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VANCOUVER – Canadians this Saturday night will return to honoring the local hockey gods when the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada returns for its 60th season.
The national TV institution will kick off a shortened NHL season, delayed three months by a labor dispute, with a triple-header involving five Canadian teams.
“It’s great. For us, and the for the rest of the country, people feel a pent-up desire to watch hockey, and especially on Saturday nights,” Julie Bristow, executive director of studio and unscripted programming at the Canadian pubcaster, told The Hollywood Reporter.
New this year is snarly ex-Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry, Canada’s John Madden, double-shifting on his Saturday night TV pulpit with Coaches Corner, the highest-rated seven minutes on Canadian TV during the first period intermission of the opening night game.
Cherry will then return during the first intermission of the second game, which starts at 10 p.m. Saturday nights.
And the CBC is adding Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock, Kevin Weekes and Elliotte Friedman as Hockey Night in Canada analysts, alongside Ron MacLean.
It’s all part of a coast-to-coast conversation about Canada’s favorite pastime, Bristow argues.
“I don’t think you can live in Canada and not get excited about something that’s part of our national consciousness. It’s a common reference point,” she said of hockey and the NHL in Canada.
And it’s part of a bid by the CBC to retain the Hockey Night in Canada rights when the TV contract comes up for negotiation with the NHL next year.
The pubcaster is expected to receive stiff competition for the Saturday night double-header rights from rivals Bell Media and Rogers Media, both of which air NHL games on cable sport channels.
Bristow like other Canadian broadcasters is waiting to see whether the country’s hockey faithful return to NHL broadcasts in big numbers from Saturday night, after feeling alienated and even angry over the recent labor dispute.
“We hope the viewers will tune in. The next couple of days is about getting the word about the schedule of events and the games,” Bristow said.
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