Funeral underway for broadcasting legend, voice of ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’ Bob Cole

A sombre crowd gathered in a downtown St. John’s church Friday to honour Bob Cole, the legendary sportscaster from Newfoundland and Labrador who brought some of hockey’s most important games to living rooms across the country.

“Hockey Night in Canada” host Ron MacLean and former NHL goalie Glen Healy were among the mourners assembled in St. Thomas’ Anglican Church to remember Cole, who died April 24 at the age of 90.

The bells in the navy-blue clapboard church in the heart of the province’s capital rang out at 1:55 p.m. to mark the beginning of the funeral service.

There was no better word to describe Cole than “grit,” Ron MacLean told the family members, politicians and local luminaries inside the church.

“A good friend is somebody who will always tell you things you don’t want to hear, and Bob would always do that,” MacLean said. “They will embolden you to become the person you were born to be, and he definitely did that for me. Even to the last Saturday, four days before Bob passed, he says, ‘You’re doing a great job.’”

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Cole’s broadcasting career spanned more than 50 years, but he was best known for his play-by-play commentary on “Hockey Night in Canada.” With his signature wit, passion and “Oh baby!” exclamations, Cole was a giant in Canadian broadcasting and one of the most admired voices in hockey.

He called the 1972 Summit Series on radio. On TV, there was the 1976 game in Philadelphia when the Soviet Red Army players left the ice in protest at the Flyers take-no-prisoners tactics. “They’re going home,” said an incredulous Cole.

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He was there for the 2002 Olympic final in Salt Lake City when Canada ended its 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought with a win over the United States in the final.

“Joe Sakic scores and that makes it 5-2 Canada. Surely that’s got to be it?” said Cole. He narrated many Stanley Cup finals, including the Edmonton Oilers’ first cup win with Wayne Gretzky at the helm.

Cole was a dedicated Newfoundlander, refusing every time his bosses asked to move away to be closer to his work, his daughter Megan Cole has said.

Outside the church on Friday, former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams said he and his father got to know Cole well through hockey, curling and golf tournaments in St. John’s.

“Bob gave us a special international reputation,” Williams said about what Cole meant to Newfoundland and Labrador. “He was highly respected, his voice was iconic …. He’s our hometown boy, we took great pride every time he called a game.”