Canadian broadcaster Bob Cole ends 50-year career

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MONTREAL (AP) — Long-time Canadian broadcaster Bob Cole has always said the focus should be on the players – not him.

There was little chance of that on Saturday night.

The play-by-play man called his last game for ”Hockey Night in Canada” to cap a 50-year run behind the microphone.

The regular-season finale in Montreal between the Canadiens and the playoff-bound Toronto Maple Leafs was meaningless in the standings, sharpening the focus even more so on the 85-year-old Cole.

”This game had been billed long ago as the biggest game of the season,” Cole said as he opened the broadcast at the Bell Centre. ”It was not to be, but pride is always on the line – Leafs and Canadiens.

”Here we go.”

The pregame show on Sportsnet and CBC began with a montage featuring some of hockey’s great moments, with Cole’s voice providing the soundtrack.

NHL greats including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Joe Sakic, current stars Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane, as well as host Ron MacLean and Cole’s former color commentator Harry Neale all feted the native of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

”Mr. Cole, congratulations on 50 great years of hockey. You were an inspiration to all of us in Canada,” Gretzky said, before adding the broadcaster’s most recognizable line: ”Ohhhhh baby.”

Players from the Leafs and Canadiens met with Cole and took pictures with him before the game, while his family was on hand to share the moment.

Cole was inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996 as a recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for broadcasting excellence.

His career with ”Hockey Night in Canada” started with a radio broadcast of a playoff game in 1969 at the old Boston Garden between the Bruins and Canadiens. He moved to TV in 1973 and would go on to describe countless hockey moments for millions of fans across the country.

There was the 1972 Summit Series, the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty of the 1980s and Canada’s gold-medal victory at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City that snapped a 50-year drought.

Cole saw his workload scaled back in recent years by Rogers, which took over national TV rights via Sportsnet ahead of the 2014-15 season. He didn’t call any playoff games last spring for the first time in his career, and got 16 dates on the 2018-19 season.

”You have to feel the game – breathe it – the timing, the sounds you’re creating,” Cole said in the night’s taped opening. ”When you get 20,000 (fans) roaring after a play, it’s perfect.”

”The great players are special people,” he added. ”I’ve enjoyed that over the years. It’s a great privilege.”

The night also included tributes to the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team on the one-year anniversary of the devastating bus crash that killed 16 people and left 13 others injured.

Don Cherry praised Cole during his Coach’s Corner segment in the first intermission, which opened with archive footage of the pair.

”Foster (Hewitt) was good, Danny (Gallivan) was good,” Cherry said of Cole’s Hockey Night predecessors. ”But the best of all, I think, and I’ve seen them all, is Bob Cole.”

Players, coaches and fans stood in appreciation to honor Cole in the second period as his four children joined him in the gondola he helped design at Bell Centre.

”Thank you so much Montreal and Canada,” he said to viewers, gazing from his perch. ”It’s been a pleasure.

”I’m going to miss this.”

Following a breathless, end-to-end overtime where Cole sounded as good as ever, the game ended with Montreal winning in a shootout.

”It’s been great here in Montreal,” Cole said as he signed off. ”Thank you, so many people.

”We had some fun here tonight.”

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P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Miller scored an awesome water bottle breaker in OT

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Over time, you can become jaded as a sports (and specifically hockey) fan.

Stories about abusive coaches, lockouts, fans booing players for simply no longer being on their teams — it can sap some of the joy of the game.

Thankfully, we have highlights, and I can’t think of many simpler joys than someone scoring a goal and absolutely obliterating the goalie’s water bottle in the process. (As long as no one gets too dehydrated in the making of such films.)

Vancouver Canucks winger J.T. Miller did it one better on Saturday: he scored an important goal that way. Miller presented the ultra-rare OTBBGWG (overtime bottle-breaking game-winning goal) as the Canucks beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 in OT.

Bask in the glory of that goal in the video above this post’s headline. Here’s a fun alternate angle:

By the way, Miller continues to be a deadly offensive weapon for the Canucks. This one-goal, one-assist output extended his current point streak to an impressive eight games (5G, 6A for 11 points). Overall, Miller has 31 points in 30 games during his first season in Vancouver.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.