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Stanley Cup or no, hockey on TV is just a meaningless drone

Who remembers when the lights went out at the Boston Gardens during a Stanley Cup Final game? I do. Only in hockey, we all thought, rolling our eyes, when the Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers had to stop playing and everybody had to go home.

That was in 1988. In the same year, I think, the referees went on strike after a New Jersey Devils game in the playoffs. The Devils lost to the Bruins, 6-1. At some point, Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld allegedly shouted "You're crazy, you're crazy, go eat another doughnut, you fat pig" at a referee. Umbrage was taken, you might say. A wildcat referee strike briefly ensued. Only in hockey, we all thought, rolling our eyes. Brendan Shanahan scored the Devils' only goal, if memory serves.

I don't often mention hockey here, but I'm not a know-nothing. I have worshipped at the altar of Wendel Clark. I remember 1993 and the terror that Dougie Gilmour inspired in the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues in the playoffs. I can still see, in my mind's eye, Gilmour behind the net, twisting and turning, with superhuman agility and grace, to tuck the puck past Curtis Joseph. Those were the days.

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Watching the Canucks play the Bruins in Boston the other night, memories flooded back. For a start, like most of this nation I was kinda hoping that the lights would go out in Boston, as the thrashing inflicted on the Canucks unfolded.

Watching a Stanley Cup final when a Canadian team is involved is not only rare, it's an illuminating experience. The viewer numbers are staggering. CBC's audience for the first two games of this series peaked at 7.8 million. This in a county where reaching one million viewers is the benchmark for a hit. There is a sort of national esprit de corps, if not a national psychosis going on. It's not just the game. The play-by-play patter, the commercials, Don Cherry's meandering remarks, all add up to a crazy, muddled and multi-faceted illustration of who and what we are now.

The coverage has declined in quality, I think. Whatever Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson are doing, it all just sounds like idle patter. There's no rhythm or cadence to it. It's an annoying drone emanating from the TV. Even the climactic moment of Aaron Rome's vicious hit on Nathan Horton brought forth mindless drivel. "Maybe a little hit to the head," Simpson told millions of viewers. "At the very least, it's interference," he continued with studied solemnity. You don't say?

The matter of the Horton injury then evaporated. The words "Bruins Buzzing" appeared on the screen in the third period. Thus giving the word "redundant" a new definition. Stats poured forth in the droning. Simpson used the word "unreal" twice in the space of 20 seconds. Then he earned his salary, one supposes, by pointing out, "The playoffs are all about taking away the will of your opponents to win." This might be achieved by use of concussion, I'd guess, but he didn't elaborate. He also made an especially gnomic and puzzling remark about how "history means nothing" and pointed out that he'd held this view for a long time.

The commercials are another puzzle. There's the one for some Detroit auto company that always serves as a reminder that the version used during the Super Bowl, with Eminem, was far superior. At the same time, viewers were told that taking a VIA train to Ottawa is "patriotic." What? Me, I'm willing to die for my country but the train to Ottawa, with VIA's execrable food and screw-you service, is not something I'd contemplate doing for Canada.

Brendan Shanahan - who scored that goal at the start of the rotund-referee squabble, back in the day - is now a Dove Man, we are informed. Comfortable in his own skin. I doubt that Tie Domi, who was featured onscreen for a while sitting in the stands in Boston, is a Dove Man. Though he's probably comfortable in his own skin, being Tie Domi and all.

Late in the game - or possibly when it was all over, seeing as how the mind reacts weirdly on such nights - I decided that the Home Depot commercial is the most despicable anti-youth thing on TV right now. You know the one - young guy moseys out, should be mowing the law, but there's no lawnmower so everybody goes to Home Depot, gets mower and starts working. The message is: "Listen kid, no fun for you this summer!"

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Finally, and at long last, The National on CBC. The inevitable shot of Our Glorious Leader and the Minister for Hardship going in to deliver the Budget. Both gave the Don Cherry-patented thumbs-up sign to the cameras. A reminder, if we needed one, of the political salience of hockey to the Conservative Party and this government.

The next day what I remembered most clearly was that commercial, the one featuring Stanley Cup-winning players being asked what it means to then. And none are able to answer. That's one powerful silence.

What is illuminated? I'm not sure, yet. The drone of the Stanley Cup Final on TV is deafening and bewildering. Less noise, please. Watch with the sound off, perhaps. And if the next game unfolds like game 3, somebody better turn out the lights.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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