He shoots, he scores! To celebrate a new season of Hockey Night in Canada, Rewind celebrates half a century of legendary hockey commentator Foster Hewitt. Every Saturday night his exuberant, nasal voice rang from CBC Radio.
Among sports broadcasters, Foster Hewitt was regarded as a pioneer. His ability to cut to the quick, his economy of words and his enthusiasm were hallmarks.
You can listen to the show right here.
So, did you watch the first NHL hockey game of the new season? As usual, it was deftly called by a host of reporters and commentators. But for more than half a century, in the days before Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, before Mark Lee and Elliotte Freedman, there was Foster Hewitt. Every Saturday night his exuberant, nasal voice rang from CBC Radio.
He had a remarkable sense of the flow of hockey and the likelihood of a goal; it is said that he seldom used "he shoots" without being able to follow with "he scores."
Foster Hewitt was born into a sports family. His father and two of his uncles were sports journalists. At the age of 13 he started working for a newspaper called Toronto News, and by 20 became its sports editor. He'd always been fascinated by radio and in 1921 imported crystal radio sets to sell in Canada. Shortly after, he got a job at the Toronto Star where he helped launch its brand new radio station, which they hoped would attract readers to the newspaper.
The station was on air only occasionally, catching whatever stray listeners it could. But Hewitt was a constant presence, broadcasting everything from music to baseball scores, bedtime stories for children to church services.
It didn't take long before the station wanted to try something more exciting- broadcasting a hockey game. According to his autobiography Foster Hewitt: His Own Story, on March 22, 1923, Hewitt called his first hockey game, an intermediate hockey playoff game between a team from Kitchener and one from Toronto.
He broadcast from a glass box with nothing in it but a stool and a telephone, which he used to speak to the radio station. There were a few glitches. His play-by-play was interrupted every few minutes by the operator asking "What number are you calling, sir?"
There were no air holes in the box, which not only made it suffocating, but fogged up the window onto the ice. Hewitt was on air constantly for three hours, with a game that went into triple overtime.
But it was at that game that his famous phrase "he shoots, he scores!" was born.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team was created in 1927, and Foster Hewitt was named the team's radio announcer. When Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1931, Hewitt had exclusive broadcast rights to Leafs games.
When the CBC was born in 1936, Hewitt's hockey broadcasts were broadcast coast to coast. After years of being considered a regional sport, hockey itself had gone national.
The first clip takes us to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1942. It's a snippet from the sixth game of the Stanley Cup series- Toronto versus Detroit.
Toronto ended up winning that game three to nothing. It was an exciting series. The Red Wings had won the first three games, and only needed one more game to win the Cup, but Toronto managed to take the next four games and the prize.
At his peak, Foster Hewitt was probably the most recognized voice in Canada. His audiences numbered six million -- one third of the population of Canada at the time -- and he received 90,000 fan letters each year.
Foster Hewitt's voice was knit into the fabric of this country. Trent Frayne, himself a legendary sports reporter, talked about his impact.
For the first three years that he broadcast Leaf games, Hewitt was perched in the rafters of the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto. When Maple Leaf Gardens was being built in the early 1930s, Conn Smythe, the Leafs owner, gave Foster Hewitt exclusive broadcasting rights. Hewitt was instrumental in designing his new booth, which he called his gondola.
People were fascinated with the gondola, which was suspended high above the ice. In 1991 Smythe and Hewitt recalled the precarious trip he would have to take each time he broadcast a game.
Although he was best known for hockey, Foster Hewitt also covered many other sports. In 1948, a show called Foster Hewitt Reporting debuted on CBC Radio and featured a dizzying array of sports- an Alaskan football game, an interview with boxing legend Jack Dempsey and a review of Canadian hockey. Foster's son Bill ended up taking over Hockey Night in Canada from his father. Foster Hewitt Reporting ran for three seasons.
Hewitt is reputed to have never missed a game, calling over 5,000 sporting events in his career. He was so popular that CBC even did a personal feature, visiting him at home.
Our next piece is from 1958 and the program Assignment. Jed Adams wanted to find out what made Hewitt tick- everything from whether fans ever threw things at him to whether he had a nickname.
By the time 1966 rolled around, Hewitt's hockey broadcasts were so well known that he was able to parody himself and know that everyone would get the joke. This is from a program called As Time Goes By.
By the 1970s, Foster Hewitt had been around for such a long time that, well, some people were a little jaded. It was 1972 and the country was preparing for the Russia Canada hockey series. Foster Hewitt had been pegged to call the games.
Nick Auf der Mar and Danny Finkelman talked about the choice on the program This Country in the Morning in September 1972.
The final piece is from March 1978. It's a lovely piece of reflection from Morningside with Don Harron.
Foster Hewitt received many accolades over his life. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965, named to the Order of Canada in 1972 and was also a member of the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.
Foster Hewitt was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in early 1985. He died just a few months later of throat cancer.