TORONTO – The 60th season of “Hockey Night in Canada” kicks off this weekend with twice as much Grapes and plans for a cross-country tour.
The long-delayed return of the Saturday night staple will feature an expanded in-studio panel of analysts, plans to visit each of the seven Canadian NHL cities, and an extra dose of Don Cherry commentary that will air during the later game out of the West.
The tweaks are all meant to make “Hockey Night in Canada” a more truly national broadcast, said host Ron MacLean.
“We met with the seven Canadian NHL team presidents last year and they thought, ‘Is there more you can do? We just feel like we don’t get enough of “Hockey Night in Canada” because it all happens out of the CBC building in Toronto.'”
Cherry said the planned tour — in which he and MacLean expect to introduce games from the ice — is a long time coming.
“What is this, ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ or is it ‘Hockey Night in Toronto’?” said Cherry, sporting a black suit and tartan tie for a round of interviews at CBC headquarters.
“For years that’s what it’s been. So we thought, it’d be good if Ron and I go out and they make it nationwide and the whole deal.”
Starting Saturday, Cherry will also be coming up with more bombastic zingers. In addition to the “Coach’s Corner” segment that airs during the first intermission of the early evening game from the East, he’ll be hosting a brief commentary segment for the later game out of the West.
“We always wanted Don in between games, to make sure he got into the West but there isn’t a guarantee that we have what we call a window between the first game at 7 eastern and the 10 o’clock game,” noted MacLean.
“So this guarantees Don will come on for a couple minutes right at the end of that first period in the second game.”
“It’ll just make my beer a little colder when I get home, that’s all,” Cherry said of his added duties.
In addition, MacLean will be joined at the desk by analysts Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock, Kevin Weekes, Elliotte Friedman with Andi Petrillo.
“The biggest fear is after ‘Coach’s Corner’ there’s nothing left for us to talk about,” said Healy, ribbing Cherry as MacLean sat between them.
“You have carte blanche, just don’t screw up ‘Coach’s Corner,'” Cherry warned.
CBC hits the ice with 49 games on its schedule.
That includes 10 Original Six games featuring Toronto/Montreal, Edmonton/Calgary, Ottawa/Toronto and Montreal/Boston.
The four-month lockout had some fans vowing to boycott the games but CBC’s executive director of unscripted programming isn’t worried that will affect Saturday night viewership.
“I’m very optimistic that there’s a real pent-up demand for hockey and that’s why we have big plans for Saturday night — a triple header, we’re doing a concert in Montreal, Daryn (Jones) is hosting — we really want to get people back, engaged in the game as fast as possible and I think Canadians want to be back, engaged in the game as fast as possible,” said Julie Bristow.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a big audience to the start of the season and because there’s only going to be a certain amount of games this season I think we’ll have good audiences.”
“Hockey Night in Canada” begins Saturday with the Ottawa Senators visiting the Winnipeg Jets. CBC will have simultaneous live coverage of select moments from the Stanley Cup banner raising in Los Angeles and a concert event live from Montreal.
That’s all followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal to face the Canadiens at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT) and the Anaheim Ducks in Vancouver to battle the Canucks at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT).