Friday, December 11, 2009

"The Dean of Hockey Broadcasting"

I wish you could hear his voice. I wish you could sense the shiver of excitement when he exploded onto the air with his trademark

“Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States…”

Earlier on, before it became a province, he tacked “…and Newfoundland” to the end of it. But that was before my time. (As I get older, it seems less and less was “before my time.”)

I’ve tried imitating his voice. I can hear it perfectly in my head, but something happens as it works its way out, that “something” being an alarming loss of accuracy. Hewitt’s voice appears to emanate from the back of his throat, as if hiding from the bitter, Canadian cold. The resulting tones emerge distant and pinched, as if the voice itself were wearing a wool hat and a scarf.

But whatever its source, on those windblown winter nights, Foster Hewitt’s voice reverberated across a nation.

It bound us together, a whole country tuned into those Saturday night games. (The NHL schedule was set up so the Leafs always played at home on Saturday night. You can do that when your league is comprised of six teams.)

Everyone in Canada, except for Quebec – where the hated Canadiens games were broadcast – listened to that game, broadcast by that inimitable voice.

The Voice of Hockey.

Foster Hewitt was the pioneer of hockey announcing. He originated phrases still in use to this very day, his most famous call of all – and the title of his autobiography –

“He Shoots, He Scores!”

You can’t really do that call justice on paper. Or whatever this is. That call, especially during “sudden-death” overtime playoff games – is electrifying. A death knell when it’s called against your team, a “leap-to-your-feet victory dance” when you win. How can I convey that emotion.

“He shoots, he SCO-O-O-RES!!!”

Nah. You had to be there.

Foster Hewitt invented “He shoots, he scores!” It seems like, Duh! today. When a goal was scored, I can’t imagine what the earlier announcers would have said instead.

“It’s in the thing!”

“It’s behind the guy!”

“It’s over the place!”

Even if you’re not a hockey fan, you’ll have to agree those aren’t nearly as good.

In “Foster Talk”, a player who slowed down the game (to protect a lead) was “ragging the puck.” An intensely played interlude had opponents “going at it hammer and tongs.” A fight-filled contest became “a rock-‘em – sock ‘em hockey game.”

Before television, Foster Hewitt’s voice was our bridge to the thrills and excitement of a game we could only imagine, our imaginings informed by his defining descriptions. Hewitt was Canada’s eyes. And its emotions as well. Though, being Canadian, he never really went wild.

When TV arrived, it was weird at first. Though the game started at eight, the telecast didn’t begin until nine. This delay forced fans to listen to the early part of the game on the radio, a strategy that made (dollars and) sense when you learn that every Leaf game was broadcast exclusively over CKFH. So what? The “FH” in CKFH stood for Foster Hewitt. With no alternative until nine o’clock, hockey fans were the captives of the announcer’s own station.

Also, theoretically, a nine o’clock television “start time” meant the only way to see the entire game was to buy a ticket and watch it in person. This ticket-buying inducement seems reasonable, until you remember that Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Leafs played at the time, had been sold out since 1942. You couldn’t get a ticket. Out of luck fans like myself had to settle for the next best thing – radio till nine, then switch to TV.

The game expertly called by Foster Hewitt.

The indisputable Dean of Hockey Broadcasting.

“Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States…”

The words remain in my bones.


10570Fan said...

As a hockey fan in the United States, a NY Ranger fan, I often think of hockey as a private club. Understood and appreciated by a few select, extremely knowledgeable fans. I can't imagine how unique your position as a hockey fan must be in sunny Southern California.

MikeThe Blogger said...

Here is a Very Famous Call from Foster Hewitt if others would like to hear that unique gravelly voice Earl is talking about. And Earl never did mention the "hockey puck blight" that almost devastated our national pastime. Earl, anyone have a video clip of that brilliant "report"?

rms said...

As a woman, I'm not really interested in hockey and only watched it periodically as a kid. However, I remember "He shoots. He SCORES!" There's something quintesentially Canadian about hockey that seeps in by osmosis. I still cringe when I think of the US stations broadcasting hockey games and adding a blue streak to the puck. It's a BLACK puck on a WHITE background. How hard is that to follow?

BTW, winter cold has finally come to the big TO. It's been bitter up here and I'm yet to gain my winter blood. Minus 10 celcius is burr right now. In a few months, it'll feel balmy.

Rick Whelan said...

I loved it when the Leafs played Les Habs and Foster had to pronouce all those French names.

My favorite was his take on Yvan Cournoyer (pronounced EEE-VOHN CORN-WHY-AYYY.)

Foster would pronounce it

Peter J. said...

"The Voice of Hockey: Foster Hewitt" is a great set of audio and video clips from the CBC Archives. The second clip, "From here, it looks like a herring..." is a five-minute excerpt of his broadcast of a Maple Leafs-Red Wings Stanley Cup game in 1942.

(For what it's worth, Hewitt isn't quite "before my time", but only because he came out of retirement for the Summit Series.)

emily said...

I'm guessing Jiggs McDonald was influenced by Foster Hewitt.

Anonymous said...

Did your family rush through the seder so they could watch the Stanley Cup? One of my cousins had 'end blues' was her entire claim to fame in life. I finally got to a game on a blind date with a guy who imitated Shelley Berman the entire evening. Sigh!
One of the highlights of my adolescence was the victory parade down Bay St. when the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. My girlfriend and I climbed up on the cenotaph in front of city hall to catch a better view of Frank Mahovolich. Double sigh!

growingupartists said...

You are the BEST writer Earl! I've learned so much.

Brian Scully said...

I grew up in West Spfld, MA and next door, we had an AHL hockey team, the Springfield Kings (later, to be called the Springfield Indians, and now the Falcons). Anyway, I used to go to the games, as much for the beer as for the hockey, but I loved watching guys that would later become NHL stars. The reason I'm writing this though, Earl, is to let you know WHO owned that team... the legendary Eddie Shore... a player so tough that legend has it he had his ear ripped off in a game and had it sewn back on in between periods and came back to play the rest of the game. He was a tough guy, right into his 80's as I remember approaching him drunk one night and him showing me how to knock an opponent off his balance... and he sort of checked me into a nearby beer stand. And it hurt. But fortunately, it was a beer stand so it wasn't a wasted trip.

cialis online said...

What about his face? I've got the same record and he's on of the best in his category. We need more men like him, and would be nice if you add this: Hewitt came out of retirement to broadcast the 1972 Summit Series and then Hewitt was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1965. 23jj

xl pharmacy said...

He sure was a great voice when dealing with hockey transmitting games.

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