Ron MacLean: solo this Saturday

Don Cherry often boasted that his first intermission segment on Hockey Night in Canada drew higher ratings than that week’s actual game. How true that statement was over the many years is a matter for Numeris to verify. One thing is for sure, however — it will be true this Saturday night.

Curiosity is building all across the nation as viewers tune in tonight to see what will happen now that the country’s biggest TV star, Cherry, has been fired from his popular puck pulpit. His 38-year run on Hockey Night ended after he made on-air comments last Saturday many felt were critical of immigrants for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

The twitterverse is on fire with all kinds of speculation as to what will air this Saturday: will Cherry’s desk mate, Ron MacLean, make a six minute apology? Will there be a video tribute to the departing coach? Will his tailor be auctioning off all the outrageous suits Grapes left on the rack?

I was asked to speculate Friday on CBC News at 6 and had this advice for Sportsnet: do not try to reboot the segment with some other coach. Whoever was put in that position, be it Brian Burke as even I’ve speculated, is doomed to fail. It would be like following Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show; for better or worse, nobody else will be the same. Bench Coach’s Corner, and take advantage of this opportunity to build an entirely new segment for the next generation of Hockey Night in Canada viewers.

It sounds like Sportsnet execs are on the same page.

“We’re taking the time to explore new formats for the first intermission,” Sportsnet communications director Andrew Garas told The Canadian Press in an email sent Friday afternoon. (He shared the same message with me Friday night after catching my CBC News hit.)


Garas added that this Saturday’s first intermission segment will highlight the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, who were honoured Friday night in Toronto. Garas says MacLean will also address Cherry’s firing after processing the whole hullabaloo all week.

Still, there’s speculation that more shoes may drop. Steve Simmons at The Toronto Sun tweeted Friday that he heard from one source that MacLean has asked to remove himself from his main HNiC duties and just anchor the Sunday night Hometown Hockey coverage. MacLean himself shot this notion down with a tweet of his own:

“It’s Ron Steve…not leaving Saturdays. That rumble likely comes from ideas early on I shared in processing everything,” MacLean tweeted directly to Simmons.

I know MacLean genuinely treasures his gig as a cross-Canada, community outreach hockey ambassador, but I’m glad his plan is to also stay put as the overall host of HNiC. He’s very good at his job, and besides, sports fans aren’t always that open to change — as George Stroumboulopoulos found out a few years ago.

All of these rumours will indeed have more viewers watching the first intermission segment more than the game this Saturday night. Ultimately, though, I hope Sportsnet turns the segment over to some pretty smart in-house producers and have them come up with something new. I’d be fine with a six-minute, energized look at other games happening on busy Saturday nights. Why not turn the time over to Sportsnet Central and have Evanka Osmak and Ken Reid run the table on goals and saves? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, just give sports fans what they want — the fastest six minutes in sport, in a package my son and other millennials can stream later on their mobile devices.

Although, if you still want some insider-y coaching insight around the 8 p.m. mark, the CBC cameraman who came to the house Friday had a pretty good suggestion: have MacLean interview a different coach around the league every week. With Skype and Facetime used on just about every newscast now, Sportsnet wouldn’t even need to pay for satellite time.

Or, just wait for, say, three more Leafs losses. There might be a full time coach looking for another job by then.

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