Reporter: Sean OLeary
George Stroumboulopolos just took over the most pressure-filled job in Canada, and no, Stephen Harper didn’t step down as Prime Minister. Stroumboulopolos was named the new host of Hockey Night in Canada. He’s an accomplished reporter and host, but this will be Stroumboulopolos’ biggest gig yet, and he better be prepared for criticism.
In the fall of 2013, Sportsnet acquired exclusive national broadcast rights for the NHL, with a record breaking 12 year, $5.2 billion deal, establishing a new landscape for the way Canadians watch hockey. Hockey Night in Canada is still on CBC for the next four years, but Sportsnet has editorial control.
Changes were inevitable when the deal was announced last fall, but Canadians have anxiously been waiting to know what’s happening to their beloved Saturday night program. Ron MacLean, host of the show for nearly 30 years, will no longer be the lead man for the broadcast. Instead he was given his own show to be aired on Sunday nights called Hockey Night. In a press conference announcing the new plans, MacLean jokingly said to Stroumboulopolos,“George, don’t screw this up, it’s a big show.” MacLean will also remain the co-host of Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry. MacLean and Cherry’s near three-decade partnership has been the most popular segment of Hockey Night in Canada since it debuted. Cherry, who many thought could be in his last season, also had some wise words for Stroumboulopolos. “Just be yourself, and don’t get fired.” A strategy Cherry has represented quite well in his career.
As for Stroumboulopolos, he’s now come full-circle in his career. His first job was on a sports talk show on the former Fan 590, now owned by Sportsnet. He says he’s always been a sports fan, but now he’s on Canada’s biggest show. His versatility as a professional led him to this position, and now he has to show he’s capable of being in the national spotlight, something he’s been in before, but not for hockey. He hosted Stroumboulopolos Tonight on CBC, which won eight Gemini awards. The show ranged from politics, to pop culture, the environment, human rights, and sometimes sports. He takes over for MacLean, who has won eight Gemini awards himself in his tenure as host. Canadians will have to get used to a new personality, even though many don’t want to. Stroumboulopolos doesn’t have as much experience in hockey as MacLean, Cherry or other members of the Hockey Night in Canada panel have, but it’s his duty to prove he’s capable of filling MacLean’s role, without looking like he’s trying too hard.
Starting next October, Saturday nights in Canada will be different. The show millions of Canadians thought was unchangeable has been changed, and will take time to adjust to. Sportsnet changed the way Canadian’s watch hockey and they’re hoping to start off on the right foot. Stroumboulopolos will bring a new style to the broadcast. Whether it works or not, only time will tell, but he better be cautious of the role he’s taking over. After all, Canada is watching, and if there’s one thing Canadians will be critical about, it’s hockey.