Dogs, the junior team that he operated and partly owned.

MacLean said he may increase his speaking engagements, but he won't appear on Saturday nights against the CBC movie spots. Groups also have pitched the idea of MacLean and Cherry appearing together as an act on stage. They haven't ruled it out.

If there had been a season, Hockey Night would have been in full research mode this week. There would have been meetings and calls back and forth between producers and commentators. Neale's broadcast partner Bob Cole would have taken a flight to Toronto yesterday from his home in St. John's. Neale would already be in Toronto after taking the team flight from the Leafs' opener last night in New Jersey.

MacLean would arrive at the Air Canada Centre early this afternoon. At 2:30 p.m., the Satellite Hot Stove would be taped. Cherry would make his entrance about 5:30 p.m. In Montreal, Don Wittman and John Davidson would be preparing to call the Habs-Flyers game.

"Even during the World Cup of Hockey in September, we would discuss story ideas for the show," said Joel Darling, the executive producer. "But since the World Cup, there haven't been any of those discussions. It hasn't been on our minds. A lot of that discussion has just faded away.''

It faded quickly, because one day after the World Cup ended, the NHL announced the lockout.

Partly out of self interest (most of the on-air talent won't get paid during the work stoppage) but also because they're fans of the game, the commentators are bitter over the labour impasse. But they're optimistic that a deal will get done soon enough to salvage part of the season.

"I'm very frustrated," Millen said. "My major concern right now is the game of hockey. We're hurting the game, not just in the United States but in Canada as well. We better wake up. If we don't, I really believe the game of hockey is going to suffer more than it ever has.

"I believe both parties have a responsibility to at least get talking. I'm disappointed in both sides right now.''

Neale acknowledged the financial difficulty of some clubs and the need for a more equitable deal with the players. But he said the damage was self-inflicted. "The players didn't go in with a gun. But there has to be a correction. I think the players know that.''

Cuthbert is hopeful an agreement will be reached by the end of December. MacLean views the league's demand for a hard salary cap as a negotiating position from which it will move.

Darling is hopeful.

"Hockey's in our blood and we love to be a part of it," Darling said. "So many of us were brought up on Hockey Night in Canada. We're constantly saying, 'Hopefully, something tomorrow.' That's the kind of the emotion here.''

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LizDevil30    0

And here in the US. . .

I had dinner with a friend the other night and she was totally unaware there was a lockout. :argh:

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And here in the US. . .

I had dinner with a friend the other night and she was totally unaware there was a lockout.  :argh:


Yeah, I went to a San Diego Chargers game the other day, and when we went to a beer stand, the woman working there hadn't been aware of the NHL lockout. She wanted to know if that was the league San Diego was in, because they got two free tickets to a game.

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