With Rogers taking over Hockey Night in Canada from the CBC for this coming season and the foreseeable future, one of the questions many fans were asking was what would happen to Tim Thompson, the former minor league hockey player turned video-editor, and goosebumps-inducer extraordinaire. That news came down yesterday, when it was revealed that while Thompson will be retained, his role will decrease, along with the number of video montages on the programming.
"I don't really think there was anything that was a part of Hockey Night in Canada that was sacrosanct, where we said, ‘oh we absolutely have to have that.'" - Rogers Senior Vice President of NHL Productions, Gord Cutler.
Just the kind of awareness you figure to get from a guy named Cutler. It's undeniable that Thompson's montages are an element of Saturday night (and playoff) broadcasts that fans looked forward to, and short of budgetary restrictions - have you SEEN the new studio - there really isn't any reason to cut the load. If anything, with more platforms and more content, Thompson's role, and his influence, should have been expanded. But I guess the silver-lining is that unlike with certain analytics bloggers, we still have the archives, so for your enjoyment, I have made a list of what I consider to be the ten best Thompson works in his time at the CBC. It's obviously subjective, but if you disagree be sure to take out your frustration in the comments section and also by sharing the link on Twitter with appropriate outrage attached. Because that's how the internet works. Max Pacioretty has the worst contract in the NHL. Enjoy.
When NBC figures out how to replicate this type of work, then I'll spell it the American way. Anyway, there were so many good videos to choose from, but not all of them could make the cut. In terms of my favourites that just missed, there's this great tribute to Maurice Richard, this regular season pump-up, the most recent Winter Classic gem, a touching piece on former sniper Pavel Bure, last year's attempt to fit as many images/clips in two minutes as possible, the Stones, an attempt at immortality, Karma Police, story time, another winter classic ode from Metric, and two more finales, from 2011 and 2014, respectively. I recommend watching all of those works; any could easily have made this list.
So what were the criteria I used to choose the top 10?
Concept: How good was the idea/theme behind the montage?
Song: How fitting/great was the song choice?
Chills Factor: How many goosebumps?
Pump-Up Factor: How ready am I to watch a hockey game right effing now?
Video Editing: How well were the images/clips melded together?
Audio: Was there enough Bob Cole?
I tried to keep bias out of the picture, but obviously the matchups that involve rivalries (Boston/Montreal, Montreal/Toronto, Chicago/Detroit, Chicago/Vancouver, Pittsburgh/Philadelphia, etc.) are bound to be more appealing on the chills and pump-up scales. So here goes.
10. 2013 Regular Season Opening - Dream On (Aerosmith)
This long awaited video was played for the opening of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, and oh what a great one it was. If Dream On isn't the best montage song out there, it's close. And Thompson sure saved it for a good occasion. This also served as an ode to 60 years of Hockey Night in Canada, so the video features some of the most famous plays in the program's history. Lots of Bob Cole, which is always a plus, and I'm pretty pumped for the season to start.
Best Moment: I get chills like crazy whenever I see the replay of that Burrows goal in Game 7 - unarguably Jim Hughson's best call ever - so without having the 2011 closing montage on this list that had to be mentioned. But for me, the best moment is during the first half of this video, when Gary Bettman informs the media that there will be hockey in Spring, 2013. How can you not get chills thinking back to what a relief that moment was. It was a great day.
9. 2011 Playoff Opening - Assorted Songs
Almost forgot about this one, because it's not referenced often, but it truly is an ideal introduction to the playoffs. Thompson pulls out all the best playoff quotes from the CBC's all-time crew, and segways beautifully from the soft and emotional pulls of hearing about Vancouver's troubles and Chicago's iconic victory, to the punishment and brutality of playoff hockey.
Best Moment: I don't know about best, but I always think about the hit at 0:42 when I think about this video, the glass smashing just as the beat drops. Pump-up factor for this video is just off the charts. And of course, plenty of Bob Cole.
