SUN Hockey Pool

Last call for Bob Cole?

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

"Surely, that's gotta be it!"

Bob Cole, famously marking victory for Canada over the U.S. in the gold medal game at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

Word on the street is that one of the most recognizable "Newfies" ever to step off the Rock is calling his last Stanley Cup final.

If that is indeed true, then it's news to Bob Cole.

Bad news, too.

"I don't remember asking anybody, 'Is it okay if I retire?'" the native of St. John's said from his Pittsburgh hotel room three hours before settling into the Hockey Night in Canada booth and providing millions with play-by-play of Wednesday's Red Wings-Penguins game. "I've got a great job. I don't plan on asking anybody, 'Can I please quit?'

"Frankly, I don't know what I would do if they take this away from me. I just want to try and keep it going."

Cole, who is believed to be 75, has had it going for a long time. He called the 1972 Canada-Russia series for CBC Radio, and took over as the lead voice on HNIC in the '80s.

Like his style or not, there is no questioning his status in hockey broadcasting history. It's alongside that of Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan.

"Bob Cole is an icon," said Dean Brown, the primary voice of the Ottawa Senators who also does work for HNIC. "He's been the soundtrack for most of the biggest hockey games in the last 25 or 30 years. He's one of the best who ever lived."

While it does not appear Cole will be forced to hang up his headset, a report this week stated he'll continue doing some regular season games but step down to Jim Hughson for next spring's championship series.

SHARED DUTIES

That would effectively make Hughson -- who shared first-round duties this year with Cole, Brown and Mark Lee, then Rounds 2 and 3 with Cole -- the network's main man.

A Vancouver-based voice known to millions of video game-playing kids, Hughson recently signed a six-year extension with CBC and will also call Blue Jays games.

That he will step in front of Cole in the hockey rotation and work the final is like taking the ball out of the hand of the longtime ace for the biggest game.

That's not likely to sit well with the proud Cole, which is probably why CBC execs are avoiding comment.

Cole, who is flown in from St. John's for each game during the season, shrugs off as nothing the 2 1/2-hour trip to do his job when the workplace is Toronto's ACC. He also says that by no means does he feel the effects of his approximately 30-game season at this time of year.

"Geez, no, this is just exciting," said Cole. "The playoffs, the crowd, going to the rink every day ... it's the Stanley Cup. I still get butterflies, like the players."

Accusations of being a homer do upset him, however. Cole vehemently denies he favoured the Maple Leafs, a team he sees more than any other, while calling Leafs-Sens playoff series.

Ottawa fans -- including former mayor Bob Chiarelli -- believed otherwise.

"I get excited when a team makes a great play, and the crowd helps me," he said. "I remember Stevie Thomas scoring a goal, I think it was in overtime, and it was terribly exciting. I can't see how I should have said it any way other than I did. I would have said it the same way if Ottawa scored. It was exciting, and I was excited. I'm never going to change that."

Cole also defends himself against those who say he no longer knows the players. In some arenas, his positioning in the press box makes it impossible to see the jersey number of a player skating toward him.

"Danny Gallivan once said to me, one day they might all wear helmets -- then we'll really be in trouble," he remembered, chuckling.

Cole also recalls a conversation he had with the legendary Hewitt.

"Foster heard my tapes and he liked my style," said Cole. "He told me, 'One day you'll be up here, and after you do a game, if your friends and family tell you what a great game it was, how much they loved it, and they don't mention your name, then you're in. Don't pay attention to the critics. Do the game for the fans.'

'I LOVE THE GAME'

"Maybe some people don't like me. Fair enough. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it can become jaundiced once in a while."

After he crowns either the Wings or Penguins as the next champion, Cole will go about business as usual. He'll spend the summer working on his golf game, doing some salmon fishing and attending charity golf tournaments.

Meanwhile, his agent and the CBC will work out the details on his next contract.

"We'll see what happens," said Cole, making it clear what he wants to happen.

"I do the game because I love the game. I'm lucky to have the job I have. Very fortunate. And they even pay me to do it. You can't beat that."


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