The most recognizable voice in hockey is on the phone talking about why the Toronto Maple Leafs lost Game 1 to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s the old phrase when you get to the playoffs,” said Bob Cole. “‘You better stay out of the penalty box,’ especially against a team like Boston. Or else they’re going to sting you.”
Cole, who sounds as if he’s in the middle of a broadcast, then added: “It’s a great time of year.”
And yet, for the 84-year-old, it has suddenly become the worst time of the year. For the first time in almost five decades, the legendary play-by-play announcer won’t be calling any playoff games. It’s a decision that caught Cole by surprise. And it’s a decision that he still doesn’t quite understand.
“I’ve been doing playoffs every year of my life in broadcasting. This is the first time that I’m not involved,” Cole said. “It’s difficult to live with the fact that I’m not working. I surely will miss not working the playoffs. That’s the best way I can say it.”
For generations of fans, the feeling is likely mutual. Though his voice has aged a bit over the years, Cole’s staccato delivery and familiar phrasings of “Oh, baby!” and, “Everything is happening!” are as much a part of the game as the ice and the boards. There’s a kind of poetry to how he describes a play.
“For me, Bob has always been a huge part of simply enjoying a hockey game for years,” said Sportsnet’s Dave Randorf, who is calling the Vegas-Los Angeles series in the first round. “The voice. The drama. You turn on the TV and know, ‘This will be fun.’ That is how I hope and aspire to be like Bob.
“He has set the bar very high for all of us. I have great respect and take that very seriously.”
During what might be Cole’s last broadcast — a 4-2 Bruins win against the Senators on April 7 — Cole described a Noel Acciari breakaway goal as a “free break for a cherry.” As the final buzzer sounded, he signed off on Ottawa’s season by saying “and then the roof kind of caved in.”
It was an appropriate line for what then happened to Cole.
A day later, while watching The Masters golf tournament on TV at his home in St. John’s, Cole received a call from his bosses. At first, he assumed he was getting his marching orders for the playoffs. Instead, he was told he was being grounded.
“The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” said Cole. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other (broadcast) teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision — not mine.”
Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson are calling the Toronto-Boston series, while Paul Romanuk and Garry Galley are broadcasting the Winnipeg-Minnesota series, with Rick Ball and Greg Millen doing Pittsburgh-Philadelphia and Randorf and Louie DeBrusk the Vegas-Los Angeles series.
“Bob Cole is, without doubt, one of the greatest broadcasters in hockey history and an icon in Canadian television,” Scott Moore, Rogers Media’s president of Sportsnet & NHL Properties said in a statement. “He is revered across this country and loved by legions of hockey fans around the world. His career, which has spanned more than 50 years, is one to be celebrated.
“We made a difficult decision this year not to include him in our playoff plans. This decision in no way diminishes the admiration we have for his substantial body of work.”
Though Rogers did not indicate why Cole isn’t part of the plan this year, the decision isn’t that surprising. Cole’s workload has been cut back more and more over the years. In 2009, he didn’t call the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1983. “It’s time for a new generation of play-by-play voice,” Moore said at the time. And a year ago, Cole only worked the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“It was the first year I didn’t get to the conference final,” Cole said. “I called the seventh game between Washington and Pittsburgh and was told, ‘That’s it.’ They didn’t need me after that.
“They cut me back quite a bit this year, so I just lived with it and kept going,” Cole said. “But I was never told that once that playoffs start, I wouldn’t be working. I’m not going to be part of it all. That’s kind of tough, but you have to live with it.”
Cole isn’t sure whether he will be back in the booth next season — “You never know with the way things are going,” he said. But he also isn’t sure he’s ready to retire. The voice still feels and sounds as good as ever. Plus, he still loves calling the games, whether it’s at the rink or at home in front of his television.
“I’ve been pretty lucky over the years that my voice has continued to serve me,” he said. “I hope that it has served the viewing audience OK. I just love my job. Once someone tells you that you’re not going to be involved in the playoffs, you have to respect that decision. There’s not much you can do about that.
“But I kind of miss it, for sure.”
From “Oh, baby!” to “it’s all happening,” Bob Cole’s trademark phrases have become part of the hockey lexicon. Here are a few of his more memorable calls.
Mario Lemieux’s breakaway goal against the North Stars in the 1991 playoffs
“Here’s Lemieux to centre — penalty coming up — look at Lemieux! Oh my goodness! What a goal! What a move! Lemieux! Oh, baby!”
Doug Gilmour’s wraparound goal against the Blues in the 1993 playoffs
“Gilmour back of the net, Andreychuk in front with Borschevsky. It is Gilmour waiting, waiting, around the net, waiting — he’s open! Gilmour! Solo job! And he’s won it, in a second overtime period. How. About. That. Oh my. Oh my. What a night, tonight, for the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Eric Desjardins’ overtime goal against the Kings in the 1993 final
“Desjardins following the play and he misses with the short side and there he is again — scores! Desjardins! And the Canadiens win in overtime. His third goal of the game. And the series is a brand new one.”
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