There’s No Duplicating Coach’s Corner

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Nov. 30) – Why even try?

An odd consensus seems to have formed since Tuesday’s blockbuster announcement that Rogers Communications will control Canadian TV rights to the National Hockey League for 12 years, beginning next season. The prevailing notion is that some hybrid of Coach’s Corner will outlast Don Cherry and Ron MacLean – likely on a Sunday night package of games Rogers will introduce after its four-year continuance with CBC.

In my view, this would be a gargantuan mistake.

Though Cherry has forever been a polarizing figure among Canadians, he is one-hundred percent irreplaceable in his current role. In the realm of a natural liaison with Cherry, so is MacLean. Any attempt to re-create Coach’s Corner in the absence of either man will be fraudulent.

MEMO TO ROGERS: FORGET TRYING TO COPY COACH’S CORNER. IT WON’T WORK.

The concept of Cherry venting in the first intermission of Hockey Night In Canada – initially alongside Dave Hodge – was hardly the result of a grand scheme. The legendary executive producer of Saturday night hockey on CBC, Ralph Mellanby, happened to enjoy the outspokenness of Cherry: a reporter’s delight during six seasons (1974-75 to 1979-80) as a coach in the NHL – five with Boston and one with the old Colorado Rockies. Coarse and sketchy – yet attractively homespun – Cherry butchered the English language while carving a singular habitat among hockey viewers. Hodge and, later, MacLean were an impeccable compliment to the man known as “Grapes” and Coach’s Corner became something of a cult. For three decades now, the segment has endured for its originality and uniqueness; mostly, however, because of its star attraction. No such concept, in my opinion, can be duplicated.

Sure, it might be compelling to watch someone like Brian Burke opine once a week on national hockey telecasts. Other such outspoken pundits as Jeremy Roenick, John Tortorella, Mike Milbury and Brett Hull would captivate viewers. Rogers, however, is best to change the two-person concept. For many years – first on radio, then on TV – the Hot Stove format has been effective in the presence of an astute moderator. Its most entertaining rhythm allowed for candid repartee between Burke, Al Strachan, John Davidson and other immodest personalities. A four-man free-for-all – again, appropriately moderated – could suffice in the wake of Cherry and MacLean. Something different has to be tried.

Given its $5.2-billion commitment to wrest control of hockey viewing in this country, Rogers should be able to unearth an innovative production guru – one that will effectively retire and replace Coach’s Corner.   

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