A look back at the early years of the Habs on color TV


So, did you get that 3D television yet? Perhaps it’s on your Christmas wish list.

As you might have heard, this Saturday’s game between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs in Toronto, will be the first Hockey Night in Canada 3D broadcast. A second 3D broadcast will be the February 20th outdoor Heritage Classic between the Habs and the Flames in Calgary. After HD, 3D might be the next great television innovation to enhance your experience, to quote a recent series of articles presented here at Habs Eyes on the Prize.

Personally, I don’t even have an HD television yet, but I’m planning to get one now that the prices have gone down. HD and 3D might be great, but it seems these technologies haven’t created the same excitement as the arrival of color television in the mid-sixties.

Starting in the early 50’s, hockey on television had a huge impact in popularizing the sport and the Canadiens as it was coincidental with their great dynasty. It was something that we looked at in our Eyes on a Dynasty series published here in September.

Color television further increased the appeal of pro sports, including hockey. Just imagine: after over a decade of watching hockey in black and white, fans could now see the game and its players in lifelike colors. The bright red jerseys of the Canadiens screamed out onto the screen.

It was forty five years ago, during the 1965-66 season, that NHL games started to be presented in color in the United States by regional broadcasters. The 1966 Stanley cup final between the Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings was presented nationally in the United States on color television by the NBC network. The Habs thus became the first team to win the Stanley cup on color TV.

The ice at Detroit’s Olympia arena was tinted blue in an effort to create a better television viewing experience, an experiment that is somewhat reminiscing of the Fox network’s blue puck (or FoxTrax glow puck) of the 90’s. The video clip below is not from the NBC broadcast, but from a NHL color film and shows highlights of game four in Detroit. You can clearly see the tinted blue ice.

In 1966, the NHL also announced plans to expand in the United States the following year. The timing was judged perfect because it was said color television had greatly enhanced the attractiveness of hockey. CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada started broadcasting games in color during the 1966-67 season as well as the CBS network in the United States. That was of course the last season of the Original six teams.

Unfortunately, there exist very few recordings of Canadiens color television broadcasts from the late sixties. Up to the 1970-71 season, most of the preserved Canadiens telecasts were recorded in black and white even though they were broadcasted in color originally. The video clip below is the oldest recording of a Canadiens color TV broadcast that I’ve seen. It’s from a game between the Habs and the Chicago Blackhawks from the Forum on January 20th 1967, a 3-3 tie. The play-by-play is from the Hawks' Lloyd Pettit.

It’s only at the start of the 1968-69 season that Hockey Night in Canada started presenting complete broadcasts, right from the start of the game. This third color video is from that season. First, it shows Jean Beliveau’s game six double overtime Stanley cup semi-final clinching goal, against the Boston Bruins, and ends by a silent highlight of an Yvan Cournoyer goal against the St-Louis Blues.

Color filming existed long before the arrival of color television. This next video clip shows silent Canadiens color footage from the 40’s and 50’s. You’ll see Maurice Richard, Émile Butch Bouchard and Bill Durnan in a casual practice in the 1940’s, followed by action from 1953 between the Canadiens and the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.

Even in the 1970’s, a lot of people still had black and white televisions, perhaps as a second set in the house. It was the case for my family. So, many people saw this 1971 Frank Mahovlich game seven playoff goal against the Bruins, either in black and white or in color. It’s not hard to see why color television was so popular.

As all Canadiens fans, I am looking forward to see the Canadiens win their next Stanley Cup, whether it be in High definition or in 3D. As I said, I don't have a big screen TV yet but I probably felt I had one as a young kid. That’s me with the white shirt and red tie at about 5 years old (around 1970), with family. We are standing beside the Christmas tree and the color television that allowed me to become a Canadiens fan


On that note, Happy Habs holiday viewing and Happy Habs viewing all the time!

See also a previous post of mine including Canadiens and Bruins color TV broadcast highlights from the 1969-70 season.

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