The NHL season begins tomorrow, and Rogers Sportsnet One is still a few carriers shy of a network. As of press time Wednesday, Sportsnet One is rumoured to be adding Bell TV, the satellite carrier, to its roster of Rogers, Shaw Direct and Cable, Telus., Novus and Cable TV of Camrose. That means that after a summer of no Blue Jays and EPL, customers of Cogeco, Videotron and smaller carriers are still not going to have access to the considerable NHL schedule Rogers has dedicated to their new channel.
Both Sportsnet and the carriers say they are still talking, but that's cold comfort for the satellite and cable viewers who might miss the early games of their team. Rogers was hoping pressure from disgruntled viewers missing their team's games would put pressure on the carriers, not back on themselves. But if the standoff continues long into the season, disgruntled will be one of the polite words to describe the wrath of hockey fans denied their home team. Just ask Blue Jays fans.
Crew Cuts: Provided your carrier even carries Sportsnet One or another channel, hockey-worshipping Canadians will begin their annual version of Big Brother this weekend. Till April they'll be sequestered with the home broadcast crew of their favourite NHL squad in a torturous relationship with said team. Family and friends will melt away as the 82-game ordeal progresses till only the club's play-by-play voice matters. The club's oracle is shaman, priest and confessor till the spring thaw or elimination from the postseason - whichever comes first.
Because there is no national interest when it come to rooting for teams - only regional fiefdoms - the team's voices and their sidekicks are local heroes virtually unknown outside their area code. Usual Suspects removes the cloak of anonymity and rates the crews.
Vancouver: John Shorthouse/ John Garrett/ Dan Murphy. Sportsnet Pacific. Following Vancouver legends Jim Robson and Jim Hughson is a tall assignment but Shorthouse has come into his own. Canucks fans may be the most irrational in English Canada after so many disappointments, but Shorthouse's wry, sly style placates the mercurial Canuck fandom. Garrett trades heavily on his (mixed) NHL legacy in net, but rarely lets the moment get too heavy. Good thing as the Canucks upcoming season promises to be like a 24 episode. Murphy is pleasant, although he could get beyond the "how do you feel" template a bit more. Homer Meter: 3/5 pucks. Booth Chemistry: 4.5/5 pucks. Rating: 4/5 pucks
Edmonton: Kevin Quinn/ Louis DeBrusk/ Gene Principe. Sportsnet West. Nobody knows the trouble he's seen following the Oilers of late, but Kevin Quinn has managed to keep from opening a vein on-air. In a city that likes to publicly roast its heroes, Quinn will have to battle a huge negativity factor if the young Oilers stumble again this season. He's an underrated talent. Former Oiler Louis DeBrusk has been worked in as Quinn's sidekick the past two years and while he still embraces the NHL revenge culture, DeBrusk avoids the worst of the P.J. Stock repertoire. Principe adheres closely to the Oiler company line. Hype Meter: 4/5 Pucks Booth Chemistry: 3/5 Rating : 3/5 Pucks.
Toronto: Joe Bowen/Greg Millen/Paul Hendrick. TSN/Sportsnet Ontario/Leafs TV. Bowen makes every game sound like the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. Good thing considering the Maple Leafs abysmal record since 1967. It's probably the closest generations of Toronto fans will get to the holy grail. Bowen is about as subtle as a line brawl and his volume button's stuck on 11. Still, he may be the closest to Bob Cole among the younger generation of play callers. Millen replaced Harry Neale, and while he's good on the chalk talk, he could ratchet it back and laugh maybe once a week. Hendrick is the guy who gets to ask Ron Wilson the musical question, "What went wrong?" about 40 times a year. Homer Meter: 5/5 pucks. Booth Chemistry: 3.5/5 pucks. Rating: 3.5 Pucks.
Calgary: Peter Loubardias/Charlie Simmer/Roger Millions. Sportsnet West. Loubardias took over the Flames' play calling two seasons ago from Millions His idiosyncratic style is pure hockey, and he wears the flaming red sunglasses proudly most nights. Loubardias is encyclopedic on junior hockey. He and Simmer are still working on more than a rudimentary booth chemistry. Simmer does flash occasional wit, but the Flames vexing fortunes of late haven't given him much to chortle about. Millions has the best brushcut on Sportsnet. Homer Meter: 4.5/ 5 pucks. Booth Chemistry: 2.5/ 5 pucks. Rating: 3/ 5 pucks.
Ottawa: Dean Brown/ Denis Potvin/ Ian Mendes Sportsnet East. Brown may be the top craftsman of the home callers. He has great pipes, some authority and a wry sense of humour that made Gary Galley better by lengths. Galley's gone to HNIC so Brown will have to break in former 67s star and Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, who should be fine after working in Florida for years. Jean works the hallways, which means a heavy dose of coaxing the charmless Jason Spezza into life. Homer Meter: 3.5/ pucks. Booth Chemistry: Promising but too soon to tell. Rating: 4/ 5 Pucks.
Montreal: Pierre Houde/ Benoit Brunet/ Alain Crete RDS. It's difficult to call play-by-play of the Vatican - which is what the French language crew of RDS must do as they genuflect to the Habs' aura in French Canada. Houde's call will never be mistaken for objective but he does walk back from the Habs' cliff most nights. Brunet, the former Canadien, is still uncomfortably negotiating the thickets of broadcasting after replacing Senator Jacques Demers. Crete applies a whip-and-chair approach as anguished pundits do the hockey stations of the cross postgame. Homer Meter: 10/5 rondelles. Booth Chemitre: 3/5 rondelles. Rating: 35./5 rondelles.
Early Start: A small measure of good from the foolish decision to stage a Ryder Cup in south Wales in rain-soaked October. The PGAs of Americana and Europe - who own the Cup - say they are in talks to guarantee a September date for the prestigious event. With the Cup going to Scotland in 2014 - where it could snow in October - it's progress that the event revert to its traditional earlier perch. Now the PGAs must juggle their TV schedules to allow both the Tour Championship and Ruder Cup in the same month.
King For A Day: Finally, Usual Suspects was in squeegee mode in Wales when Mike Peca's TSN musings on Jay Bouwmeester's tepid scoring caused Flames' prez Ken King to do a media walkabout defending his $6.85-million. defenceman. King suggested that, as a former player, Peca was out of line talking trade secrets on Calgary's offensively challenged skater. The fourth estate bridled at King targeting Peca for his admirable candour.
Was King out of line? Heck no. Free speech cuts both ways. Short of libel, King can fill his boots. The real question is why the president of a team, whose background is in publishing not power plays, is offering opinions on Jay Bouw's hockey abilities. Isn't that the job of the GM? Or the assistant GM? If you want to rebut Peca's first-person experience shouldn't you get someone with credibility on the subject of Bouwmeester's playing capabilities?