Oh, Baby: Ranking the 10 greatest calls by Bob Cole

Bob Cole not calling NHL playoff games is like … there’s almost no comparison that does it justice, is there?

It was revealed last week that Sportsnet wouldn’t be assigning Cole to any games this postseason, ending a nearly 50 year run of playoff assignments for the broadcasting legend.

I’m not going to dwell on if it was the right move or not. But regardless of your feelings on How Bob Cole Calls An NHL Game In 2018, there’s a sadness that if this is the end for his career, it’s happening in a way that deprives him of the sendoff he deserves.

Cole is to hockey what Vin Scully is to baseball, Marv Albert to basketball, Pat Summerall to football: the voice synonymous with the game, whose rhythms and inflections match the end to end action like nobody else.

In a perfect world, there would be tributes. There would be final games called in Toronto. In Montreal. In double overtime playoff epics. There would be one last time where his voice met the moment, one last time where he identified someone as “The Ottawa Player”, one last time where half of people on Twitter would be angry for every name he butchered and the other half singing his praises.

Hopefully those still happen. But if they don’t, there should at least be lists ranking his greatest calls of all time.

So let’s do that.

I spent the weekend listening to as many Bob Cole calls as I could find on the Interwebs, and now we’re going talk about the ten I think are best.

Oh, baby. This. Will. Be. Something, all right.

Point System

How are we going to determine what is the ultimate Bob Cole call? I think there are three things that matter.

Stakes (5 Points): How important is the moment? Part of what makes a classic Bob Cole call great is the fact he employs enthusiasm judiciously, forever (by his own admission) going by Foster Hewitt’s maxim that a broadcaster should only have four levels of emotion, and to save the final level for the biggest of occasions, making the passion in the biggest of moments feel genuine.

Uniqueness (5 points): How much does it feel like a Bob Cole call? Could anyone else have called it the same way? Are there multiple sentence fragments? Turns of phrase that don’t really work out of context? Does every remark end with an exclamation mark?

Quality (15 points): Is the timing of the call synched up with the action on the ice? Does the voice feel at one with the sound of the crowd and shots from the camera? Does it raise the level of the moment?

If there’s a tie, the call with the higher score for quality wins out.

But first, a few honourable mentions that don’t make the Top 10.

“And the place goes crazy!”

Situation: 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, Leafs vs. Hurricanes, Game 6, 3rd period (Hurricanes up 3-2)

It didn’t really matter because the Hurricanes won in overtime to take the series and head to the Stanley Cup, but Cole is right on top of the frantic action, and his read of “The Leafs have tied the game!” makes up for the fact he never references a player during the call.

“And the place goes crazy!” again

Situation: 2014 Western Conference Finals, Kings vs. Blackhawks, Game 5, Double OT (Kings up 3-1)

This is generally seen as the last truly great Bob Cole call in a big-time game, and a great example of his 0 to 60 acceleration on surprise goals.

“YZERMAN!”

Situation: 1996 Western Conference Semifinals, Red Wings vs. Blues, Game 7, Double OT

We don’t really care about this call because it involved two American teams, but it’s arguably one of the most iconic overtime goals ever, and Cole’s call matches the moment impeccably.

“Oh boy! Was he hit by Tucker!”

Situation: 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Leafs vs. Flyers, Game 6, Overtime (Flyers up 3-2)

If someone wanted me to present evidence of why Bob Cole calls a see-saw overtime better than anyone else, the two minutes before the Leafs are eliminated in this series would be Exhibit A.

“He’s gotta score! That’s all!”

Click here to view, (scroll to 5:10)

Situation: 1998 Olympic Semifinals, Canada vs. Czech Republic, Shootout

“No.”

Pretty much the only time Cole had to call a major shootout, and he nails the desperation everyone in Canada felt as Dominik Hasek did Hasek things and ended the first quest to win a gold medal with professional players.

“The Canadiens win the Stanley Cup!”

Situation: 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, Canadiens vs. Kings, Game 5 ending (Canadiens up 3-1)

Cole sometimes tries to end a championship by telling a little story, and sometimes it lands and sometimes it doesn’t (see: 2002 Olympics, where he talked over people singing the national anthem), but this one lands, and gains extra resonance because it’s the last time a Canadian team won the cup.

