Watching classic games on Sportsnet drew Chris Cuthbert from CFL back to NHL

Photo courtesy: TSN

While sports were halted during the coronavirus pandemic, reruns from the National Hockey League have been playing on Sportsnet and it had Chris Cuthbert feeling nostalgic.

Cuthbert joined CBC Sports in 1984 and called games on Hockey Night in Canada until 2004.

“For the last two or three months I’ve been watching Sportsnet run all the old classic games, like the ’91 Oilers and Flames series which is one of the favourites I ever got to call. The Messier guaranteed game in 1994. The last game at the forum for Patrick Roy,” Cuthbert said on Tim and Sid.

“It reminds you, I thought if they’re going to play all these games I might as well work for them. At the same time you’re reminded of the impact of what Hockey Night in Canada is across the country, how special it is to work for Hockey Night and work on Saturday nights and work Stanley Cup playoff runs, looking forward to doing that again.”

As part of the $5.2 billion, 12-year agreement finalized in December 2013, Rogers obtained the Canadian NHL rights on all platforms to every game — including all playoff games and the Stanley Cup Final through the 2025-2026 season. Cuthbert, who is 62 years olds, wanted to call hockey games again before retirement.

“I’m old. There’s a lot of water under the bridge, during the pandemic you start to do some evaluations and I’m not good at math but I calculated that there was still six more years plus of national TV rights,” Cuthbert said.

“I added that to my age and that formula told me that my time was running short to get a chance to do what I’m going to do and maybe felt a little more urgency that was something still left on the bucket list to do. Things started to fall that way and I’m thrilled that I’m going to have that opportunity.”

Cuthbert was hired by TSN in June 2005 as the No. 1 play-by-play announcer for the CFL on TSN. He called 16 Grey Cups while at TSN, his last the Winnipeg Blue Bombers triumph in November 2019. Around the country, Cuthbert was revered for his preparation, dedication and knowledge delivering games in Canada.

“I actually started in 1981, Wally Buono was still a player when I was on the sidelines for the Montreal Alouettes. I’ve almost done 40 years, I’ve done over 800 games, the 25 cups at least a part of, I’ve called a Grey Cup win for every franchise that’s in the league right now,” Cuthbert said.

“The only thing left was to call a game involving a team from Halifax and it will eat me up that I’ve never had that opportunity, but I still hope that the league gets to expand to 10 games and maybe I’ll go there as a fan.”

Cuthbert is a five-time Canadian Screen Award (formerly Gemini) winner for his broadcasting work as well as a Sports Media Canada Broadcaster of the Year honouree and is also a member of the Football Reporters of Canada Hall of Fame. Leaving the CFL was “the most difficult part of the decision” to sign on with Sportsnet, according to Cuthbert.

“It is an emotional day that way because I love the league. The part I love most about the league is the people in it, I’ve always felt like they were the most accessible and just great people from top to bottom, I will miss that there is no question about that. That’s the sad part and certainly mixed emotions,” Cuthbert said.

Since 2008 TSN has been the exclusive television broadcaster of CFL games, every year since the three-letter network has aired every regular season, playoff game and Grey Cup. As far back as 1952, the CBC was involved televising games for years and split games with TSN from 1986 to 2007, which was the last year the Grey Cup aired on the public broadcaster.

“Don’t worry about it Chris, we can work on maybe convincing a few folks that it needs to be on a couple of different networks,” Sportsnet’s Tim Micallef said.

“There’s an idea, I’m all for that,” Cuthbert replied.

“We have an affinity for it as well here on Tim and Sid, so if we can convince them that maybe they need to be on — I know there is a long term contract, whatever, doesn’t matter we can still work on it,” Micallef said.

“You’re not getting me into tampering charges already, are you?” Cuthbert asked.

“No, I’ll do it myself,” Micallef said while laughing, “they can come after me, I’m alright with it.”