8. 2013 Playoff Opening - Baba O'Reilly (The Who)
Between some great hitting, open ice mastery from P.K. Subban and 1960s P.K. Subban, and Jean Beliveau grasping the torch and metaphorically passing it to the younger generation, you can tell Thompson is proud of this one. The effect where the crowd fades into the empty arena as they chant "We Want The Cup" is spectacular. First time we've heard Cole's awesome "This is so exciting; I wish it could go on forever." And oh, what a great song choice. Right up there with Dream On. 10/10 on that scale.
Best Moment: I'm a sucker for anything involving the Rangers fan's famous "Now I Can Die In Peace" sign, but the tops here, in an upset, has to be the audio of Ron MacLean reciting "If I live or If I Die" over the image of Roberto Luongo pointing to the sky, as if praying for a change in fortunes following some oh so tough years in Vancouver.
7. 2011 WCF Game #1 Pre-Game Montage - Hope & Ruin (The Trews)
An upset choice, perhaps, but oh what a great Canadian song choice. This one both pumps me up and depresses me at the same time. Vancouver and San Jose, two once top-end teams with incredible talent and potential, and neither ever quite managed to get to the top with that core of players. 2011 was a simpler time, for sure. This video is a good reminder of what a great playoffs had unfolded thus far, and what a great series we were gearing up for. If only one of these two teams could have found a way. I miss seeing Joe Thornton happy. Now all I can think of is this.
Best Moment: If it's not Ryan Kesler's sad kiss to Roberto Luongo right at the end, or the forlorn faces of players on both sides around 0:40 (wow, am I just projecting this onto them or did these two teams both know things weren't exactly trending towards a cup?), then it's gotta be the line "Vancouver, you've got the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals" from Chris Cuthbert. It may be the only happy part of the video, but it's certainly not the only emotional part. Upside: Now can get more John Scott in our montages!
6. "Dear Canada" - Nessun Dorma
It's weird how a song can be both perfect and a little off for a particular occasion. But maybe that's what makes Thompson's work truly exceptional. It's human. Not every picture changes at every fourth beat. It's art. And sometimes its perfection is in its imperfection. This work deserves to be on the list just for its blending of old and new images and clips, as well as old school broadcasting from the likes of Dick Irvin and Danny Gallivan. But it's just all put together so well. I think I would pay money to see this montage whenever I craved inspiration. It's that good.
Best Moment: There are so many, but my personal favourite is this line from (I believe) Gallivan: "You think that mist that's rising here Ron might be one last skate around the ice by the ghosts?" That would be the forum ghosts, and I presume that sound-byte comes from the last game at the forum. And oh how poignant it is. The Forum ghosts are one of those entities you learn about growing up as a kid in Montreal, but they're famous around the league. The reference may have been cheesy in the moment, but in this context it was overwhelmingly chills-inducing.
5. 2013 Remembrance Day - Sailing (Strumbellas)
One of Thompson's great talents is ensuring his messages relate to more than hockey. None more so than this. For the Boston vs. Toronto November 11 matchup, Thompson featured the Strumbellas, one of Canada's hidden talents itself, and its emotional song "Sailing," as a tribute and a thank you to those who have served for Canada. Ron MacLean has tried, and failed at times, to make real life comparisons to hockey, but Thompson manages to tastefully intertwine some great highlights, some outstanding saves, and some touching images from Flander's Field, to touch many. Chills factor off the scales.
Best Moment: Thompson uses only the second verse of the song, which is the better verse anyway, and it works perfectly. The best line/image combination is: "I can pray to a god I can hope that he'll save us; but I've seen too much pain, too much hurt, too much death in this life," accompanied by images of soldiers cradling the dead and wounded in their arms, and finally, at 1:08, the face of a man who truly embodies the latter part of that lyric.
4. 2013 Western Conference Semifinals, Game #5 - Demons (Imagine Dragons)
Perhaps Thompson's best work comes when teams are facing elimination, as he is able to work with the pressures of closing a team out, as well as the anxiety of being close to finished. In this case, he masterfully builds on the narrative of Jonathan Toews needing to step up to lead his team to victory. It is clear that Toews is trying too hard, wanting to be the guy but in doing so getting himself in trouble, taking bad penalties, and the team is suffering because of it. The song fits perfectly, and this really is multimedia storytelling at its finest.
