Checkers broadcaster Jason Shaya checks in from time to time with a series of observations about the team and the hockey world in general. This week: a salute to one of his hockey heroes: legendary Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Bob Cole.
"It's a sing-song at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Over 20,000 standing as you see and screaming as you can hear." -- Robert Cecil Cole.
The Detroit Red Wings were moments away from eliminating Anaheim in game seven in 2009. As the crowd was roaring, Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play legend Bob Cole uttered those words. Like so many phrases he's said before, it remains with me. It's a very Cole-ishe type phrase. He assess the zeitgeist of the crowd and articulates it to the viewers with supreme authority. Moreover, it's how he says it that makes it so profound and in broadcasting, that makes all the difference. Anyone can yell, "Scores!" or can tell you, "the fans are on their feet." But, you won't have the expressional genius like Bob Cole and it won't have anywhere near the effect.
If you re-read that opening line in order to deliver it like Bob Cole, there are certain things you must do. First, lower the register of your voice to make furniture vibrate. The location of the game, Joe Louis Arena, is staggered in its delivery. Put periods after each word and you'll get the point. Detroit is not simply said as it reads; it's pronounced "Dee-TROY-it." The second sentence begins at a higher pitch then lowers, in contrast to raucous fans in the arena, for the final, "screaming, as you can hear."
Those are the moments that take his broadcasts to a level of excellence no one else can achieve. His games are a symphony. The finest conductor in broadcasting history is at the helm: the players, the puck, the crowd, the cacophany of sound are narrated to the audience by the voice of Bob Cole.
Seminal moments of past decades weren't simply described by Cole, they were elevated by him. For instance, when Steve Yzerman lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1997, his teammates demanded he take the cup around the rink by himself. On CBC, Bob Cole captured it all: "There's the skate they've been waiting for. The Captain, Steve Yzerman. With the Cup held high." He continued, making the moment crushingly emotional: "Steve, you wanted it so badly. You showed so much patience and so much grit. You got now, baby. The Stanley Cup for Detroit!" An entire city saw their dream come true. Detroit's heroic long-time captain lifted the cup over his head as a champion and Bob Cole brought the moment to it's crescendo.
As a broadacaster, Cole is my unceasing inspiration to call the perfect game. Perfection in the absolute sense, however, is impossible. Plato argued that objective or universal concepts do exist, but only beyond our world. I'd submit that the closest to the Platonic Ideal of a broadcaster is Bob Cole.
I may never get a chance to meet him and if I ever did, I have no idea what I would say. I'd probably have the "wit of the staircase" moment where you think of something clever only after you've left the room. The truth is there aren't enough words to properly thank a man that so greatly influenced my professional career.
I've been watching Hockey Night in Canada since I was a child. Then as now, I feel his voice remains emblematic of the drama, emotion and power of our sport. There is talk now that he will continue broadcasting next season with Rogers. That's welcomed news for the fans of one of the greatest sports play-by-play broadcasters of all time. May God Bless Bob Cole.
- Written by Jason Shaya