TRURO, N.S. – No matter where he travels, Ron MacLean can count on one constant from the hockey fans he encounters – there will be questions about “Grapes”.
“I used to be a sports anchor in Calgary and everybody wanted to know about the weather girl,” said the life-long broadcaster who shares the Hockey Night in Canada intermission spotlight with the ever-flamboyant and “bombastic” Don (Grapes) Cherry.
“Except in my case (now) they want to know about Don Cherry,” MacLean said. “Obviously, 32 years of teaming with him it’s, who can explain it, but he’s just like Santa Claus. And everybody wants to know what Santa’s like when he’s not wearing the red suit.”
MacLean is also into his fourth season of co-hosting (with Tara Slone) the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour, which airs on Sportsnet and is billed as the ultimate NHL fan experience.
Each year, the tour travels the country making stops in 24 communities to delve into local hockey lore and share insights with the game’s biggest past and present stars.
This weekend, the show is being broadcast from Truro, during which MacLean will be on hand to meet and greet the fans who normally only get to see him and their hockey idols through their television screens.
In 2006, MacLean and Cherry were in Truro to celebrate the crowning of the Deuville hockey rink in Salmon River as the site of the first Kraft Hockeyville. Speaking via telephone from his home in Oakville, Ont., MacLean begins the conversation by reminiscing about that visit.
“I’m just looking at a picture of Webb Deuville … the late Webb Deuville. It was only 11 years ago and I had full, dark hair. Well, not full but dark hair anyways,” he says, laughing heartedly.
He still carries fond memories of that time, MacLean says, referring to both the Deuville family and the whole inaugural Hockeyville experience.
Despite the burnout that sometimes festers as a result of the hectic pace and constant travel of his job, MacLean says he is nonetheless looking forward to his upcoming return to Truro.
“So, it is a challenge for a 57 year old,” he says of his travel schedule. “If you were to ask me right today how I am feeling, I am telling you that I am just hanging on. But I’m also excited.”
Part of the excitement comes from being able to spend time with old friends and former NHLers Colin White and Jon Sim of Pictou County.
“They’re so proud of their towns and the people who make careers happen right. Whether its Webb Deuville, or whoever’s driving the Zamboni, or time-keeping on those coldest of nights. Of course, the referees, the concession workers. That is the backbone and it’s not lost on me and it’s just a great show, to be able to take it to the road.”
MacLean said he is also looking forward to meeting and doing a live interview with Brookfield’s Lyle Carter, who played 15 NHL games as a goaltender with the former California Seals.
Besides doing a meet and greet at some point on Sunday during festivities at the Civic Square, MacLean and Slone will be doing a pregame broadcast prior to an outdoor airing of that night’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets.
But he is also looking forward to the interaction that comes from meeting another passionate bevy of hockey fans.
“For a lot of communities the NHL is a second-hand experience. You get to see it on TV but you don’t get to intersect with it the way this show allows,” he says.
“For everybody in Truro on Sunday night, you can actually ask the guy that sits with Don, ‘what’s Don up to these days?’
“You can actually ask about the NHL with Colin and Jon, so it becomes a first-hand experience, which is fantastic.”
And for those who do inquire about ‘what Santa’s like when he’s not wearing the red suit,’ you may be surprised at the response.
“Don’s shy,” he says. “I don’t know if you’ve gleaned that, but for all the bombast, he’s a shy guy.”