Don Cherry can sometimes struggle with pronouncing last names (just ask fans of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa). Now with CBC’s star personality George Stroumboulopoulos unveiled Monday as the new host of Hockey Night in Canada starting this fall, Cherry says he won’t even try getting the five-syllable surname correct.
“I can’t. Snupalumpus or something like that,” the longtime host of Coach’s Corner says. “I’m going to call him George S. If I have trouble with [Tie] Domi, I’m going to have trouble with him.”
The introduction of Strombo, as many Canadians prefer to call him, is the first major change for Hockey Night in Canada since Rogers—the parent company of Maclean’s—signed a 12-year, $5.2-billion deal with the NHL in November. While he’s better known for his current affairs one-on-one interview show on CBC—now in its tenth and final season—and prior to that his work as a veejay on MuchMusic, Stroumboulopoulos started his broadcasting career as a sports reporter for The Fan 590 (now Sportsnet 590 The FAN). He’s a huge Montreal Canadiens supporter and even had a cameo in the Canadian film Score: A Hockey Musical as an arena announcer. He is a hockey fan, but admittedly not one to offer game analysis. “I didn’t play the game at a level of a champion so I wouldn’t offer the advice of guy who [did],” he says. “My job is going to be to facilitate the conversation and connect stories to people at home. But also to interview, which is what I do.”
Inside Studio 41 of the CBC building in downtown Toronto—the future home of the NHL on Rogers—Stroumboulopoulos stands out from the rest of his new colleagues. His hip persona, black wardrobe and open-collared shirts are a stark contrast to his Hockey Night in Canada co-hosts Ron MacLean, Daren Millard and Jeff Marek, who all wear a suit and tie. Strombo’s attire is likely to change in his new role. “Your outfit has to match the venue,” he says.
One thing that won’t change, however, it what happens at the end of the first period. Ron MacLean says he signed a four-year deal and will sit in his regular spot next to Cherry, who says he accepted a two-year deal despite being offered a longer contract. “If they screw up the rest, that’s their fault. It’s none of my fault,” Cherry says. “But I know one thing: Coach’s Corner will be the same.”
Cherry says it won’t be smooth sailing for Stroumboulopoulos, and expects it could be a few years until he finds his rhythm hosting hockey’s most iconic program. “It’s going to be a tough job,” Cherry says. “When MacLean took over from [Dave] Hodge, he had a tough time for the first year. He was a weatherman and he just walked into it.” Twenty-eight years later, one would be hard pressed to imagine Hockey Night in Canada without MacLean, though his role will be reduced with the new hire.
With the addition of Stroumboulopoulos, Rogers now has a younger TV star with a national brand. “George has charisma. He has a style that’s uniquely his,” MacLean says. “We speak to five generations when we do that TV show. George, at 41, is probably closer to Generation X.”
But Stroumboulopoulos says he has no plans to mess with the formula that has made Hockey Night in Canada so popular. “The game is the star,” he says, acknowledging the role of his new co-hosts. “I grew up watching Ron and Don.”
Cherry should like the sound of that, sticking to a first name basis.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Kevin Bieksa’s position.