The oldest live sports broadcast still on the air, anywhere—having begun on radio in 1931 and airing continuously on CBC television since 1952—Hockey Night in Canada is, in many ways, as much a cultural touchstone for the country as a mere sports telecast, partially because of this history. HNIC is broadcast in multiple languages (including, of all things, Punjabi) and, by virtue of being on CBC, is available anywhere in the country even if you don't have cable. During the regular season it airs games on Saturday night; in the spring the playoffs largely take over the CBC TV prime time schedule. (In the United States, HNIC airs on NHL Network and can also be picked up in places near the Canadian border with access to CBC affiliates.)
Each game has two 18-minute intermissions per standard National Hockey League rules, which the telecast uses for player interviews, documentary features, and commentaries. Each week sees at least two games, and sometimes as many as four, regionally divided, over the course of an evening. The playoffs will usually see at least one game aired each day, until team eliminations leading up to The Stanley Cup Finals start to thin the ranks.
In the 1970s, animated cartoon segments starring "Peter Puck" (produced by Hanna-Barbera and shared with NBC's Hockey Game of the Week in the US) were shown to illustrate to newbies the basics of the game like its rules, equipment and officials. Decades later, the character was revived exclusively for the CBC.
In 2014–15 NHL season, the HNIC rights shifted to Rogers Communications' Sportsnet arm as part of the league's new Canadian national TV deal. The coverage, now produced by Sportsnet, continued to air on the CBC as well as on the Sportsnet, Citytv, and FX Canada channels. Furthermore, former CBC talk show host and rock DJ George Stroumboulopoulos was made the new host, replacing Ron MacLean (who continued to do "Coach's Corner" with Don Cherry, but switched to hosting the new Rogers Hometown Hockey broadcasts on Citytv). The majority of HNIC's other existing personalities and commentators were hired by Rogers to continue their roles under the new regime. However, the broadcasts drew lower than expected ratings and Stroumboulopoulos was eventually replaced by a returning MacLean as the main host.
A popular segment in the first intermission was "Coach's Corner", which was co-hosted by MacLean and Don Cherry, the latter an opinionated (and loudly-attired) former coach who commented about the sport with its various players and games. However, Cherry was also a controversial figure due to his loud rants (which were often at best only tangentially about hockey) and his penchant for insulting various people (including foreign players from Europe, players who wore protective face visors, and veteran players who spoke out about health issues related to the sport such as concussions and fights). While such comments drew complaints over the decades, CBC and later Sportsnet tolerated Cherry's antics for the high ratings he drew. Finally on November 9, 2019, Cherry went too far when he complained about "You people... who come here" not wearing Remembrance Day poppies, which drew a wave of condemnations for what was perceived as a hateful xenophobic smear against immigrants. These include an overwhelming flood of complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and an official denouncement by the Royal Canadian Legion who distributed those poppies for veterans charities. As a result, under immense pressure from protestors, and likely advertisers who had lost their patience with him, Cherry was fired by Sportsnet on Remembrance Day itself (November 11), and "Coach's Corner" was ended.
HNIC's long-running instrumental theme tune ("The Hockey Theme", written by Dolores Claman in 1968) has been referred to as "Canada's second national anthem." Unfortunately, due to complicated legal issues, CBC lost the rights to the theme to rival network TSN in 2008. CBC ran a contest inviting the public to create a new theme tune and the winner was Colin Oberst's "Canadian Gold". Quoted, appropriately, in the intro to the Propagandhi song "Dear Coaches Corner", which criticizes the segment for thrusting conservative political commentary during a sports game.
This show provides examples of:
- Pick any hockey team south of the Mason-Dixon line, and/or west of Missouri.
- Most French-Canadian hockey players and the Montreal Canadiens overall.
- Foster Hewitt's "He shoots...He scores!", since used by numerous other announcers.
- Foster Hewitt's opening line, quoted at the top of this page.
- Bob Cole's various uses of "Oh baby!"
- "Everything is happening" was used in the past.
- Danny Gallivan’s "Cannonading" and "Scintillating" to describe the action, in his play by play.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Ron MacLean
- Former colour analyst Harry Neale (now broadcasting for the Buffalo Sabres) is well known for his dry wit and puns. The contrast between him and Bob Cole's over-excited play-by-play was remarkably effective.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Accidentally invoked in a roundabout way by Don Cherry when he claimed that former junior coach Graham James, who had recently been convicted for molesting some of his young teenage players, ought to be "tarred and feathered." This led to protests from James, who claimed that Cherry's words put him in danger from his fellow inmates. Apparently Coach's Corner is really popular in Canadian prisons.
