It was the greeting he had been using on the radio broadcast of the same name since its first coast-to-coast coverage of a 1933 contest between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, coming two years after the radio broadcast of the opening game at the new Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton Street in downtown Toronto.
Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) has become the longest running and most influential sports program in Canadian history. The program features the game's biggest stars and best NHL match-ups including exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Final, a host of innovative program features, in-depth reporting and highly popular, well-known on-air personalities. Millions of viewers tune in each season.
But the program started out as an early television experiment. Hewitt wanted to prove his contention that he could employ the same style of play-by-play for television that he had used on radio.
After doing the commentary for a Memorial Cup contest held at the Gardens in the spring of 1952 that was watched on close-circuit TV by a group of hockey and broadcasting officials - Hewitt managed to prove himself right. The first NHL game to be televised on CBC was actually a game in Montreal on Oct. 11, 1952, three weeks before Toronto's debut on Nov. 1. It was the same year that CBC Television first took to the nation's airwaves. Watch an intermission clip from 1962:
Recognized as the world's oldest and longest running weekly sports-related television program, the show's origins date back to 1931 when the General Motors Hockey Broadcast could be heard on the Canadian National Railway radio network most Saturday nights throughout the National Hockey League season.
When HNIC found its way onto TV, because of scheduling conflicts, CBC Television didn't begin airing the Saturday night game until 9 p.m. Since the game started at 8 p.m., this was typically the middle of the game's second period. In the 1963/64 season, HNIC was moved up to 8:30 (near the end of the first period). CBC Television began airing full games, starting at 8 p.m., during the 1967/68 season.
Imperial Oil had purchased the TV rights for that first season at just $100 per Maple Leafs game, as team owner Conn Smythe wanted to make sure that hockey was as appealing on TV as it was on radio before asking for an appropriate fee. The following season, Imperial purchased the rights to the games for $150,000 a year in a three-year contract. By the early 1960s, after Stafford Smythe had bought out his father's controlling stock in the Gardens, the rights sold for $9 million over six years, or about $21,000 per game.
Despite being a pioneer for hockey on television, Hewitt eventually went back to just doing radio commentary in the late '50s.
Hear Hewitt talk about his experiences as a hockey broadcaster:
Among Hewitt's successors as host of HNIC were Ward Cornell, Dave Hodge and Ron MacLean. Hewitt's son, Bill Hewitt, would eventually become a long-time play-by-play man, as did Hockey Hall of Famer Danny Gallivan, who teamed with commentator Dick Irvin in Montreal Canadiens broadcasts for many years. Bob Cole eventually replaced Bill Hewitt, who left due to declining health.
HNIC remains a truly Canadian tradition, but Americans with access to Canadian TV seem to love it as well.
In a 2001 USA Today article, sports columnist Jeff Zillgitt -- who grew up watching HNIC in Michigan, near the Ontario border -- sang the praises of CBC's hockey coverage.
"If you're a hockey fan and you've never caught a hockey game on CBC, you owe it to yourself to do so. It's just something that needs to be done," he wrote.
That's exactly the kind of feeling that HNIC strives to achieve, says executive producer Trevor Pilling.
"For many people it's been a consistent part of their lives, their entire life. Perhaps more consistent than almost anything else may be in their life," Pilling says. "It connects people from coast-to-coast-to-coast. It's something that many Canadians share a passion for - and that's rare.
"What we bring to the people of our nation is the ability to enjoy a game on a Saturday night and to escape and to have some fun. Maybe they'll yell at the TV because they don't like what's being said. Maybe they'll yell at the TV because they love the person who scored the goal. People are engaged."
When competing in a 500 channel universe with an endless selection of entertainment options and platforms for viewers to chose from, it's important to establish that connection, Pilling says.
"If you're able to work on a production that creates a moment that will live in the memory of a person for a day or a week or a year or a lifetime - is an incredibly special opportunity. It's one that we don't take lightly at all," he says.
Pilling remembers dreaming about working on HNIC in the late-1980s while he was working for a small station in Brandon, Man., and occasionally having the opportunity to work on remote sport production. He slowly worked his way up the ranks, starting with summer-relief cameraman work at CBC Winnipeg, before getting a job there and then eventually proving himself enough that he was offered a job with CBC Sports in Toronto in 1997. From there he continued to climb the ranks, being named executive producer of HNIC in 2010.
"The contributions to Canadian society, Canadian history, Canadian television history that have been made by CBC Sports and the events we've covered are perhaps some of the most defining events in our history and some of the most remembered and cherished moments by Canadians," he says. "Of all the programming and all the events that have been on TV and around the world - what unites people more? I would say nothing. I don't there's one thing or one show beyond the sporting programs that unites Canadians more."
But working on HNIC is a grind, he stresses.
"The hockey season - it's relentless, it's a grind. It's ongoing - it never ends and then when you get to the end of the regular season, the hard part just starts with the Stanley Cup final and the playoff run. It's intense and long and pressure packed."
The efforts that the HNIC team has put into producing its programming has placed it above other sports programming in the country, Pilling maintains.
"No one can touch our ratings. No one can touch the positive feeling that people get from watching sport," he says. "We feel that we do it to a different level beyond what others may do. They aspire to get to our level. We aren't so overly confident to think that others don't do it well or that people aren't nipping at our heels or that we don't always need to continue to get better - because we do."
But HNIC has unquestionably established itself as part of CBC and "an important part of the fabric that is Canada," he adds.
"Hockey Night in Canada is unlike any other program we've ever experienced in Canada. We're entering into our 59th season."
New season set to start
HNIC will again get underway on CBC Television on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET, with Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off, live from The Forks in Winnipeg, including live musical performances from Three Days Grace and hometown legends Bachman and Turner. MacLean hosts the broadcast from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, while CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos emcees the festivities from The Forks alongside new HNIC team member Andi Petrillo.
Following the celebration pre-game show, the game takes centre stage as the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens, at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the Vancouver Canucks versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, at 10 p.m. ET.
Don Cherry will make his much-anticipated return for his 32nd season with Coach's Corner in the first intermission of Leafs-Habs.
Take a trip down memory lane and watch a 1995 clip from Coach's Corner with Cherry and MacLean:
Fans will also be treated to coverage of the Stanley Cup banner raising in Boston.
Saturday night then sees Scotiabank Hockey Tonight, at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by Ottawa at Toronto, at 7 p.m. ET, and Pittsburgh at Calgary, at 10 p.m. ET.
Rounding out the weekend, one of the most anticipated hockey games in recent memory, as the Winnipeg Jets return to the NHL against the Montreal Canadiens, Sunday, Oct. 9, live from Winnipeg. Scotiabank Hockey Tonight sets it all up, at 4 p.m. ET, then the puck drops at 5 p.m. ET.
For more information about new additions and surprises in store for this season, be sure to check out CBCSports.ca. There, you can also find the complete broadcast schedule of the 2011-12 season.