Chris Cuthbert called the last NHL regular-season game prior to the pandemic-induced pause. It was a March 11 game featuring the Ottawa Senators against the Los Angeles Kings, with a Staples Center lightly attended and fans rightly skittish about the spread of the coronavirus.
“We found out about the NBA had postponed the rest of their season about a half-hour before warm-up,” Cuthbert said. “It was definitely a strange game. That rink is usually pretty alive. That night, it was half empty. There was not much atmosphere at all. You could tell everybody was going through the motions.”
It was the last game he ever called for TSN. His contract expiring, Cuthbert switched sides, joining Sportsnet in July, in time to do the play-by-play for the Western Conference bubble in Edmonton.
The Star caught up with Cuthbert on a rare day off to talk about calling hockey in a pandemic, saying goodbye to the CFL, his Sidney Crosby golden goal call in 2010, and the reason for the switch: the dream that has so far eluded the soon-to-be 63-year-old of one day calling a Stanley Cup.
How did the pandemic affect your life?
We (Cuthbert and his wife, Diane) were supposed to go to Arizona for a few days after the game in L.A., but decided to get the next flight out. Quarantined. Holed up for a few weeks … long walks, caught up on some TV. It was the longest I’ve ever been at home since I got in the business, which is 40 years. Not getting on a plane, not changing time zones, it was different. Nobody’s happy with any of this, but I think it helped recharge my batteries a little bit.
So the pandemic played a role in switching to Sportsnet?
You stay at home, and you re-evaluate your career. My contract was up. I was watching these classic games in the 1980s and 1990s I did. You remind yourself of the impact of those games. And there were some things I haven’t done, like calling a Stanley Cup. In the midst of being holed up at home month after month, I thought maybe there’s an opportunity here with Sportsnet having six full years left in their deal.
Jim Hughson is calling the final this year, but there’s a chance you will in the future.
I’m the new guy here. Whether it’s next year, or the year after, it would be nice to do it with crowds in the building and get the full impact. Although I do think this will be a special Cup for whoever wins it. But I can wait for my turn.
The pace of these playoffs, at least early on, was pretty incredible from a viewing standpoint. What has been it like for you?
I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I think we did 42 games in 43 days and all of a sudden I’m getting a day off here and there and I feel like I’m slacking off. I got into a rhythm. It was like drinking from a firehose, but at the same time it was pretty exhilarating and great to be back.
I’m going to guess the highlight of your career is Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver?
If there’s something better than that coming, I’m going to sign up for it.
In leaving TSN, you gave up the CFL. Do you miss it?
Labour Day was tough. I’d been at a CFL stadium on Labour Day every year for the last 30, and probably more because before I called them, I’d go to them. I’m missing the CFL, and never more so than on Labour Day.
Did you always want to do play-by-play?
Oh yeah, ever since I was a kid. I grew up listening to Dan Kelly, just about every night. I had a little speaker I could put under my pillow. If KMOX was coming in, I was listening to Dan Kelly do the Blues, or Bob Wilson of the Boston Bruins, or Lloyd Pettit in Chicago. Or whoever was calling the game on CBC Radio, which was often Bob Cole or Danny Gallivan. I guess I was taking mental notes on how all of them called the game, but for me, Kelly was the guy that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I wanted to be that guy in those far-off cities calling the games.
You made a name for yourself one night in Washington in 1988 when you were reporting on a Capitals-Devils playoff series, when the power went out in Montreal. So “Hockey Night in Canada” turned to your game, and you called it all yourself, no colour analyst, no sideline reporter. How did that go?
They wanted to cover the other series, without having a crew there. Not every game was televised back then. They wanted somebody who could call a game for five minutes during intermission. Halfway through the first period, the power went out in just about all of Quebec. Montreal-Boston was the featured game. They ended up throwing to me. I felt like the intermission came early. I started calling and we went to a commercial, and I thought that was it. But I had to come back. Two-and-a-half-hours later and two intermissions later, I had done a solo playoff game. That was a springboard for them to decide they were going to use me in the future.
It must have been a strange night.
I was in Landover, Md. I was giving scoring updates from Montreal. Nobody ever explained to me what was going on. I was confused. I’m giving scores from the game the country wants to watch and yet they’re watching New Jersey-Washington. What I found out later is that the Montreal Forum had its own generator and had enough power to do the game, but there wasn’t power in the rest of the province to get that signal out to the country. The game went on without television that night. It turned out to be my solo effort. It was a harrowing night. Beyond Sidney Crosby and the golden goal, that was the most unique night of my career. I still have people tell me they were watching and cheering me on because they knew I was swimming on my own. They didn’t even have me in a broadcast booth. I was in a table in the crowd. At one point, security had to move me. There were a million things that happened that night.
You’re from Brampton, and you live in Georgetown, but I think most people would associate you with Western teams.
That’s been an accidental benefit for me. It helps that I’m not perceived as being from a certain spot. Everybody is looking for bias in your call. I’ve worked in Montreal, I grew up in Toronto, I worked in Saskatchewan, I lived in Edmonton. In the CFL, you do all the cities. But even back in Brampton, there are lot of people who would stop me and say, ‘You’re from out west, aren’t you?’ I’m kind of from all over the place, and people’s perception of me is a little bit different because of that.