Canada’s first televised hockey game was broadcast by the CBC from Montreal on Oct. 11, 1952. Three weeks later, Foster Hewitt did the play-by-play on the first English broadcast from Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens as the Leafs beat Boston 3-2. The producer was George Retzlaff, who got his start in radio in Winnipeg.
In the ensuing 60 seasons of Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC), many different faces have brought viewers the story of our national game on television. Winnipeg sports broadcaster Scott Oake was destined to become one of them.
Oake grew up in Sydney, N.S., listening on Saturday evenings to Danny Gallivan describe the Montreal Canadiens games across Eastern Canada in colourful language. Gallivan also lived in Sydney.
"I wondered how he talked like that as it was very descriptive," Oake said. "I thought how great it would be to have that kind of job."
The Oake family moved to St. John’s, N.L., when he was 14 and, while attending Memorial University, he began working at the school radio station. When a summer relief job came open at CBC, he applied.
"After two weeks, I hadn’t heard anything, so I called the station," Oake said. "They said I was the only person to apply, so I had the job and worked there for two summers."
Bob Cole, who went on to become the lead play-by-play man on HNIC, was part of the CBMT supper news team. Oake was hired full time by the station’s sports director, Howie Meeker, who was busy working as an analyst on the national broadcasts.
Late in 1975, Oake moved to Winnipeg to work on CBWT sports after Don Wittman moved to full-time national work that included HNIC.
When the Winnipeg Jets entered the NHL in 1979-80, Oake began doing reports and features. He continued to do local sports while his work on HNIC and the network expanded. Eventually the workload became so heavy that HNIC became his major role.
He is now the host/reporter for the Saturday night late game broadcast from the west. The post-game show, After Hours, which he and Kevin Weekes host, has become a favourite of his.
"Not only do you get a reaction to the game from the player who is the guest, but you hear great stories and get to tell the viewers more about what he is like," Oake said.
During the Stanley Cup final, Oake conducted end-of-period and post-game interviews with players. Talking to them just before and after the Stanley Cup is presented has become another highlight.
"That’s when they really speak from the heart and the words come spilling out," he said. "Often they are celebrating with family on the ice. It’s a real slice of Canadiana."
The boy who grew up listening to a man from his hometown broadcast hockey games and the self-depreciating man who feels that serendipity played a part in his road to HNIC said it is both a thrill and privilege to work on the show.
A versatile broadcaster, Oake has worked on more than a dozen Olympic and Pan-Am Games and expects to be at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February. Downhill skiing is one of his specialities, so that’s a likely assignment.
Memories of Sport will appear every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Contact Kent Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 204-489-6641.