Just like the Jets, Oake’s back
Veteran broadcaster remembers 'final' game, excited to return
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/10/2011 (4195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This is one of many marathon weeks of work he puts in with Hockey Night in Canada, but you will see no fatigue come Sunday from veteran CBC broadcaster and HNIC game host Scott Oake.
After games Thursday in Vancouver and Saturday in Calgary, Oake, the longtime Winnipegger, is assigned to the team airing the NHL’s official return to Winnipeg with Sunday afternoon’s Jets’ regular-season opener against the Montreal Canadiens.
It has been a long, winding and eventful 15 years since he last interviewed victorious Detroit captain Steve Yzerman in the bowels of the old Winnipeg Arena in late April, 1996.
And made more difficult at times for Oake because he chose to continue living here while all the players, coaches, managers, owners and commissioners he interviewed had long departed.
“The thing I always tried to do in the 15 years the NHL was gone, and let’s face it, it didn’t seem to be a realistic thing for the first 10, was to try to temper all these crazy reports that the team was coming back, because I never wanted to see Winnipeggers get their hearts ripped out again, to be tricked into thinking a team was coming back,” Oake said early this week in an interview with the Free Press.
“And it wasn’t realistic for 10 years.”
He remembered several irritating incidents over time, including meddling by politicians.
“I recall the time the city councillor alleged that somebody had called (from another city) that they wanted to move the team here,” Oake said. “It was a headline. I hated that stuff. I would always do my best to downplay it so that we dealt more in reality than in crazy pipe dreams.”
And being a Winnipegger, he never failed to be alerted to the gossip and speculation.
“(Ron) McLean and (Don) Cherry had a long-running gag with me, because when the MTS Centre was built, Don went on the air and said that’s it, Winnipeg’s getting an NHL franchise,” he recalled. “I said (in 2004), ‘Not so fast.’ “
The debate raged on some nights, with Oake and Kelly Hrudey facing off against the more optimistic Cherry and McLean.
“I just remember telling them all that I didn’t think that was the whole intent of the putting up the MTS Centre,” he said. “I remember thinking it might happen, but we had to be realistic about things.
“Don then started joking that I didn’t want the NHL coming back to Winnipeg. They kept throwing it out over the years. I just told them that all I was trying to do was to keep people’s feet on the ground so we don’t wind up getting our hearts torn out like in 1995 and 1996 during that torturous two-year process.
“But I’d say in the last five years, when it started to get real because of the economy, the dollar, the building being real, it became very clear there would be a very good chance.”
Another of Oake’s vivid memories was not long after the final game at the old Arena, when he was chatting with Wings coach Scotty Bowman.
“He was looking at the fans on the ice at that point and he told me they’d get a team back here,” Oake said. “I told Scotty I didn’t see it with the dollar at 65 cents and there being no sign of a new building. I just didn’t see how.
“As usual, Scotty was right. I don’t know if it was something he believed or that he was just throwing it out there, but he was right.”
Oake expressed regret his close friend and colleague Don Wittman will not be present to see Sunday’s first game in Winnipeg’s new NHL era.
Wittman, the iconic CBC sportscaster, died in early 2008 after a battle with cancer.
“He was thunderstruck when the team left here,” Oake said, reciting Wittman’s final words of the action in 1996, a call that is tied indelibly to the NHL’s departure in 1996.
“I think I speak for every Manitoba hockey fan when I say, ‘You’ll be missed, thanks for the memories.’ “
“I’m really sorry that Don is not here to see the return because I know that he’d be around the team, in the press box every night, be calling games on Hockey Night in Canada,” Oake said.
“He was a unique broadcaster in that he could do anything. He did four things particularly well, curling, track and field, football and hockey, when most broadcasters grab onto one thing and do just that.
“He did them equally well but I know that he loved hockey most. He loved being around the game and I regret that some people didn’t see him as a hockey guy simply because he was so versatile.”