SUN Hockey Pool

Bob Cole ain't goin' nowhere

At 77 years of age, legendary NHL play-by-play broadcaster Bob Cole has no plans on retirement....

At 77 years of age, legendary NHL play-by-play broadcaster Bob Cole has no plans on retirement. (QMI Agency file photo)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:44 PM ET

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. — From Grande Prairie to Gander, it is a question that has popped up among hockey fans in every nook and cranny of this country.

One that, on this particular day, Bob Cole will answer without hesitation, reservation or, for that matter, frustration.

It is a grey, midweek afternoon here on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula and Cole, the man who still owns the most recognizable hockey pipes in Canada, is peacefully sitting in the stands at Mile One Stadium, watching people young and old glide around the rink as part of the arena’s daily public skating ritual.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, he is recognized by a man who quickly makes his way over to St. John’s favourite son.

“Excuse me, Mr. Cole, but you aren’t retiring, are you? “ the chap asks.

Cole’s response comes quicker than a Shea Weber slapshot.

“No way,” Cole says. “It’s not in my plans.”

A smile came over the man’s face.

“That’s great!”

Indeed, at 77 years of age, Bob Cole has no intentions of walking away from the microphone that has been part of his life for six decades. If and when the plug is pulled, he won’t be the one yanking it out of the wall.

On Saturday night in Montreal, as part of Hockey Day in Canada, Bob Cole was perched in the broadcast booth at the Bell Centre, calling the play-by-play of yet another heated meeting between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

On a day when this country held a coast-to-coast celebration in honour of its most beloved sport, it was fitting that Cole, whose colourful calls have been part of hockey’s cultural fabric since he first started doing CBC television broadcasts in the early 1970s, was there to paint a verbal picture of this latest edition of the NHL’s most storied rivalry.

True, there are those who feel that Cole’s artistic vocal talents are eroding, citing that he makes more than his share of slip-ups during the broadcasts.

Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

But what cannot be debated is the amount of passion, of zeal, that Cole brings to his job every night. If you can’t get pumped up listening to the emotion oozing from a Bob Cole call of a game, you don’t have a pulse.

“It’s the voice,” Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “The moment you hear that voice, you feel like you are in the arena being an actual part of the game.”

Admittedly “heartbroken” when CBC decided to end his three decade-plus run of working the Stanley Cup finals a couple of years ago, the gracious Cole nevertheless appreciates the opportunity to continue doing the job he so loves and covets.

Asked about calling a Leafs-Habs tilt for the umpteenth time in his illustrious career, Cole replied: “I do feel privileged that I still have the chance to do that or any other game. I’m delighted that CBC renewed my contract.”

Even when some critics still suggest he call it a career?

“One day everyone quits but, right now, I don’t want to quit,” Cole said. “I don’t even like the word ‘Quit.’ I don’t want to get sappy but as long as the fans still enjoy listening to me, I want to keep doing it. I love it.

“Just let me go and do what I do. Oh, there are times where even I am not satisfied with my performance but hopefully that can be improved. But the most important thing to me is to try to be good to the fans.

“Look, once in a while you are going to miss something. The puck is just three inches big and, in some of these buildings, you are going to be sitting 200 feet away. Things are going to happen.

“The bottom line is, my broadcasts come from the heart. Family is No. 1 in my life and hockey is right there too. I don’t want to give it up.”

To those who feel he should because he is getting long in the tooth, Cole has a message.

“You should never talk about age,” he said defiantly. “That’s an insult to anyone who is a senior. Just let them do what they do. What’s age got to do with anything? We all get a year older.”

As an example, Cole points to legendary baseball broadcaster Vin Scully, who continues to call Los Angeles Dodgers game in a one-man booth at the age of 83. It’s a fact not lost on Wayne Gretzky, who once told a colleague to take care of Cole because “he’s the Vin Scully of the east.”

Back at Cole’s quaint, smartly decorated home in St. John’s, Gretzky is well represented in the impressive collection of hockey memorabilia sprinkled throughout the house, ranging from one of the Great One’s first helmets from his Edmonton Oilers days, to a personally-autographed poster of No. 99 and Gordie Howe standing together, complete with signatures from both. There is even a framed letter written by Gretzky congratulating Cole on his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

In his den, there are autographed photos of Cole standing with the likes of Jean Beliveau, Foster Hewitt and Mario Lemieux. His Grammy Award and various nominations hang from the wall. Impressive, to say the least.

But perhaps the most telling items are a pair of small trophies featuring depictions of airplanes. These were awarded to him by Air Canada and Canadian Airlines respectively, in honour of having travelled “One Million Miles” with each carrier.

Indeed, pretty much each and every weekend during the hockey season since 1973, Bob Cole has travelled across the country and throughout the world on assignments from his hometown.

A place where he grew up playing pond shinny on Signal Hill. A place where, at Mile One Stadium, reporters gather to cover games in the Bob Cole Media Centre.

You can take Bob Cole out of St. John’s but you can’t take St. John’s out of Bob Cole.

Just like you can’t take the game he so loves out of his blood.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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