Michael McKinley sure must have been thrilled when his book, a comprehensive history of Hockey Night in Canada — who are celebrating their sixtieth season to boot — launched last October in the middle of an acrimonious lockout. His publisher, Viking, must have been thrilled too, along with the rest of the Hockey Night in Canada crew.
But, now that the day is saved and bitter feelings are slowly being forgotten, let’s talk about this book. In his forward, Ron MacLean says that HNIC “allows us to break bread with our ancestors”. He’s not wrong; we’re talking about a show that began before Newfoundland even entered confederation.
Hockey Night in Canada: 60 Seasons has the weight and feel of a coffee table book — along with a generous helping of photography — but it’s more than that. It isn’t a book that should be merely displayed like a knickknack, it deserves to be read.
McKinley’s narrative begins with the radio days of HNIC and takes us all the way to the return of the Jets to Winnipeg. Radio isn’t McKinley’s focus, though; this book is mainly about the TV show. Since HNIC is a show about professional hockey, McKinley ends up weaving strands of sports history, the business side of the NHL, and the technical and entertainment elements of running a venerable sports show.
McKinley covers seminal moments in hockey history, like Maurice Richard winning his final Stanley Cup in 1960 at Maple Leaf Gardens, but the real interesting elements he brings to hockey history are about the show itself. My favourite story is about early producer George Retzlaff, who effectively invented instant replay when he heard about a “hot processor” that could develop film in a minute and a half. He said:
“[the] portion was cut and transferred wet to a 16 mm telecine projector system. Then he had to wait for a break in the game, to play back that goal at regular speed. Of course, George would have had to get the announcers ready to explain to the viewers what they were seeing and that it wasn’t another goal!”
Unfortunately for Retzlaff, advertisers hated the idea, and it was shelved until American sports shows started doing it themselves.
This isn’t a book for the casual fan; Hockey Night in Canada: 60 Seasons is for the long-time viewer and the perennially puck obsessed. The story isn’t over yet, of course. Their contract is up for renewal in 2014, and HNIC may no longer have a home at the CBC. Come what may, Hockey Night in Canada: 60 Seasons is a thorough telling of how it came to be.