Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hoserdome: Kevin Weekes on 'Hockey Night' cannot be understated

Most of the reporting on Hockey Night in Canada's new hires have focused on Glenn Healy returning to TV and Guy Carbonneau finding a way station to bide time between coaching jobs.

It feels like a significant story is being underplayed. Kevin Weekes, the former goalie who has worked for NHL Network, will be the first Afro-Canadian commentator on HNIC. That matters since it was kind of the last barrier for Canadian sports broadcasters who are visible minority, plus it shows that has finally dawned on CBC Sports that maintaining the illusion that the Canada of 1981 still exists is a sure path to obsolescence.

About a year ago, the Toronto Star's Chris Zelkovich, during a radio interview with my friend Tyler King, said the rub with HNIC is that you know what you're getting. That has two sides.

The NHL has opened a season in Stockholm, a team with seven Swedes has won a Stanley Cup, a player may tweet his own trade and the league is micturating all over antitrust law to keep Jim Balsillie from owning a team and do the bidding of some corporate crooks, but goddamn it, Hockey Night in Canada must sustain an illusion of permanency. It should feel like not all that has much changed since the days of the Original Six.

That has its good qualities, although like in anything, if you do something the same way you did five, 10, 20 years ago, it doesn't mean you're stable, it means you're stuck in a rut.

The flip side is lot of us feel like outsiders looking in on the conversation which takes place every Saturday between a bunch of white guys named Ron, Don and Mike. It feels like a bunch of guys having a bull session down at the Legion in Anytown, Canada, in 1975. That has its pluses, but perhaps that created the vacuum that led to Mike Milbury's idiotic "pansification" comment last season. Granted, Milbury's track record with the New York Islanders suggests his idiocy was a pre-existing condition.

Point being, it is also glaring who HNIC's has put on the air (and don't forget the hue-and-cry when Cassie Campbell pinch-hit as a colour commentator one night three years ago when Harry Neale was snowbound).

Almost every other broadcast outlet i Canada has commentators who are visible minority: Jock Climie and Duane Forde on TSN's CFL package; TSN reporters John Lu, Farhan Lalji and Jermain Franklin; Rogers Sportsnet's Ian Mendes and Paul Jones; Leafs TV/Raptors NBA TV's Adnan Virk; The Score's D.J. Bennett and Cabral (Cabbie) Richards.

Not to put words in anyone's mouth, but HNIC is still the holy grail, even if TSN does a better job of staying current with the NHL. . Perhaps it has changed, but back in the day the 18-year-old who dreamed of doing play-by-play said, "I'm going to be on Hockey Night in Canada," not, "I'm going to be on TSN."

That's why it is huge Weekes has been hired. He has to be judged on his own merits. One could certainly detect a sickly scent of the jockocracy since Weekes is stepping straight from the ice into a TV role (then again, Tie Domi did it three years ago and no one objected, until they actually saw him on the air).

We also know CBC Sports and Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, Ltd., are oh-so-joined at the hip. MLSE has lost a lot of the generation coming up to other sports.

Ultimately, though, the big positive is that an important door has been opened. Weekes wrote a column in February that talked about Caribbean and Afro Canadians becoming a bigger part of the mainstream in Canada.
"Finance, government, arts, hospitality, community service, medicine, architecture and design, education and media are just a few of the sectors in which we've made inroads but certainly have yet to maximize our growth and impact. We can and must continue to advance in these and many other 'non-traditional' sectors.

"There are countless examples of us paving the way in these sectors: Governor General Michaelle Jean, Toronto Deputy Chief of Police Keith Forde, Executive Chairman of AIC Limited, Michael Lee-Chin, Musician Kardinal Offishall, V.P of Blackmont Capital Steven Conville and retired Toronto Argonauts Player and Current President 'Pinball' Clemons."
Well, what's more mainstream than Hockey Night in Canada? That is why any "great, another goalie getting an analyst job" reactions miss the point.

New Voices At Hockey Night In Canada (Toronto Sports Media)


Anonymous said...

Look, if you re going to say things like the Mother Corp needs to show that this isn't 1981 Canada, maybe you are right, to a degree. Look at any newscast on a CBC affiliate and satiate your desire for quotas to be met. All those other names and networks you mentioned, cover (mostly) other sports. Other sports that, perhaps, have more minorities involved in, and playing said sports. Personally, I don't care who calls the game, or does the pre or postgame interviews etc. as long as they are informative, entertaining and most importantly, competent. There is nothing worse than a quota-filler like Cassie Campbell with a gig, while a guy like Cuthbert gets the ax. Yes there were other circumstances, but that is the gist.

sager said...

Excuse me, but no one said anything about "quotas."

Since when do TSN and Sportsnet cover something else more than they cover hockey? I can't recall the last time I saw Mr. Mendes covering a non-hockey story.

Also, it's not about who plays the sport, it's who watches. There is a Punjabi hockey broadcast available for just that reason.

The point was simply that Hockey Night in Canada has done something to be more in line with being representative of the Canada of 2009.

Chris Cuthbert being fired four years ago is a separate issue. I didn't agree with it because he was good, which is what anyone should be judged. It's also a dead issue. He landed on his feet pretty well at TSN.

Anyway, why I am bothering to explain this to someone who did not bother to put a name to her/his opinion? You're not worth my time.

Jordie Dwyer said...

Weekes was always an under-rated, under-appreciated it's the same when he makes the jump to the other side of the glass.
Here's hoping he makes a big splash and the CBC doesn't stick him away in a drawer after a while.

Jordie Dwyer said...

Weekes was always an under-rated, under-appreciated it's the same when he makes the jump to the other side of the glass.
Here's hoping he makes a big splash and the CBC doesn't stick him away in a drawer after a while.

Tyler King said...

Yeah, sorry Neate, the jockocracy trumps all at this point. Finally, Canadian networks are starting to realize how awful they can look when they do that (Brad May on TSN, for example), but for god's sake when are they going to start giving young broadcasters a shot (and no, Jeff Marek's 30 seconds per show do not count) and stop repackaging the same old "they're workin' hard!" cliche-spouting ex-hockey players who've already made enough money in their lives?

Not that Kevin Weekes will necessarily be that, and I hope he won't. But there's no question he's not qualified for the job. Nor are most hockey players who make the jump straight to top-tier networks. Why is it that legitimate broadcasters have to pay their dues as commentators for minor league teams, but the same standard isn't applied to analysts?

sager said...

Because life is not fair, Tyler.

Pattington said...

Such the cynic, Neate.

sager said...

Kinger should realize wherever he goes is the big time.

Tyler King said...


Tyler King said...

"The last two years I made $675,000 and $700,000. That's entry-level [money] given my experience and intangibles," Weekes said.

Don't you just feel so sorry for him?

Dennis Prouse said...

For as much as I like Weekes' articulate style, it is disingenuous for him to try to convince people that he is going into broadcasting by choice. He is 34, and wasn't offered a one way contract by anyone this summer. Even at the "insulting" figure of $650,000, Weekes would have been on it like a dog on a meat wagon had it been a one way deal.

What he, and other veterans, clearly haven't grasped yet is that the cap makes borderline veterans disposable. It is like the NFL now - unless you are a solid, top shelf contributor, they toss you like old leftovers in favour of younger, cheaper talent. That goes double for backup goalies, who have now joined sixth defencemen and fourth line forwards in the, "Why pay them more than minimum salary?" catgory.

sager said...

As well it should be ... it's like an overage spot in junior hockey. It shouldn't be used on a fringe player who has reached a point of diminishing returns.