Puck game gets its party

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Hockey will get its day after all. Just a little further down the dial than usual.

TSN has come to the rescue of those lamenting the demise of Hockey Day in Canada, an annual CBC production that had evolved into a coast-to-coast "celebration of the game."

Hockey Day has been a part of the Canadian landscape since 2000, but the cash-strapped CBC pulled the plug on it in the wake of the NHL lockout. Enter TSN and its replacement version of the day-long event.

Hockey Lives Here: Canada's Game is TSN's title for its six-hour grassroots initiative, which will air Feb. 19. Final details are still being worked out, but the three planned main backdrops for the production are Quebec City's annual peewee hockey tournament, the world pond hockey championships in Plaster Rock, N.B., and a CIS hockey game in Thunder Bay, where Lakehead University's team is a huge hit.

"(Hockey Day) is a good idea," said Rick Chisholm, TSN's senior VP of production and programming, in explaining the network's decision to fill the void. "We feel that it's important, and we want to ride the euphoria from the world junior hockey championship."

AFFILIATES PITCH IN

TSN will call on all its bureau reporters to supply the down-home features that give Hockey Day its true charm. Affiliates from parent company CTV are also part of the show. There will be a one-hour world junior retrospective, and the NHL Network, ESPN Classic Canada and RDS will join the fun, too.

"It's a perfect fit for the network we are now," said Chisholm. "It's where the grassroots hockey is."

Contrary to the tone of published reports earlier this week, CBC's cancellation of Hockey Day wasn't a shocking or recent move. The decision was actually made shortly after the lockout began in September, when layoffs hit Hockey Night in Canada hard and its budget was essentially reduced to zero.

"Am I disappointed we're not doing it? Yes," said Joel Darling, Hockey Night's executive producer. "Do I understand why? Yes.

"I'm more upset about the fact some people have lost jobs here ... It's a financial decision. There are a lot of decisions our department had to make because of the lockout."

NO TRIPLEHEADER

Darling said Hockey Day just couldn't happen without the tripleheader involving six Canadian NHL teams -- an impossibility even if this season is somehow rescued.

"The whole original idea of Hockey Day was centred around the three (Canadian) NHL games," he said, adding the 14-hour undertaking "takes an enormous amount of preparation and production to get it ready."

It's why you'll see Ron MacLean fronting Movie Night in Canada, among other things, and staffers such as Elliotte Friedman, Scott Oake and Brenda Irving working on other projects. Darling himself is immersed in the world aquatic championships and next year's Torino Winter Olympics.

These aren't the best of times at the CBC, and the signs have been in the air for awhile. The layoffs, the belt-tightening (CBC staff covering the Grey Cup stayed at the downtown Holiday Inn) ... the picture isn't pretty.

Hockey Day was thrown under the same bus.

That's not just sad.

It's today's harsh reality.

So CBC's loss is TSN's gain. Ours, too.


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