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The Usual Suspects

TSN's Forde warms to task Add to ...

It hasn't always be easy for TSN's CFL analyst Duane Forde, learning on the fly beside Rod Black - the Joe Biden of Canadian sports casting ("Martel Mallet's first carry on the ground…"). But as the former CFL fullback showed again yesterday in the CFL East semi-final, he's warming to the task as TSN's "other" game analyst.

Forde, who won two Grey Cup rings in Calgary, will never be confused with the rambunctious Matt Dunigan or the eloquent Jock Climie. (Although he did show wit yesterday, saying the B.C. Lions' Ian Smart "got Wally Pipp'd" by Mallet when he took his running back job.) He's more Jack Webb "just-the-facts."

Typical was Forde showing Drisan James of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats fumbling near the Lions' goal line.

"He's carrying the ball in his right arm - that's where the pursuit is coming from. Typically you teach a ball carrier to put the ball in his outside arm, away from the pursuit."

Simple but effective.

On another occasion, Forde showed Mallet picking up blitz to explain why it has kept him in (and Smart out of) the starting lineup. He's not yet as fluid with the Telestrator as his colleague Glen Suitor. And Forde will never headline at Yuk-Yuks.

But after an uncertain start in the booth in 2008, the Western grad has found a voice that works.

No Canada Not to go all Chicken Little, but if the NHL playoffs began this morning, there would be, ahem, one Canadian team for Hockey Night in Canada and TSN to divide on their April broadcast schedule. (CBC gets dibs on the first available Canadian series.) With the Canadian teams operating as the league's ATM these days, that's a chilling notion for both the NHL and the Canadian broadcasters who depend on healthy playoff cheques to balance books at year's end.

At this point the TV suits will say, "It's early, dummy! We're not even a third into the season." True. But ask fans of the Oilers, Canadiens, Senators, Canucks and Maple Leafs how they feel about the prospects for their teams. Un-huh. Thought so.

More ifs than Rudyard Kipling.

The bright side? In spite of the carnage so far, Canadians are bellying up to the plasma screen in record numbers. Hockey Night In Canada's early slot on Saturday is consistently near the two million range while the late game checks in around 800,000 a week. TSN, as well, has posted record numbers this season - aided by the new PPM ratings.

Over at Rogers Sportsnet, it's a similarly rosy picture. Last Tuesday, to take one example, the Senators drew 140,000 viewers, the hapless Maple Leafs attracted 582,000, the surging Flames had 241,000 for a late-afternoon start, and the Canucks pulled in 267,000 - also for an early start. Maybe it's the lousy economy, maybe it's their nifty new HD sets.

The only certainty is that many of the same Canadians watching in November will tune out next April if their home team misses the postseason.

Buzz Bomb For someone who told people he'd never attended a hockey game at any level until last spring, Basil Hargrove has become a quick study on the exploitation of workers in the NHL. Despite - or perhaps because of - his recent resignation from the NHL Players' Association, Hargrove is still making the media rounds explaining his blameless role in the Paul Kelly Massacre. Thursday he dropped in on Prime Time Sports to insist that Kelly deserved the trap door for crimes against the hockey working man.

Explaining that he still has private Kelly e-mails in his possession after resigning as NHLPA ombudsman, Buzz told Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt that, "I never encouraged anyone to fire Paul Kelly. I never encouraged them to make the decision at 3:30 a.m. in the morning. Nobody asked me my opinion about when they should make the decision, so all of these things that have been hanging out there are absolutely untrue."

In the next breath, Hargrove said "and they asked me if this had occurred in your former organization, and this happened, and I said 'if someone violated the trust and confidence of the leadership of the union and the membership, absolutely they would be fired, including the top guy, the president." Huh?

Hargrove - and his allies in the putsch - are using the fact that, until Kelly's contract is settled by the PA's executive board, the deposed executive director is effectively muzzled. Until Kelly is afforded an equal opportunity to defend himself, the unopposed media agenda of Hargrove and his cohorts - however entertaining - must be taken for what it is.

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