Best Moment: This one's easy. Toews is battling his demons the entire game, and is only able to release from them with the help of a teammate. Brent Seabrook comes into the penalty box and shows some real leadership giving his captain encouragement. "I can't escape this now, unless you show me how." Boom.
3. 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game #3 - Skyscraper Soul (Jim Cuddy)
I'm not sure that it's possible to watch this video and not cheer for the Leafs. This is three minutes and two seconds of pure pent up frustration, pain, anger, and....somehow...hope. It's about camaraderie for a city that hasn't seen a winner in more than 40 years, and that's just in hockey. I had never heard this song before, and I'm not sure it's a song I would care for at all in a vacuum. But it was stuck on a playlist for the next three months and now I know all the words. That's what many of these videos do to me. It's black magic. I empathize, Toronto. At least while watching this video, I empathize.
Best Moment: Love the visuals of the old Toronto blending into new Toronto, but I'm gonna say the footage of Gilmour scoring his patented wrap-around goal and even the camera going crazy has got to be the choice. Whatever you feel about the Leafs, it's nice to see Thompson given a chance to unleash all these clips he's probably had in stock for about 10 years. It's also funny EVERY TIME you remember that this video was full of pain and made BEFORE it had even been 4-1.
2. 2010 Playoffs Closing Montage - Tonight, Tonight (Smashing Pumpkins)
It's everybody's favourite, and it could easily be argued for the number one spot, but for me it comes in a close second (besides, what's a ranking article if it's not controversial?) This work has everything. Chills. Pump-Up. Bob Cole. Highlights. Story. It is the work that will live on long after any of us die, long after TVs are just virtual projector screens in front of our faces. We will hear about the legend of Byfuglien, and Kane. We will hear about the crying Colorado kid (not the Bourque one, in this case). It's the video that makes Canadiens fans cheer for Marc Savard, because how could you not after all he went through. The clip of the Pittsburgh fan being granted forgiveness is an all-timer. And that song. I don't know how Thompson came to decide to use it, but it could not be more perfect. "The impossible is possible, tonight, tonight. Believe in me, as I believe in you, tonight."
Best Moment: I could do a top 10 of these in itself, but Bob Cole's "What a night, to-night, in Mon-treal" is just so classic Cole, and along with the mass of people on St. Catherine street, it's hard to pick against it. Also I get excited any time Vince Vaughn gets excited about the Hawks, so there's that. Hopefully True Detective 2 is just he and Colin Farrell figuring out what the hell happened to that puck. Speaking of which, Rachel McAdams appears in the 2011 montage and is a massive Canucks fan. Potential tension on the set?
1. 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Game #1 - The Scientist (Coldplay)
It's not going to be the popular choice, but hear me out. First of all, if you've never seen Coldplay's unbelievable music video for The Scientist, watch that first. Yes, that is Chris Martin singing backwards. He actually learned to sing the song backwards, like "back to the start" is "trats eht ot kcab." Thompson seized on the theme of going back to where it all began, seeing as how the 2009 SCF combatants (Detroit and Pittsburgh) had faced each other just the year before. Sure, 2009 means that the technology wasn't as advanced, and TT has had better video editing, audio inclusion, and effects, but the concept itself is about a 20/10, and the execution is also phenomenal. Chills and goosebumps (are those different?) galore. Watch for yourself.
Best Moment: Sidney Crosby as a dorky 15-year old talking about how he's going to get to the NHL, Chris Osgood admitting deciding to be a goalie turned out okay. Jordan Staal playing shinny with his brothers and Bob MacKenzie talking about a young, off the radar Henrik Zetterberg. It doesn't go much farther back than that. Magisterial job by Thompson to pull at our heartstrings regarding growing up playing hockey and dreaming of reaching this stage, as well as flashing back to the 2008 finals and preparing for another clash of titans. The puck being set to drop for the beginning of game 1 is the perfect end, and the perfect set up, in this case, for the start of another season.
The NHL is almost here again, folks. It's just oh so tragic that we won't have as many great montages to remember it by.