Legendary broadcaster Bob Cole still gets butterflies

Bob Cole, the legendary Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster, talks to Stu Mills about his love of the game and how it's still strong at age 82.

Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster, now 82, talks about his love of the game

Bob Cole was left off Sportsnet's playoff broadcast roster this spring, but president Scott Moore said the door is open for the 84-year-old to return in a part-time role next season. (Jamie Long/CBC)

Bob Cole is keeping an eye on the netting that separates himself and the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., during the Senators practice.

Why? Because years ago, he says, an errant puck during a practice struck legendary hockey writer Red Fisher in the cheek.

The 82-year-old Cole still has sharp eyes and a sharp mind, and his ability to recall memories from 60 years in the business has served him well in his role as play-by-play commentator for Hockey Night in Canada.

He sat down with the CBC's Stu Mills to talk about his long, storied career and why he loves the game of hockey, as Cole prepared for Game 4 of the first-round series between the Senators and Boston Bruins.

When did you start your broadcasting career?

Cole: "I started at home in St. John's, Newfoundland & Labrador. I guess my first hockey broadcasting venture was at the local station in St. John's, VOCM, still operating.

"It had to be '56 or '57, somewhere around there. I was a DJ, newsreader, everything, but a hockey-crazy type person … got to organized hockey and loved it, tried broadcasting."

Bob Cole is a Gemini Award-winning broadcaster and Order of Canada member. (Jamie Long/CBC)

Did you know you would be in hockey, and for so long?

Cole: "I think you start off because it's something you enjoyed and wanted to do and I still enjoy it and still want to do it.

"I only know one way to do it, you know. It's a fast game and you have your critics, too, you know, once in awhile. 'Hey they're all wearing the same uniform and they all have helmets,' and sometimes you don't get the advantage of sightline to see the player, you know, the numbers. In some buildings you're a long way away.

"It's not fun, but it is fun, if you know what I mean. You can't let that bother you. You have to keep going and if the fan who's tuned in to your game — on television or radio or whatever — and they enjoy the game, you've done it. That's all you can do."

What has changed in your game-day ritual?

Cole: "Absolutely nothing. Really. If I can talk to a coach of the team, and especially if I'm not familiar with that particular team, haven't seen them until now, tonight, this is part and parcel of getting ready for a game.

"I think the word confident is important. When you get to the booth and you get everything that you're supposed to do tonight, for the producers, the directors, whomever, and you get yourself prepared to call the hockey game that's unfolding in front of you. You don't know what's going to happen in this game. Is it going to be a fast game, a slow game, a fight-filled game? They're not all the same."

How do you know what to say when you're in the booth?

Cole: "It's impromptu. You have to react to what's happening. It's so fast today. It's faster now than it ever was. It's amazing not more collisions occur during the game. I can't believe it. The ice surface has not changed: 85-by-200, or thereabouts, and they're all bigger, they're all faster. It's a great game but, my goodness, the danger that's involved. And these guys are so tough. They're the best athletes in the world, I think."

Bob Cole watches an Ottawa Senators practice before Game 4 on April 19, 2017. (Jamie Long/CBC)

How about retirement? Will you ever quit?

Cole: "I've been known as a guy who has not quit easily about anything. I hope I can keep going as long as I enjoy it. And again … as long as the fan enjoys the game.

"Foster Hewitt, who started this broadcasting adventure so many years back, he told me that when we had a meeting early in my career. He helped me immeasurably, I think. I'm always grateful to Foster for sitting me down and talking about what might be coming up. He was right in a lot of ways and he told me, if you can walk away from a game and the game was exciting to the viewer, to the listener, to the hockey fan — you've done your job.

"I don't have any secrets. I'll get ready for this game tonight as we're doing now. I'm thinking about it. I've been talking to two coaches here today. I talk to the Boston coach, the Ottawa coach … they're so professional and I'm grateful to have a word with them.

"It gets me in the mood, gets me going, gets me nervous. I got butterflies and if I didn't, I probably wouldn't be doing this."