Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Everything I needed to know in life I learned from watching Bob Cole call hockey games

The​ NHL regular season​ comes​ to​ an​ end​ on​ Saturday with​ a full slate of​ games highlighted by​ a marquee​ Canadian matchup between​​ the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. The game could decide the East’s final playoff spot, or it may not matter at all as far as the standings go. But either way, the broadcast will be must-see viewing for plenty of hockey fans across the country and beyond, because it’s going to be the last game of Bob Cole’s legendary play-by-play career.

We’ve known this night was coming for years, as Hockey Night in Canada gradually pared back Cole’s schedule. This season has turned into a farewell tour of sorts, with tributes and standing ovations in buildings around the league. Hockey fans have certainly had time to prepare for the moment. Just not enough.

For many of us, an NHL without Bob Cole is almost unimaginable. After a half-century in the booth, most of today’s fans have literally never known a hockey world in which Cole wasn’t calling games. Pick a hockey moment from your life that made you jump out of your seat, or stare in disbelief, or even want to put a fist through your TV screen, and chances are Cole was the voice that went along with it.

Like a lot of you, I grew up with Bob Cole. My kids have too. But rather than get weepy over a moment we all knew would arrive someday, I’d rather celebrate the 50 years that led us to this point. Because Cole hasn’t just entertained me over the years – he’s taught me a few things along the way. So here are 10 important life lessons I’ve learned from watching a legend.

Lesson No. 1: It’s OK to show some enthusiasm…

Let’s start with the best thing about listening to Bob Cole: He really, really seemed to like hockey.

That seems like a weird thing to say about somebody who makes their living televising a sport. But these days, even the best broadcasts are often brought down by a parade of dour voices who don’t seem to like anything or anyone involved. There are plenty of valid reason to criticize this league and its teams, and nobody tunes in to see a pep rally, but there’s only so many grumpy faces you can handle in one show, you know?

I think that’s a big part of what we loved about Bob Cole. He’d get loud, and sometimes very loud. But he never sounded like he was putting on an act, or forcing out some scripted line he’d rehearsed in front of the mirror. He just seemed like a guy who genuinely liked hockey, and when his volume went up it was because the moment deserved it.

Lesson No. 2: … but never fake it

The other side of the hockey TV coin are the guys who try a little too hard. They’re all fake passion and over-the-top enthusiasm, to the point where you’re wondering why they’re yelling at you when it’s only pregame warmup. And while I love Mike Lange and Rick Jeanneret as much as anyone else, if you’re not one of those two guys then you probably don’t need to try to do the whole clever catchphrase thing.

Cole never really had a catchphrase. I suppose you could make a case for something like “Oh baby” but that was more of a genuine exclamation of excitement than something manufactured. You never felt like Cole was sitting there in the booth with a note to remind himself to say it a few times a night because it was his trademark and he had to get it out there.

No, when you heard an “Oh baby” from Bob Cole you knew it was because he’d just seen something cool and wanted to make sure you knew about it.

Lesson No. 3: The world is changing

I can’t find a clip, but I know a few of you will back me up on this. Back in the late ’90s the NHL started experimenting with its All-Star game, and at one point it decided to go with an international-themed format that would see players from Canada and the U.S. facing a team made up of everyone else. They called it North America vs. The World.

The format wasn’t all that good and didn’t last long, but it left two lasting legacies. The first is a bunch of really weird All-Star picks like Petr Buzek and Marcus Ragnarsson. And the second, and far more important, is the time that Cole punctuated an otherwise ordinary line change by dramatically announcing that “THE WORLD IS CHANGING.” It might be my favorite random Cole moment ever. Yes, even better than the immortal “everything is happening” although it goes without saying that was also amazing.

The world was, indeed, changing, and has been ever since. And anytime anyone makes that observation, I can’t help but hear it in Bob Cole’s voice.

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