From one Great One to another: Gretzky pays tribute to late legendary broadcaster Bob Cole

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Throughout the course of his 50 years in the broadcast booth, Bob Cole made friendships with some of the greatest players in the game of hockey and was the voice of their biggest accomplishments.

He was there when Wayne Gretzky won his first Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, proclaiming: “Folks, there’s a new bunch on the block.”

Cole was also there when Gretzky retired in 1999, saying: “You cannot say he didn’t try in this hockey game. You cannot say he didn’t go out with all the class that he has shown us in 20 years.”

Over the course of their careers, the two men became close friends. Gretzky paid tribute to Cole on Saturday night during a Hockey Night in Canada segment with host Ron MacLean. 

“He was probably the most gentlemanly man that I ever met,” Gretzky told MacLean. “He didn’t have an enemy anywhere. He had a great family. People loved him coast to coast, and I feel honoured to say he was my friend and we are going to miss him dearly.”

Cole died Wednesday at the age of 90. 

He wrote about his friendship with Gretzky in his 2016 book Now I’m Catching On: My Life On and Off the Air. He talked about his meetings with the Great One in a private room at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton during Gretzky’s tenure with the Oilers.

Wayne Gretzky lifting the Stanley Cup above his head.
All of the biggest moments of Wayne Gretzky’s life were narrated by Cole on Hockey Night in Canada, including each of his Stanley Cup wins and his retirement in 1999. ( Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Gretzky would do his typical post-game interviews and then sneak off to meet Cole in private. They’d talk about life and hockey while having a beer. Sometimes they were joined by Gretzky’s father, Walter.

“My dad just loved sitting and talking to Mr. Cole, as I did, as my family did,” he said. “And he was always so warm and generous and he was always so proud. He reminded me so much of my dad because he was such a proud Canadian that that’s all he would talk about. And more important, he was proud to say he was a Newfoundland Canadian. So him and my dad had a lot in common and it was always nice when the three of us would just sit down and chat and talk about things.”

WATCH | For decades, Bob Cole was the voice of Canadian hockey: 

Remembering Bob Cole, the soundtrack to Canadian hockey

Watch the tribute to Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Cole, by longtime CBC Hockey Night in Canada video producer Tim Thompson.

Cole called St. John’s his home all throughout his career, refusing to move each time he was asked by CBC executives to relocate to a more convenient location. 

Gretzky recalled a trip for a charity event in Newfoundland, where they finally got to meet up on his friend’s home turf.

“It was such a nice day for him because he’s usually travelling to Edmonton or L.A. and Toronto. So for me to be in Newfoundland with him, I know he was so proud and so excited. But in the same token, I was really excited also.”

A male hockey player wearing a white, yellow and black Pittsburgh Penguins jersey reacts as he puts on a shot.
Sidney Crosby kept a close friendship with Cole throughout his career. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby also weighed in on Hockey Night in Canada, in a recorded video message for Cole.

“You were the voice of hockey and like so many, my family crowded around the TV to listen to your calls. When I think of hockey’s greatest moments, it’s you narrating them,” he said. “I will always cherish our friendship, along with your wisdom and grit. I’m grateful for all the chats, the time we spent together over the years and countless memories you gave so many.”

Funeral arrangements set

Cole will be laid to rest in his beloved St. John’s on Friday.

His family published his obituary over the weekend, detailing his life and various careers — from flying planes to filleting fish, reading the news and narrating hockey games. His obituary notes he cherished all of his jobs in life, but perhaps none more than being a grandfather.

Visitation will take place Thursday from 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at Carnell’s Funeral Home. The service will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday at St. Thomas Anglican Church. 

There will be a live stream on the church’s Facebook page for those who cannot attend.

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