TORONTO (May 25) — One of my early hockey memories on TV was the night of Apr. 24, 1969. I was ten years old and I still recall watching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at the Boston Garden — struggling to keep my eyes open midway through double–overtime. Montreal broadcast legends Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin were calling the match between the Canadiens and Bruins when Jean Beliveau beat Gerry Cheevers with a high wrister from the slot at 11:28 of the second extra period. It ended the best–of–seven series and put Montreal into the Stanley Cup final against St. Louis for a second consecutive spring.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned the identity of Canada’s other national broadcaster on that Sunday night. Bob Cole, exactly two months shy of his 36th birthday, called the Canadiens–Bruins finale from coast–to–coast on CBC Radio. Here in Toronto, the match could be heard on CBL–740. The radio division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation carried a National Hockey League game every Sunday throughout the regular season and playoffs back then. Among the play–by–play voices were Cole, Fred Sgambati and Fred Walker. The Apr. 24, 1969 game from the Boston Garden represented Cole’s first NHL assignment.
Now, here we are — 47 years later. Bob Cole, one month shy of his 83rd birthday, is again calling the Stanley Cup semifinals; this time on TV, where he has lived for much of the interim. St. Louis and San Jose in the 2016 Western Conference championship. From “third” voice of CBC Radio to the familiar voice–of–decades on Hockey Night In Canada. Heck, Bob Cole has been in the Hockey Hall of Fame for nearly 20 years — inducted in November 1996 with Borje Salming, Bobby Bauer and Al Arbour. Not even Cole’s hero and mentor, Foster Hewitt, worked into his 80’s. So, why wouldn’t he be in the booth for the NHL’s Final Four?
MY PHOTO OF BOB COLE IN GLENDALE, ARIZ. DURING THE 2012 STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALS.
It all makes sense… until you consider the pecking order among hockey broadcasters at Rogers Communications. Given the first two seasons of a monstrous 12–year, $5.2–billion contract, that order would appear to be: Jim Hughson, Paul Romanuk, Bob Cole and Dave Randorf. Since the start of the 2014–15 NHL schedule, Romanuk has been, for all intents and purposes, the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada. Quite a lofty ranking. Cole and Randorf have primarily split Montreal Canadiens telecasts; Cole being the main voice of the Rogers Hometown Hockey Sunday–night games. It would therefore follow that Romanuk should be calling one of the two Stanley Cup semifinals this spring; Hughson the other. Instead, it is Cole in the telecast booth (with Mike Johnson at ice–level) for the Sharks/Blues series.
Among a segment of hockey viewers, this is likely a pleasant development. There is only one Bob Cole; no one since Gallivan and Bill Hewitt in the 70’s has been able to match his play–calling cadence. It does, however, contradict the Rogers broadcast rotation. One industry source suggested on the weekend that the San Jose–St. Louis assignment is a “parting gift” for Cole — intimating Rogers will retire the legendary caller after the series. If this is true, then tonight’s Game 6 at S–A–P Center could be the swan–song for the native of St. John’s, Nfld. — providing, of course, the Sharks eliminate the Blues to reach their first Stanley Cup final. Cole was assigned several high–profile telecasts late in the season, including a Saturday–night Leafs game and the final match at Rexall Place in Edmonton (he’ll forever be associated with the great Oiler teams of Wayne Gretzky in the 80’s). From what I understand, he wishes to avoid any formal “send–off”.
There has been no communication from Rogers as to why Romanuk did not receive the Sharks–Blues series. Perhaps the company feels there isn’t need for an explanation. After all… it’s Bob Cole.
And, maybe the Hall–of–Famer does return for a 48th year next October. He can still “bring it” — as they say.
Nor has he ever spoken publicly about a desire to call it a career.
At some point, however, that moment will come. Not even Vin Scully believes he can go on forever.
When it arrives for Cole, my only wish is that the parting be graceful.
NO STITCHES FOR BROPH
John Brophy may have been the most colorful coach in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On the night of Dec. 1, 1988 — at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif. — he became two colorful.
The story has been told and re–told through the years; it is making the rounds again, 48 hours after Brophy died in his sleep at 83. The native of Antigonish, Nova Scotia guided the Maple Leafs through 193 regular–season and 19 playoff games — from the start of the 1986–87 season to Dec. 17, 1988. He was fired by owner Harold Ballard after a 7–1 pounding by the Philadelphia Flyers at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs were in a 0–9–1 tailspin; 3–17–1 in their previous 21 games. It was during that horrendous stretch that Brophy decided to take a short–cut to the visitors’ bench at the old arena in Los Angeles. Toronto Star hockey writer Rick Matsumoto described what happened in the Dec. 16, 1988 edition of THE HOCKEY NEWS:
I remember staying up late to watch the game from Los Angeles. I can close my eyes all these years later and see the expanding red blotch on Brophy’s white hair. Pete Demers was the Kings trainer that night.
“By the end of the game, John’s hair was almost completely red from blood,” Demers told me via Facebook. “I tried to get him to come to the [Forum] medical room for sutures but he wanted the doctor to come to the [visiting] coach’s room instead. So, I gathered up all the material and supplies we would need and walked to the Toronto side. As we prepared to sew him up, Broph yelled to his trainer ‘Get this guy out of here’ — pointing to me. His theory was that no one with an opposition–logo jacket should be in the Leafs area. He was an old–time–hockey, no–nonsense man. And, I’m sure he is smiling down as I write this.”