“They’re going home! They’re going home! Yeah! They’re going home!”

Situation: 1976 Super Series, Flyers vs. Red Army, 1st period

There’s juuuust the right amount of indignation in Cole’s voice in this one, capturing the moment effortlessly. Really, you could put this on his Top 10 list easily, but this was just an exhibition game and the Red Army did return to the ice.

“Everything is happening!”

This is about Bob Cole’s greatest calls, not his greatest catchphrases.

Those were all nice. But here are Bob Cole’s 10 best calls as unilaterally determined by me.

#10: “Here comes Thomassssssss …. scores!”

Situation: 2000 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Leafs vs. Senators, Game 5, Overtime

Full Call: “And it’s cleared to centre, and Berezin is coming down the ice, coming down there Berezin, here comes Thomasssss …. SCORES! THOMAS! SCORES! AND THE LEAFS. WIN. THIS. TERRIFIC HOCKEY GAME. WHAT A FINISH!

A first round non-elimination playoff game can only be so memorable, but Cole gets to 11 when Thomas scores this goal, causing Senators fans to claim bias for a generation to come.

Stakes: 3/5
Uniqueness: 4/5
Quality: 12.5/15
TOTAL: 19.5

#9: “But here! Is! Gretz! Skee! SCORES!”

Situation: 1984 Stanley Cup, Oilers vs. Islanders, Game 5, 1st period

This one doesn’t get played in the montages, but it’s actually pretty important from a historical perspective —the Oilers were one win away from their first Stanley Cup, but the Islanders were going for their 5th straight and had beaten the Oilers the year before. But Gretzky’s goal opened the scoring, relieving some of the tension of the molten crowd at Northlands Coliseum, and Cole’s timing on the breakaway is impeccable, as is his decision to let the moment afterwards speak for itself.

Stakes: 4/5
Uniqueness: 4/5
Quality: 12/15
TOTAL: 20

#8: “The Islanders have done it!”

Situation: 1984 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Islanders vs. Rangers, Game 5 (best of 5 series), Overtime

Full Call: “Can you be-lieve this action in overtime! In a big game. Coming in front! Billy Smith! Robbed Brooke! Robbed him, I tell ya. Robbed him. Bossy played it in. That’s Tonelli going after it. Into the corner Patey, lost it, Suttttter! Kicked out by Glen Hanlon, shot, SCORE! THE ISLANDERS HAVE DONE IT! THE ISLANDERS, GOAL, THEY HAVE WON IT IN OVERTIME! 3! 2! IT’S OVER! AND THE MARCH. OF THE ISLANDERS. CONTINUES IN 84.”

(15 second pause)

“I have never seen hockey like this!”

Another one less remembered because it doesn’t involve a Canadian team or Mario Leimeux doing ridiculous things, but it’s an overtime where the winner moves on, loser eliminated, Islanders trying to win a 5th Cup, in a crosstown series against the Rangers, and Cole captures the back and forth action perfectly, punctuated by Dick Irvin following Cole’s call by declaring “Bob, that’s the greatest overtime I’ve ever seen!”

So I guess it’s okay.

Stakes: 4.5/5
Uniqueness: 2.5/5
Quality: 13/15
TOTAL: 20

#7: “Oh my goodness! Curtis Joseph has made the play of the series!”

Situation: 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinal, Oilers vs. Stars, Game 7, Overtime

Full Call: “Here’s Sydor, racing in. He’s around the net, trying to come out in front loose puck OH MY GOODNESS! Curtis Joseph! Has made! The play! Of the series! You cannot. Believe. That save. By Curtis Joseph. And we’re still in overtime.”

Cole rarely brings out the same firepower for saves as he does goals, but this series-saving lunge by Joseph forces genuine amazement in his voice, setting the stage for a slightly more famous call literally a minute later.

Stakes: 4/5
Uniqueness: 4.5/5
Quality: 12/15
TOTAL: 20.5

#6: “Shot! Goar!”

Situation: 2002 Olympics, Canada vs. USA, Gold Medal Game, 3rd Period

Full Call: “Down they come across the line, Sakic and Yzerman, what about this duo. Shot! GOAR! GOAL CANADA! GOAL! WOW! A lot of Canadian fans here! The place goes crazy here in Salt Lake City, and I guess. Coast to Coast in Canada, and all around the world.”

Explaining to a young Canadian hockey fan today how nerve-wracking the 2002 gold medal game was would be difficult, because it’s not as though Canada has lacked for international wins before or after, but the stakes of the game were seen as the highest for Canada since 1972, and even though they were up by one, America was at the door, and they had been one goal down in the 1996 World Cup and came back, and Mike Richter was still making stupid saves, and things were incredibly tense.

Cole’s call isn’t technically good — he combines “goal” and “scores”, and then sort of rambles about where everyone is celebrating — but his emotional release captured the situation to a tee, a nation celebrating because it could relax ever so slightly.

Stakes: 4.5/5
Uniqueness: 4.5/5
Quality: 12/15
TOTAL: 21

#5: “Solo job and he’s won it!”

Situation: 1993 Western Conference Semifinals, Leafs vs. Blues, Game 1, Double OT

Full Call: “Gilmour back of the net, Andreychuk in front with Borschevsky. It is Gilmour waiting. Waiting. Around the net. Waiting, he’s out HE SCORES! GILMOUR! SOLO JOB! AND HE’S WON IT! IN THE SECOND OVERTIME PERIOD! HOW. ABOUT. THAT!

(10 second pause)

Oh my. Oh my. What a night. Tonight. For the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

This is the top call of something that isn’t an elimination or Stanley Cup final game, but Cole is tremendous here, incorporating a weird turn of phrase (“Solo job”) with some classic sentence fragments, all for a player about as beloved as possible in Toronto, with a more precise delivery than was often the case when it concerned action right around the net.

Stakes: 4/5
Uniqueness: 4/5
Quality: 13.5/15
TOTAL: 21.5

#4: “It is Marchant …. scores!”

Situation: 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinal, Oilers vs. Stars, Game 7, Overtime

Full Call: “Who’s gonna beat Joseph? Or who will get one for Edmonton? They’re gonna try here, rushing to centre and down the wing, it is Marchant …. SCOOORES! MARCHANT! SCORES! And the Edmonton Oilers! Are gonna move on! The Dallas Stars. Have been eliminated! Curtis Joseph the hero! Tonight! And then Marchant. The icing on the cake. On the speed down the wing. And the shot that ends it! 4-3! Edmonton!”

I was 10 when this series happened and was too young to really get into the Canucks’ 1994 run, so this was my first example of an exciting upset by a Canadian team, with an all-time elimination goal punctuated by an all-time Bob Cole description.

You could argue that I have it too high because of that personal experience, but really, it’s sort of the perfect version of a standard Bob Cole Big Time Goal Call, and he does a great job keeping up the excitement for the Canadian audience in spite of the game being in Dallas with immediately deflated fans. Generally that makes it difficult for the play by play person to keep up the momentum, but not Cole on this night.

Stakes: 4.5/5
Uniqueness: 4/5
Quality: 13.5/15
TOTAL: 22

#3: “What A Goal! What A Move!”

Situation: 1991 Stanley Cup Final, Penguins vs. North Stars, Game 2 (North Stars up 1-0), 2nd period

Full Call: “Here’s Lemieux. To centre. Penalty coming up. LOOK AT LEMIEUX! OH MY HEAVENS! WHAT A GOAL! WHAT A MOVE! LEMIEUX! OH, BABY!”

Let’s get the nitpicking out of the way: this isn’t the best call because the Penguins were already up in the game and Cole doesn’t really go to maximum excitement.

But! There is a reason this is pretty much on every montage: big stakes, legendary player, signature goal, and Cole with a call that rises to the occasion, with a move that legitimately surprises him, and then punctuating the moment with a classic “Oh, baby!”

Just tremendous stuff all around.

Stakes: 4/5
Uniqueness: 5/5
Quality: 13.5/15
TOTAL: 22.5

#2: “Desjardins! And the Canadiens win in overtime!”

Situation: 1993 Stanley Cup Final, Canadiens vs. Kings, Game 2 (Kings up 1-0), Overtime

Full Call: “There’s a shot! Desjardins following the play and he missed on the short side there he is again. Scores! DES-JAR-DINS! AND THE CANADIENS WIN! IN OVERTIME! HIS THIRD GOAL OF THE GAME! And the series! Is a brand new one!”

If the question was “when was Bob Cole most excited?” the moment he starts pronouncing Desjardins’ name would probably be number one. The call combines three Cole trademarks: going up to the highest possible excitement register with little acceleration, shouting out the name of the player immediately after they scored, and over. Em-pha-si-zing. Every. Last. Syllable.

And it’s damn flawless, considering the stakes (going down 2-0 in the finals would be huge to overcome) and player (It meant Desjardins got a hat trick, which is pretty incredible for a defenseman at anytime, let alone the Stanley Cup final). And of course, the Canadiens would go on to win the series, making it *that* much more memorable.

Stakes: 5/5
Uniqueness: 5/5
Quality: 13/15
TOTAL: 23

But it isn’t Cole’s best call. This is.

#1: “It is Joe Sakic …. scores!”

Situation: 2002 Olympics, Canada vs. USA, Gold Medal Game, 3rd Period

Full Call: “Canada trying to hang on and get a break. It’s gonna be a break. It is JOE SAKIC …. SCORES! JE-O! SAKIC! SCORES! AND THAT MAKES IT 5! 2! CANADA! SURELY. THAT’S GOTTA BE IT!”

The thing is, this wasn’t a necessary goal.

Canada was up 4-2, a minute away from winning its first gold in hockey in 50 years, its first gold with professional players, in front of an average of 10.3 million Canadians, the biggest TV audience, at that time, ever in the country’s history.

The chances of a collapse were incredibly slim. But there was still doubt, still nerves. Which is why I think the call resonates, much much more than an insurance goal should: it represented the full emotional release of a country, from the tension in Cole’s voice as strings out Sakic’s name before he shoots, to the reign of exclamation points that follow.

As a call, it’s pristine: the timing is excellent, the leadup tremendous, the ramping up of emotion flawless. Virtually every word has a Cole spin to it. And the moment can’t get much bigger.

Stakes: 4.5/5
Uniqueness: 5/5
Quality: 14/15
TOTAL: 23.5

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5 Comments

    • parappayo

      Actually I’m not sure, can anyone confirm who calls this play? Would love to know.

      Further context: game 5 of the 2006 SCF, this goal staved off elimination and the series went to 7 games. Pisani had an amazing run: 14 goals, 4 assists in those playoffs. He is a hero to this day in Edmonton.

  1. john

    Justin,i just saw your list of top ten bob cole moments,and after listening to jim Hughson call the first two games of the leafs bruins series,i have one question:What in the name of the almighty are scott moore and the bigwigs of sportsnet smoking?Jim Hughson becomes the top guy in the booth,but bob cole,who has called every important hockey moment in this country for the last 50yrs,can’t get one round,are you kidding me?Yes he sometimes mispronounces players names,but who cares,you’re watching a game on your 40 or 50 inch flat screen tv,if you need bob to tell you who has the puck,the problem is your optometrist,not coley.I’ve said it a million times to my hockey loving friends,what bob does better than anyone probably in the history of the game is,he can convey the essence of the big game or the big moment into your living room,simply by the tone of his voice and the rise in the pitch as the stakes become higher.You could be in your kitchen with bob calling the play in your living room,and by listening to the pitch in his voice,you know you have to rush back in because something is about to happen.He calls the game the way hockey is supposed to be called,with emotion,with passion,with an anticipation for the big moment,the big game,the big event.No disrespect to jim Hughson,who I am sure is a good person,but for the love of god,listening to him,I don”t know if I am watching Columbus vs Nashville on a Tuesday night in February,or whether its game 7 of the Stanley cup final between the leafs and the canadiens.With bob,from the moment the broadcast would go on the air,there would be absolutely no doubt.It would take days for me to list all the great calls and moments,and you have done a great job of encapsulating them here,suffice to say that the pantheon of hockey broadcasting is occupied by 3 names:Foster Hewitt,Danny Gallivan,Bob Cole,evrybody else take a number.

  2. Steve May

    Not many people know that Bob Cole called the Summit Series for CBC Radio. Here’s his call of Henderson’s winner in Game 8

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