Ron MacLean surprised me at the start of the latest edition of brioux.tv: the podcast.
The Hockey Night in Canada anchor and host of Battle of the Blades (airing Thursdays on CBC) was asked, as is every guest, just why the heck he was talking to me on the podcast. I ask this each episode to kick things off with a gag reply. Jann Arden said it was because I swiped right; Enrico Colantoni said it was because we were both old!
MacLean, however, answered with a sweet story connected to one of his worst days: the March, 2013 Rogers press conference held in a black-walled, cavernous CBC studio announcing that MacLean was out and George Stroumboulopoulos was in as HNiC’s main broadcast anchor.
MacLean says the actual press event remains a blurr — he was hung over, he confesses, from processing the demotion the day before with friends. Rogers did retain his services, however, to anchor their new Sunday night “Hometown Hockey” edition. This was all part of their 12-year, $5.2 billion NHL rights deal.
I remember attending the press conference and thinking Rogers boss Scott Moore had skated into the boards. When US broadcasters seize ownership of important sports franchises, they never try and pander to demos. They make sure they guy in the blazer bringing you the game is part of the package. Generally he is a familiar face: Al Michaels, Bob Costas, whoever they are, not matter their age. There are viewers out there who still miss John Madden.
Strombo, in my view, didnt fit in that blazer. Moreover, as a ratings-obsessed TV nerd, I knew that the notion that he drew younger viewers with his CBC talk show was all hooey. Rogers went with a hunch, not homework.
MacLean on the other hand was, at 53, in his hockey anchor prime. Moving him to a second row chair was screwing things up. Two years later, Moore raised the white flag, packaged out Strombo and put MacLean back where he belonged.
Still, I kept my opinions to myself on that day. As somebody who had been downsized a few times, I pulled MacLean aside after the awkward, thumbs up photo ops and congratulated him on this great opportunity to take Hometown Hockey and turn it into a community builder. He was and is the right man for that job, and so I wasn’t making it up. I also knew, however, that it took guts on that day to stand there and smile when you’ve been punched in the gut.
MacLean opens our conversation by telling me that gesture meant a lot on that day. When you do this as long as I do, and you are told you did the right thing, well, it is a humbling moment.
Now I just have to try and patch things up between Ron and Don; that, as MacLean also tells on the podcast, may require more crazy glue than I have in the house. If you have some down or commute time this weekend, please give us a listen. There’s lots of fun hockey talk, including an assessment of the strange season just passed.