ONE CAN LOOK AT JOHN BROPHY’S SNOW–WHITE COIF (ABOVE) AND ALMOST IMAGINE IT TURNING RED WITH BLOOD AT THE FORUM IN LOS ANGELES — DEC. 1, 1988.
BLUE AIR IN BLOOMINGTON
It must have been sometime in the afternoon of Feb. 23, 1988. I received a telephone call from my old school chum, Perry Lefko, who was then working for the Toronto Sun. Perry’s colleague, Lance Hornby, had covered the Maple Leafs–North Stars game the previous night in Bloomington, Minnesota. In a tirade that is likely to never be matched by a professional coach, Brophy tore into his players after the 4–2 defeat. Perry had an audio–tape from Hornby and he played it for me over the phone. We tried to tabulate the number of F–bombs in Brophy’s four–minute rant, but it was nearly impossible given how quickly they were strung together. Hornby eventually counted more than 70 — an average of roughly 18–per–minute.
Had this occurred in the social media era, it would have gone “viral” in no time.
An appropriately–sanitized version was penned by Steve Dryden in THE HOCKEY NEWS of Mar. 11, 1988:
Doug Shedden scored 123 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins between 1982 and 1986. He played one game for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988–89. And, he remembers it to this day:
“It was Dec. 12, 1988 — a Monday night — and Calgary was at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Flames were the best team in the NHL, and would win the Stanley Cup that season. I had just finished playing three games in three nights for the Newmarket Saints [the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate]. The last game was in Baltimore, so we had a 10–hour bus ride home — and a few too many hockey–pops along the way. I got to my house in Barrie (Ont.) around 11 in the morning and was ready to plop into bed. Just then, [Newmarket coach] Paul Gardner called and said the Leafs wanted me for the Calgary game that night. My first reaction was ‘no f–ing way!’ But, I went downtown and checked into the Westbury Hotel. I still couldn’t sleep so I walked over to the Gardens around 4 o’clock. No one said anything to me except Eddie Olczyk. He said, ‘Sheds, you’re playing with me tonight.’ That was great. At least I was going to get some ice time.
“The coaches said nothing at all before the game. So, I went out for the warm–up and came back in, waiting to hear about what systems or game–plan we would use against the NHL’s best team. Finally, 20 seconds before we went onto the ice, John Brophy burst into the dressing room… and he was screaming: ‘We’d better work f–ing hard! These f–ing c–suckers are the best f–ing team in the league!’ That was it. Our ‘system’ and ‘game–plan’. We ended up playing great. Tied Calgary, 4–4. But, I blew out my knee on the first shift of the third period when [Flames defenseman] Gary Suter caught me with a late hit.”
AFTER SCORING 139 GOALS IN 416 NHL GAMES WITH PITTSBURGH, DETROIT, QUEBEC AND TORONTO, DOUG SHEDDEN EMBARKED ON A LONG COACHING CAREER IN THE MINOR LEAGUES AND EUROPE.
Shedden told another Brophy tale — this one involving one–time Pittsburgh winger Warren Young, who scored 40 goals playing on the left side with Mario Lemieux during Lemieux’s rookie season of 1984–85:
“Warren was coaching in Louisville and Broph in Hampton Roads of the East Coast Hockey League during the early–90’s. One night, they had words between the benches. Brophy was standing on something. He reached over; grabbed Warren’s tie, and began choking him. The Louisville trainer got a pair of scissors and quickly cut the tie. Broph fell down hard off the thing he was standing on and nearly killed himself.
“It was pretty quick thinking by the trainer.”
REUNION IN WHEELING
The last time I saw John Brophy was in October 2002, while working for The FAN–590. Prior to opening their season in Pittsburgh, the Maple Leafs stopped in nearby Wheeling, West Virginia for a couple of “bonding” days. The Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL were a minor–league affiliate of the Penguins and Brophy, 69, was the Nailers’ coach. He had miraculously recovered from a near–fatal mishap on June 25, 2000 when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. It left the road and struck a culvert near Stanfield International Airport in Halifax. Brophy suffered a broken leg; severe facial and eye injuries, and a buildup of blood on his brain.
Just more than two years later, the accident had clearly left its mark. Though in a typically jocular mood while Pat Quinn’s Leafs practiced at the Wheeling Civic Center, Brophy’s face was terribly battered. Still, he reminisced with the Toronto media and appeared to have fond memories of his time as coach of the Blue and White. His recollection was, in fact, remarkable after such a devastating head injury.
EX–LEAF MARK OSBORNE VISITS HIS FORMER COACH, JOHN BROPHY, IN 2013.
SILVER ANNIVERSARY FOR PENGUINS
I vividly remember being in Pittsburgh 25 years ago tonight (May 25, 1991) when the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. I was attending a family affair which featured an evening cruise along the Three Rivers. As the Penguins built an eventual 8–0 rout of the Minnesota North Stars at the Met Center in Bloomington, the people of the city packed bridges and over–passes that spanned the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. Car–horns began to honk and the tumult lasted throughout the night for the triumph of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Co. On Sunday morning, I grabbed a copy of the old Pittsburgh Press: