Weekes is bold new voice for Hockey Night in Canada
Ex-goalie Kevin Weekes debuts Thursday night at the Vancouver-Calgary match
The hiring of Weekes reflects the CBC's desire to reach a more diverse audience
Weekes, whose parents are from Barbados, will also work for the NHL Network
The most intriguing acquisition in the 2009-10 NHL offseason might not be Philadelphia's Chris Pronger, the New York Rangers' Marian Gaborik or even Chicago's Marian Hossa, but Hockey Night in Canada's Kevin Weekes.
In a move that proves somebody in TV really can resist the reflexive urge to hire the most recently unemployed coach as a chair-filling analyst -- Hockey Night in Canada executive producer Sherali Najak was the point man on Weekes -- the iconic hockey broadcast reached out to a goalie of color to provide color.
"Kevin Weekes Makes History as the First Black Hockey Analyst," reads the tag line on the email sent by his publicist, who happens to be his younger sister. This is a matter is of no small consequence, especially given Weekes' embryonic career starts exactly -- at least symbolically -- where it should: on the taxpayer-supported CBC. If Weekes had ended up working on a team telecast or a private broadcaster such as TSN, say, his hiring would not have carried the same gravitas as his appearance on the national network.
Other than the technological gimcracks and the doubleheader games, Hockey Night in Canada often seems rooted in the mid-1960s, a mirror on the country that refracted a monolith that no longer exists. For better or worse Canada, like the game, has evolved. With the addition of Weekes, HNiC tacitly has acknowledged that.
The broadcast booth will look a little more like Canada once Weekes, scheduled to do mostly the western games with play-by-play man Mark Lee, makes his regular season debut Thursday on opening night with the Vancouver-Calgary match. This might be a bumpy flight. The transition to analyst with the discerning eye of, say, a Pierre McGuire, assuredly will be fraught with stutter steps for a goalie who could not find work in the NHL and balked at going to Russia. Like any rookie, Weekes figures to struggle initially no matter how glib and polished he sounded on the other side of the camera. If it is a risk to give a broadcasting neophyte such a high-profile job -- Brett Hull disappeared awful quietly from NBC, didn't he? -- this is one likely worth taking.
Although Scott Moore, president of CBC Sports, said Weekes earned the job based on a knock-it-out-of-the-park audition calling an old Oilers-Canucks game off tape, the executive did not downplay the ability of Weekes to "reflect a slightly different community."
"My concern with hockey in general," Moore says, "is we tend to skew old and we tend not to speak to diverse communities."
With Weekes, the hockey tent, at least in theory, grows more ever expansive. The 34-year-old who shared the goaltending with Arturs Irbe when Carolina played in the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, is a first-generation Canadian. His parents, from Barbados, settled in Toronto in 1973.
"I was able to embrace my roots as an important part of who I am," Weekes says, "but I was also able to live the Canadian dream, of making it to the (NHL)."
There were two factors that brought his parents around to this exotic game that their son was playing in the streets of his eclectic neighborhood: his first Cooper catching glove was manufactured in Barbados, and the Saturday night game on Hockey Night in Canada.
"I was shaped my Hockey Night, by the power of the brand," Weekes says. "It won me over, and I know it won my parents over."
Weekes signed a one-year contract with the CBC. (He will also work for the NHL Network.) If an NHL team came calling next summer -- a possibility, certainly, but one that grows more remote with time for a goalie who appeared in just 71 games with the Rangers and Devils since the lockout -- he would weigh his options.
"I'd respect that," Weekes says. "You never sneeze at an NHL team." But the plan is to become a broadcasting pro, not a one-off.
If HNiC nurtures an unproven talent into another NHL-goalie-turned-first-rate-analyst -- John Davidson, Glenn Healy, Brian Hayward, Kelly Hrudey, Daryl Reaugh, Darren Eliot are just a partial list -- then it will have added value to an already formidable brand. If Weekes flames out, well, the taxpayers' network deserves credit for some original thinking.
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