“So that’s probably the best thing that I can come up with.”
Ask Canada’s perhaps best-known hockey broadcaster about what binds Canadians to their game and you get an answer that says as much about the man as the sport.
For the lion’s share of the past 33 years, Ron MacLean has been the face of Hockey Night in Canada — straightman to the gruff and grumbling Don Cherry, trivia-toting narrator to the pastime of a nation, a history lover and a story-teller.For the past four years, MacLean has also crisscrossed the nation as co-host (with colleague Tara Slone) of Rogers Hometown Hockey, a show that tells the tales of hockey communities big and small.
This weekend, MacLean et al bring Hometown Hockey to Ottawa for a two-day event hosted by Algonquin College, culminating with a TV broadcast on Sunday.
The show will spotlight Steve Yzerman and Darren Pang talking about their childhood years in Nepean. It will also look at recovery efforts in the wake of September’s devastating tornadoes, including the experience of five-time Paralympian and Own the Podium chair Todd Nicholson. Nicholson and his brother, Jason, both lost their homes in the twisters.
MacLean describes the Nicholson story as “just a real tear-jerker and a dandy,” and he says he has a suspicion his famed Coach’s Corner mate will enjoy it, too.
Why? Well, after Todd Nicholson and his wife Emily lost their home, they managed to recover the pet goldfish, subsequently renamed “Happy-Go-Lucky.”
“Don Cherry loves goldfish,” MacLean says. “When he meditates, it’s either in his Lincoln Mark VI sitting out in the driveway in the rain or it’s in his basement, staring at his goldfish. He’s gonna love that story.”
After years of working shoulder to padded shoulder with Cherry, MacLean says the two have become fast friends and mentions Cherry’s kinder side, which MacLean says sometimes escapes the camera lights.
“If Don ever decides, and I don’t know if he ever will, but, if Don ever decided to retire, that would be a point at which I think Hockey Night could evolve,” adding he’d still like to contribute.
A sport broadcaster, inevitably, becomes a “companion” for their audience, he says.
“I always likened it to one of those jobs where everybody knows your name. There is a familiarity for sure, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a celebrity familiarity. I think it’s more just a comfort level. … It’s someone with whom you’re going to spend your time.”