Missing: The sounds of silence

Bob Dunn
Distant Replay

How being in the sports media gave one writer & broadcaster the opportunity to interview sports personalities he never imagined he’d even meet in places he never imagined he’d be. These will be his stories about their stories — or just about them — from the pages of his past, while working out of Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver in the 60s and 70s.

Remember when TV’s hockey play-by-play announcers weren’t drowned out by crowd noise? Remember the organ? Remember when a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup…and who ever thought that would be a “distant” replay? Remember when the benches were at centre ice, across from and not beside each other?

In their zest for making viewers feel like they’re at the game and not just watching it, TV’s wizards of ambiance turn up the parabolic microphones to pick up the cheering and booing, the clash of pucks and whatever else might be faintly audible at ice level. It always mystifies me why networks pay announcers so handsomely and then go out of their way to make them hard to hear. This was particularly amusing (?) during most Hockey Night in Canada games, naturally, because there were no crowds.

Fake noise!

While unimpaired hearing may be my distant replay, I once enjoyed hockey-game “atmosphere” that was silent, except for the crowd. After that came the (annoying) organ to fill the sound vacuum between whistles and face-offs.

Of course, in those days Canadian teams won the Stanley Cup, which hasn’t happened in a generation — 28 years. The pandemic re-alignment guarantees there will be a Canadian team in the semi-finals, and nobody would’ve been happier about that than a “distant legend” — the late Jim Coleman.

This country’s most celebrated national sports columnist regularly advocated having a Canadian division in the NHL ever since Winnipeg and Edmonton were adopted from the WHA and Calgary landed the Flames. Eight of the 14 winners after that were from Canada, including seven in a row (1984-1990), and since then the “homeland of hockey” has gone 0-for-28. Neither parity nor pandemic would have been his motivation, Jim Coleman was ahead of his time, as usual.

My guess is he’d also advocate for doing something about the “long change” in the second period — when both teams are furthest from their benches, leading to excessively long shifts (especially for defencemen), uncharacteristic mistakes and bad goals. When the benches were across the ice from each other, they were equidistant but that changed because having the penalty box right beside one bench created an advantage. It’s now outlawed.

The solution? Stop changing ends, and I have heard only one plausible reason for not doing that.

Tradition!

Like those other traditions: hearing TV announcers, the organ and a Stanley Cup won by Canadian teams.

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