THE INTERVIEW: Ron MacLean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ron MacLean. Photo: Rogers Hometown Hockey.

THE INTERVIEW: Ron MacLean
March 2019
LondonOntarioSports.com

Immediately into a conversation about what makes London a hockey hotbed, Ron MacLean turned his attention to London Knights GM Mark Hunter and head coach Dale Hunter. As was expected, MacLean, who visited London last October for Rogers Hometown Hockey, began a two-minute soliloquy on Canadian junior hockey’s top tandem. After all, what would you expect from the 58-year-old award-winning sports broadcaster who is the game’s most knowledgeable storyteller? A Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster since 1986, MacLean is best known as Don Cherry’s setup man on Coach’s Corner. But even as a famous second banana, MacLean is without equal when it comes to serving up an encyclopedia of hockey trivia and insight. And as co-host of Rogers Hometown Hockey, along with singer-songwriter Tara Slone, the eight-time Gemini Award winner further engrains himself as Canada’s most knowledgeable and beloved sports broadcaster. The Knights certainly play a big part in defining London, but even more so, London is a hockey town. MacLean told the story of how Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Eric Lindros was just as eager to talk about playing minor hockey at London’s Argyle Arena as he was looking forward to sharing news about concussion education and advocacy. MacLean pointed out how lucky London is to have our first family of hockey – the Simpson family – act as ambassadors for the Forest City as well as for the game of hockey. He said broadcaster siblings Christine and Craig, their brother Dave, former Canadian Junior Hockey League player of the year turned author, entrepreneur and educator, and the entire clan are glowing examples of being good neighbours, good Canadians and good citizens. And with the Knights’ success, the Hunter brothers carry that torch, according to MacLean. Glancing at the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup, laden with former Knights including Nazem Kadri, Mitch Marner and John Taveras, and at the NHL’s entire roster, MacLean called it “an unbroken line of great players, all connecting to the Hunters.” With stories like those, it’s easy to understand why MacLean, too, is one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. Here’s this edition of THE INTERVIEW with Ron MacLean.

JEFFREY REED, EDITOR, LONDONONTARIOSPORTS.COM: Ron, it’s great to chat with you again – our first lengthy chat since we met in the early 1990s. I remember you encouraged me to stick with my game plan, and that I would do well in this crazy game we call sports journalism.
RON MACLEAN: Yes. It’s great to chat with you again.
REED: Let’s talk first about Rogers Hometown Hockey. It started out as an ode to the game’s roots, and it has come full circle. It’s now part of the Canadian hockey fabric.

Ron MacLean and Tara Slone. Photo: Rogers Hometown Hockey.

MACLEAN: The first show we did was with Eric Lindros, and it was a godsend. I likened it to the Battle of the Blades show when Tie Domi and Bob Probert volunteered to be skaters on that silly show, when we put hockey players together with accomplished figure skaters.
REED: Crazy format, but it worked. We’re still talking about it today, right?
MACLEAN: Having those two players helped tremendously, and that’s what Eric did for Rogers Hometown Hockey. He showed me around London, showed me where he grew up, where his dad worked, where he first strapped on his first pair of skates at Victoria Park. And that really set the path. I think one of the great secrets of the show’s success is how the players love to thank people who helped them get where they got. Whether it’s their parents, or coaches, or volunteers. Everyone from the NHL to the Canadian Women’s Hockey Association and including the National Women’s Team are just so grateful to shine a light on where it started for them. That’s the secret to Rogers Hometown Hockey.
REED: The Hunter brothers, without a doubt, brought life back to junior hockey in London. Sure, we have Budweiser Gardens which has become a destination. But the heart and soul of the London Knights and hockey in London are the Hunters.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean on Coach’s Corner. Photo: CBC.

MACLEAN: There has to be a little humility in the grandeur of the Hunter boys. They’ve always kept things in the proper perspective. It’s about being a good Canadian, a good neighbour, a good citizen – all of those things. And if you get into hockey (with the Knights), you will be shown the way to do your part. And you’ll shine. Dale and Mark have done an unbelievable job.
REED: We must talk about London’s first family of hockey, the Simpsons, including Stanley Cup winner Craig, now arguably the game’s best analyst; brother Dave, former Canadian junior player of the year turned business/entrepreneur teacher and mentor; and sister Christine, another of the game’s top insiders and ground-breaking hockey broadcaster. (Ed. Note: Reed our December 2016 edition of THE INTERVIEW with Dave Simpson here).
MACLEAN: They’re just an unbelievable family – so talented, each of them. I remember Chris would sit with their mom, Marion, watching Craig during Battle of the Blades. I never dreamed Craig could be such a comedian when figure skating. And you know, the Simpsons have shown me how important it is to work with others. The Hunters have shown that, too, and that’s why everyone wants to play for them. Anyone who comes to play for the London Knights knows they will get a fair shake in hockey, whether it’s to pursue an education later on, or to move up the ladder.
REED: Londoners and former London Knights can be seen at any given arena during NHL game night, and a lot of that stems from mentorship and development by the Hunters. Of course, this is Toronto Maple Leafs country – we see a strong Knights representation there, too.

MACLEAN: I was glancing at the cover of the 2009 NHL draft preview, and John Taveras was No. 1, highly-anticipated. The cover says, ‘Johnny Fever.’ Nazem Kadri would go No. 8 overall to the Maple Leafs in that draft. And you’re right. There’s an unbroken line of great players all connected to the Knights. Everyone thinks the world of Dale Hunter for what he has meant to the spirit of the game.
REED: Speaking of hockey spirit, you see it more closely than anyone, Ron. When you think of Ken Burns’ great documentary, Baseball, and understand how that game has been a constant strength to Americans, no matter what else has transpired over the past century, the same can be said about hockey in Canada.
MACLEAN: Whether it’s the fisheries in Atlantic Canada or the grain elevators in the West, the rink is the staple of every community. We huddle against the cold. It’s one of our ways to cope with winter. The game followed us around the country with the railroad as it moved across Canada.

REED: For decades, Hockey Night in Canada, and now Rogers Hometown Hockey, are big parts of that fabric.
MACLEAN: Saturday night is a TV wasteland in the U.S. But luckily in Canada, a mom can sit with her boy, a dad can sit with his daughter and watch hockey. It crosses genders and generations. It’s who we are. I refereed for 23 years, and went into every community. I saw the 50/50 ticket sellers, the people who worked the timekeeper’s box. They’re the backbone of the game. And I knew if we could somehow tell their stories (with Rogers Hometown Hockey), then people would enjoy it.
REED: Ron, pleasure chatting with you again – and great to talk hockey, and what it means to Londoners.
MACLEAN: My pleasure Jeff, thank you.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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