Hockey night on CBC

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:14 AM ET

Canadians used to chuckle when Americans would get all misty-eyed about baseball.

You know, the crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass, all that crap.

But in recent years, Canada certainly has ceded its cynical high ground with our relentless romanticizing of hockey.

We're as mushy about hockey now as Americans ever were about baseball, perhaps even more.

So filling a much-needed hole, along comes Hockey -- A People's History. It's a 10-part series, the first two parts of which air tonight on CBC, beginning at 8.

For what it is, this program actually is very good. Structured as a documentary with some colourful dramatizations thrown in (especially when it comes to the early years of the game), it looks great and is impeccably well-researched.

But it's just so wide-eyed and breathless in its admiration of the sport.

Hockey -- A People's History occasionally is critical of individuals, but never of the sport itself. That's unassailable, apparently.

Now, even those of us who grew up in Canada loving hockey should be able to recognize that if someone dislikes hockey that doesn't necessarily make them any less Canadian.

As Hockey Night In Canada's Ron MacLean pointed out in an interview with the Toronto Sun last winter, if there are 30 million Canadians and two million of them tune into hockey on a Saturday night, then clearly somebody is watching something else.

Be that as it may, Hockey -- A People's History aggressively ties the sport to the development and very essence of our country.

"It's Canada's gift to the world, and a measure of our place in the world," narrator Paul Gross dramatically states in the opening segment.

"It's the game of our kids, the game of our lives, a game that tells the story of a nation."

A little over the top, don't you think?

And in a more practical sense, did we really need another in-depth look at hockey, or its important figures of the past?

Merely flick through the sports-specialty channels in the upper reaches of your cable and satellite landscapes (the NHL Network, ESPN Classic Sports, Leafs TV, etc.), not to mention the mainstream offerings on TSN, Sportsnet and The Score, and you quickly will see countless excellent specials about hockey and its heroes. Also, few subject matters have been more exhaustively researched in books than the history of hockey.

So having the CBC dip into the hockey well once again smacks a little of desperation. The public network obviously is in a flimsy state and you almost can hear its executives saying, "What more can we squeeze out of this sport before CTV swoops in and steals the broadcast rights to the NHL?"

But CBC can be its own worst enemy, too. It has scheduled the debut of Hockey -- A People's History against the season finale of Canadian Idol and the season debut of The Amazing Race, both on CTV.

As the years go by, Hockey -- A People's History is going to be nice to have around as rock-solid sports reference material.

But in its initial prime-time run on five consecutive Sunday nights, it may not be exciting enough or different enough to score a big goal in the ratings.


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