An unusual announcement (and one destined to not be very popular) from the CBC today, the extremely well received feature known as Hockey Day in Canada has been cancelled for this year. Victim apparently to bureaucratic stupidity in the absence of money making NHL hockey on television this year.
In the last five years the CBC has turned over the main network on a Saturday in February, to explore our love and passion for the game. Usually set in some small town somewhere in the frozen expanse of Canada, the day long celebration would link coast to coast to coast, featuring items from burgs of all sizes big and small, just dropping into the local rink to see what was up. Ron MacLean would be the host of this national check up on the state of the game and the grass roots, can do attitude that makes it so great.
Of course the day long adventure was anchored by NHL hockey, three games featuring all Canadian match ups, played back to back with our little vignettes liberally broadcast throughout the games. The beauty of Hockey Day in Canada was not the actual NHL games; but the pride that every small town involved would take in showcasing their local heroes, their local rink and the local characters that make Hockey the beloved sport of the nation.
Somehow that message has escaped the bean counters at the CBC, who one assumes feel that without the star attractions there's no show! But one wonders if they don't have it all backwards at the CBC (not that this would be the first time that has happened!) if ever there was a year to keep a tradition alive this would be it.
There is no doubt a serious cash flow problem at the CBC without the cash cow that hockey was to the network. And while the absence of the actual pro games on the network would be hard to program around, there would have been ways to keep the spirit of Hockey Day in Canada alive and maybe send a message to the likes of Mr. Bettman, Mr. Goodenow and their respective representatives that they do not control our game.
Hockey Day could have featured a period of a junior game, a period of a university game, an old timers game, women's hockey, a high profile minor tournament, the options are endless. To counter the lack of NHL hockey on the ice, perhaps a serious debate on the issues separating the two sides. Turn lose their battalion of experts, commentators and reporters and put everything out there for us to examine.
Lets face it, if there's no hockey by February there won't be any hockey this year. What better chance to find out just how things got of the rails than to dedicate a day to problem and maybe offer solution. More importantly by showcasing the game as it is enjoyed in communities across the land, we would be showing that nothing is bigger than the actual game played on ice, any ice, anywhere!
Instead, the CBC just washes its hands of a valuable possibility and what had become a national tradition. One hopes that common sense returns to the public broadcaster and they take advantage of an opportunity to make a difference in the debate. From the reports coming out today, the staff at the CBC are dismayed at the decision, expressing frustration with a broadcaster that seems to have lost its way of late.
Memo to CBC Programming: Listen to your employees and listen to the viewers.
Hockey Day in Canada was much more than a bunch of pro hockey players on the ice, it was a mirror into the country. Which the last time anyone checked, was exactly what the CBC was supposed to be all about!