Sports – In defense of Strombo

NHL Action

Patrick Sharpe NHL ActionTORONTO – SPORTS –  When the word came out via the twitter of TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie that George Stroumboulopoulos would be the new host of Hockey Night in Canada I was in disbelief.

This was, after all, the first major personnel decision announced since Rogers purchased the exclusive rights to air all NHL games in Canada for 12 years this past November in a $5.2 billion deal that promised to forever change the landscape of sports broadcasting in Canada.

Many were fearful of what Rogers would do.  There was a fear that familiar favourites would be gone and in their wake would be strangers at the helm of a great Canadian institution like Hockey Night in Canada. With this announcement Rogers was telling us that although the nature of  the NHL coverage that we were used to would change, that they were going to bring in tried and true Canadian talent to usher in that change.

“Strombo” as he’s affectionately known is, after all, quite possibly Canada’s most skilled interviewer. He’s been able to have candid chats with everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Desmond Tutu to Jean Chretien to Noam Chomsky while the host of a successful talk show on the CBC for the past ten years.  The warm and personable nature of these interviews has given Stroumboulopoulos a large following not only in Canada, but around the world.

In fact it was the stamp of approval from Oprah Winfrey, one of the giants of television that helped get Strombo a gig at CNN this past summer. Back in Stroumbouloplous’ days at MuchMusic, U2’s Bono brokered a deal with MTV to bring him to the United States which the talk show host turned down.  When your interview subjects feel compelled to do favours for you, you must be doing something right.

Needless to say it’s a major coup that Hockey Night in Canada is getting a host of this magnitude. A man who has spoken to world leaders to top intellectuals to actors, actresses, rock stars, etc. is now going to helm a Canadian institution. If anything Strombo is overqualified for the job, but if recent interviews with PK Subban, Ken Dryden and Bobby Orr are any indication of the quality of the discourse that Stroumbouloplous is going to bring to the table, we’re all in for a treat.

Unfortunately not everyone feels that way.

Many are attacking the young television personality for not knowing enough about hockey, for “left leaning” political beliefs and for being “too smug and cool” to host hockey.

Of course many of these criticisms are coming due to a perception that Stroumbouloplous will phase out Ron MacLean (the current host of HNIC who will remain on in a reduced capacity) and Don Cherry, the right wing ideologue hockey host known more for the controversial statements he makes on “Coaches Corner” than anything else.
Fans of Cherry’s old school style will obviously feel threatened by the younger, hipper Strombo.

The new deal with Rogers allows for a renewal for hockey broadcasting. Cherry’s views are at times simultaneously archaic, xenophobic, and sexist. Phasing out the 80 year old Cherry in favour of the 41 year old Stroumbouloplous would only help the game find more fans and a larger audience, not hurt it.

For now there’s no proof that anyone will be phased out at this point. Cherry, MacLean and Stroumbouloplous will all be cornerstones of Rogers hockey coverage next season alongside Darren Milliard and Jeff Marek. 

Having a world-class broadcaster as the face of hockey’s flagship program will bring nothing but good to the game.  The fact that he also happens to be a man who is as humble and down to earth as Strombo makes this all the more sweeter for hockey fans.

As a Torontonian, it’s impossible not to root for George Stroumbouloplous. He’s very much of this community and if you seem him at a concert, after a taping of his show or even at a local falafel joint, Strombo will take the time to speak with you and value your words no differently than he did the world leader he spoke to on television the night before. There isn’t a hint of pretention about the guy. He really is loved here and a five minute chat with him makes it obvious why.

He’s our guy.

So to all of you who already have written-off Strombo before his first day on his new job, I say give him a chance.  In time, he’ll be your guy too. This is after all the best broadcaster in Canada we’re talking about. He’s more than up to the task.

Josh Kolic

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Josh Kolic is a sportswriter who lives in Toronto. When he's not at the Air Canada Centre catching the Raptors or at the Rogers Centre watching the Toronto Blue Jays, you can usually find him at home following his beloved Habs or Lakers.