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This will not be announced or acknowledged until well after the fact, but Bob Cole is calling his last Stanley Cup final for the CBC.

The veteran announcer's future with Hockey Night in Canada is a sensitive subject that management will not discuss.

But sources close to CBC Sports say Cole's assignments next season will not include the NHL's championship series, although he will continue to call regular-season games.

In a recent interview, Cole said he wishes to continue with a full schedule of games next season. Despite his age, which is about 75, he feels he is in top form.

Cole's play-by-play has received good reviews and the network is pleased with his work, but his schedule in 2008-09 is likely to be reduced.

A source close to the network said: "Bob wants to continue and he will. But next year, Jim Hughson will do the play-by-play for the Stanley Cup final."

Hughson, who signed a six-year contract extension with the CBC this year, will take over as the lead voice of Hockey Night next season.

Insiders say the CBC would like to honour Cole, who has been calling games for the corporation since 1969. A celebration, perhaps a dinner, has been suggested, but it isn't clear Cole is interested.

Cole started in radio and has been the lead play caller on Hockey Night since the 1980s. He says his most memorable games include those of the Summit Series in 1972, for which he did CBC Radio play-by-play, and the seventh game of the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers-Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup final.

But tops, he says, was the men's gold-medal game, Canada-United States, at the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002.

Cup viewership

The first game of the Stanley Cup final (Pittsburgh Penguins-Detroit Red Wings) on Saturday represented a breakthrough for the U.S. cable channel Versus, which drew a U.S. audience of 2.316 million for the telecast.

The rating of 1.8 (the percentage of potential households tuned in) was the largest ever for an NHL game on Versus and the network's second largest rating for any telecast, behind 2.1 for Lance Armstrong's final ride in the 2005 Tour de France, when Versus had the title Outdoor Life Network.

Most encouraging for Versus and the NHL, the audience for the first game was the largest on U.S. cable for a telecast of the Stanley Cup final since 2002, surpassing the ratings earned by ESPN in 2003 (New Jersey Devils-Anaheim Ducks) and 2004 (Tampa Bay Lightning-Calgary Flames).

John Shannon, the head of broadcasting for the NHL, said Versus's audiences showed continuous growth during the postseason. For the conference finals, viewership was up 77 per cent from last year.

"You could see this coming," he said. "Everybody held their breath and hoped the momentum would continue, and the numbers on Saturday proved that it did. We're thrilled, thrilled for the game and thrilled for Versus."

The 1.8 rating marked an increase of 157 per cent from last year's 0.7 for the first game (Ottawa Senators-Ducks). And it was up 100 per cent from the first game in 2006 (Carolina Hurricanes-Oilers). In the Detroit market, the Versus rating was 8.4; in Pittsburgh, 19.0.

Canadian audiences

The CBC's audience of 2.11 million for the first game of the Stanley Cup final was down 19 per cent from last year's 2.608 million for the first game (Ottawa-Anaheim). But, in the absence of a Canadian team, the size of the CBC's audience wasn't bad. The Penguins, a young team with plenty of stars, and the Red Wings, who dominated the NHL's Western Conference, are an attractive matchup.

The last time the CBC aired an all-U.S. Stanley Cup final, Devils-Ducks in 2003, the audience for the first game was only 1.29 million.

The RDS telecast drew 720,000 viewers. That's up 25 per cent from the network's audience for last year's opener. And it was actually a larger number than the regular-season average for Montreal Canadiens telecasts in 2007-08 (715,000).

Rating the weekend

EVENT NETWORK VIEWERS SKINNY
Friday
Hockey, Belleville-Kitchener Sportsnet 190,000 Good audience for one-sided game
Basketball, Spurs-Lakers TSN 170,000 Excellent for NBA
Saturday
Lacrosse, Virginia-Syracuse Score 19,000 Not bad for NCAA lacrosse
Lacrosse, Duke-Johns Hopkins Score 5,000 Lower for second semi-final
Baseball, Royals-Jays Sportsnet 205,000 Not great
Hockey, Penguins-Wings CBC 2.11 million Good audience for U.S. match-up
Hockey, Penguins-Wings RDS 720,000 Up 25 per cent from last year's Game 1.
Soccer, Washington-TFC Sportsnet 43,000 Up against Stanley Cup final
Basketball, Celtics-Pistons TSN 77,000 More interest in Western final
Sunday
Auto racing, Monaco F1 TSN 178,000 Above average for Grand Prix race
Auto racing, Indy 500 TSN 195,000 Racing audience increases for Indy
Baseball, Royals-Jays Sportsnet 332,000 Jays were trying for four in a row
Auto racing, Sprint Cup TSN 294,000 Good NASCAR audience
Hockey, Spokane-Kitchener Sportsnet 294,000 Down 24 per cent from 2007 Cup final
Basketball, Spurs-Lakers Score 145,000 Score's best for non-Raptors telecast
Baseball, Angels-White Sox Sportsnet 46,000 Not much interest