Sports

MacLean candid in memoir

CBC’s Ron MacLean signs an autograph for a fan at the Skins Game at Predator Ridge Resort in 2000. - Morning Star File
CBC’s Ron MacLean signs an autograph for a fan at the Skins Game at Predator Ridge Resort in 2000.
— image credit: Morning Star File

Just added Ron MacLean to my Bucket List. Would love to play 18 holes with the guy and then talk about hockey and life in general, over a few cold bottles of beer.

I received MacLean’s book in the office Christmas gift exchange and after reading Cornered: Hijinks, Highlights, Late Nights and Insights, I like and respect MacLean a whole lot more.

Blessed with quick wit and smarts, MacLean is in year 26 as the ringmaster of Hockey Night in Canada, a Saturday night staple in most Canadian households. You may have caught him and co-host Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner.

I have always enjoyed his strong interview skills and admired him for studying the game and knowing the historic figures inside and out. He and Cherry have had a riot doing their show, and they always end the night over a few cold beers, kept on ice in a hotel room garbage pail.

Cornered is packed with inside accounts from MacLean, who told his story to Kirstie McLellan Day (who also wrote books on Theo Fleury and Bob Probert). MacLean reveals how his wife, Cari, and he were unable to have children so they have been dog lovers instead of parents.

MacLean, a Red Deer product, cried with fear and joy before his first Coach’s Corner. He and Cherry hardly share the same beliefs, but there is a mutual respect and friendship.

Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden has spent time at public functions with both MacLean and Cherry.

“MacLean is often described as Cherry’s perfect foil, but in fact, the reverse is true,” wrote Dryden in a recent Globe & Mail article. “MacLean is Cherry’s perfect set-up man. Cherry goes over-the-top; MacLean catches him and comes back with something that seems almost reasonable – and on it goes. But beneath the shtick of outrageous clothes and bluster is a funny, entertaining character who has something to say. No one survives more than 30 years at the centre of a storm with just shtick.”

Here then, are some of my favourite pieces from Cornered:

- From Cherry, in the foreword, on how MacLean didn’t understand hockey humour in the early going: “I admit I have a hockey player’s idea of humour – cruel. The more you can hurt a guy, the funnier it is. And when it’s your turn, you have to take it on the chin. I only kid people I like. I started to like Ron because he didn’t back down. I appreciated his gumption. The problem was, he wasn’t getting it. He hadn’t realized yet that TV is a tough business. There’s no mercy. You screw up and a lot of people are happy and ready to take your spot...”

- From MacLean, on getting into hockey while a kid living in Whitehorse (his dad was in the military): “...But the real treat for me was the hard pink bubble gum that you got with hockey cards. I’d walk for miles to pick up a pack. I remember the excitement of carefully unfolding the was cover and inhaling the sweet aroma, and then licking the powder off my fingertips.”

- From Cherry: “He has supreme confidence. When we are walking through an airport, a guy might holler, ‘Great show last night Grapes!’ And Ron will laugh. Or if we are somewhere and a guy hands him a camera and then asks him to take a picture of me with the guy. Ron thinks that is hilarious. Complete confidence.”

- From MacLean, on being the class clown: “I could be disruptive and hyper, and I loved to argue. I would challenge the teacher for the fun of it. Nova Scotia had the toughest disciplinary measures. When I was little, I would get the strap on my hand with a piece of fire hose.”

- From MacLean, on minor hockey in Red Deer: “I’d made it to camp thanks to my skating ability, but I had horrible hands. So I played one level below Midget AAA, and by that time I was a left winger and centre. Sometimes I could see the ice, sometimes I couldn’t.”

- From MacLean, on his refereeing days, including some years in the minors: “When I refereed, I didn’t see everything, but I was a good communicator. As one of our supervisors used to say, ‘Some people referee with honey, some do it with vinegar.’ I like to try to charm my way through. That worked most nights, but not every night.”

- MacLean on Cherry: “Despite his tough interior, Don is soft-hearted. He reminds me of my mother that way. We’ll be walking along and there’ll be a dead bird on the road, and he’ll start singing that old hymn, ‘God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall.’ And he’s very well read, with an unbelievable knowledge of trivia.”

- MacLean on Cherry: “Grapes says that, in Canada, we build people up, and when they reach the top, we tear them down. This really bugs him. Me? I don’t usually care. Refereeing was the greatest experience for thickening the skin. I knew there were times when I would be wrong.”

- MacLean on life after death: “There are days when I wonder, ‘What becomes of us?’ Ed Whalen used to say, ‘They throw us in the ground and that’s that, kid.’ I kind of agreed with him, yet I liked the idea put forth in the book God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams. He’s the guy who created the Dilbert comic strip. The book is a parable. God blows himself up, and we’re all pieces of God. It was one of the neatest ideas I’ve heard on the subject of life after death. I don’t necessarily expect to see mom when I die, but I hope I do.”

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