- Friend to All Children: Don Cherry is far from the nicest guy (especially to his co-host), but he also takes time to explicitly point out the dangers of playing hockey to children. There are many ways grown adults can get seriously hurt playing hockey, so it's only natural it would be worse for children. Cherry will often take a part of his segment to show off what not to do if you're a kid playing hockey, and if a kid dies playing hockey, you better believe he'll be heartbroken about it.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes. Don Cherry's wardrobe... just watch Coach's Corner and enjoy. When Don Cherry's tailor died, his obituary made the national news. You can see the highlights at the Don We Now Our Gay Apparel blog.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: MacLean. Lampshaded by Cherry on two occasions: first, in a radio ad for Quiznos subs where he says "even I need a break from the other guy and his puns" and a second time in an early 2007 game where Cherry curled his mouth and shook his head in disgust after a MacLean pun, a reaction funnier than the actual attempt at humour.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: "The Hockey Theme" was the iconic HNIC theme tune for 40 years. Ironically, its composer never saw a hockey game in person and wrote the tune imagining Roman gladiators on skates, which obviously worked well enough. CBC's rights on the song expired in 2008 and the renewal negotiations with its publisher fell through, which led to the song jumping over to TSN and forced the CBC to fall back on their backup plan of holding a contest for a new theme, from which Colin Oberst's "Canadian Gold" was selected.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Don Cherry is an abrasive, obnoxious loudmouth. He's also a teddy bear underneath it all. Anyone who heard him speak at his wife Rose's funeral and still thinks he's a complete a-hole has no soul.
- Large Ham: Don Cherry.
- Live but Delayed: Coach's Corner because of comments made by Don Cherry about French Canadians. Until his firing and the permanent shuttering of the segment, it was on a seven-second delay "just in case".
- Long-Runners: Nearly eighty years in all, with sixty on television.
- Manly Tears: Cherry, whenever a member of Canadian Armed Forces goes down in the line of duty. (He even says something like, "such a good-lookin' guy ...")
- Missing the Good Stuff: Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final went down in Hockey Night history for a number of reasons. One, it saw the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup in double overtime. Two, it was the last ever game produced at CBC Sports. Three, CBC lost its feed promptly at 12:30 a.m. ET and right in the middle of the post-game celebration. Then, in case that wasn't bad enough, they also seemed to have a hard time getting NBC's feed to work while they tried to fix whatever transponder issue caused the signal to crash in the first place. Sure, it wasn't Friday the 13th anymore on the east coast, but it still was in Los Angeles.
- Mood Whiplash: Don Cherry could go from blasting a player for tactics he deems questionable, to good-naturedly bickering with Ron Maclean, to announcing the death of a member of the Armed Forces (with his voice cracking with sincere, genuine heartbreak), all in the span of about 2 minutes.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: In the opening sequence, "Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland..." At the time HNIC was first on the air, Newfoundland was still a British colony and not technically a part of Canada. The trope didn't apply until Newfoundland became a Canadian province.
- No Indoor Voice: Don Cherry is very loud. So is his wardrobe. Both of them can be heard across Canada without a television.
- Only Sane Man: Very few did this job better than Ron MacLean in both the Coach's Corners and the "After 40 minutes" panelist discussions.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: Don Cherry's views on European hockey players, for starters.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Only Don Cherry, one of Canada's most macho men, could get away with wearing outfits that loud and not have his heterosexuality questioned.
- Rearrange the Song:
- "The Hockey Theme", which was composed by Dolores Claman, had several updates over its 40 years of use on CBC, including a "rock" version in 1988, a synthesized version in 1998 and a "big band" version in 2000 which was quickly replaced by another synthesized version in 2001, supposedly due to complaints from the theme's writer. Even though the CBC no longer has any rights to use the theme, they still own the rights to its pre-2008 recordings, which forced TSN to record a new version in 2009 with the help of Neil Peart.
- The second theme, "Canadian Gold", was composed by Colin Oberst. It was re-orchestrated by John Herberman for the 2014-2015 season, and it continues to be used to this day.