Year Born: 1960
Year of Induction: 2000
MacLean, Ron (1960- )
While watching hockey was always one of Canada’s favourite pastimes, listening
to and watching informed people talk about the game was almost as popular. A classical example of how to get the public’s attention in this field first came to light in 1981, when Hockey Night in Canada Executive Producer Ralph Mellanby started a first intermission feature called Coach’s Corner.
For six years, Coach’s Corner featured HNIC host Dave Hodge in dialogue with Don Cherry. They would review interesting and controversial plays from the first period, as well as discussing whatever were the hot topics on the hockey scene generally. When Hodge was dropped from HNIC in 1987, the CBC moved Ron MacLean from his then role as host of Toronto Maple Leafs local home telecasts to become the national HNIC host, which included taking the other Coach’s Corner chair opposite Cherry. Within months, he had gained a national profile, and 23 years later he -and Cherry – were continuing in the same role, and had become something of a national institution.
Ronald Harold MacLean’s father was in the RCAF, and Ron was born in Germany on April 12th 1960, during the time his father was stationed at Zweibrücken Air Base. By 1962 the family was back in Canada, where they were stationed successively in Halifax, Victoria, Whitehorse, Halifax again and Edmonton. Later, when the family was in Red Deer, AB, and while he was in high school, Ron applied to CKRD in 1976 for a part-time job as a weekend late-night newscaster. He was later promoted to do DJ shifts, and later became program manager.
In 1984, Hockey producer John Shannon saw Ron doing weather forecasts for sister station CKRD-TV Red Deer, and hired him to host Calgary Flames telecasts on CFAC-TV. He soon began doing sportscasts on CFAC’S local news, and in 1986 was invited to join the CBC network to host the Toronto Maple Leafs telecasts. In 1987 he replaced Dave Hodge as host of Hockey Night in Canada, and began his long association with Don Cherry. His role also included hosting the second intermission segment as well as the pre- and post-game shows.
In the ensuing years, as he gained valuable broadcast experience, Ron’s talents were put to good use by the Corporation in a wide-ranging field of sporting hosting and commentary activity. In 1988, he hosted the CBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, followed by the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and the Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 1994 and in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Thence he went to Nagano to do CBC hosting duties for its Winter Olympic Games coverage there later that year.
In 1999, Ron was in Winnipeg covering the Track and Field elements of CBC’s Pan Am Games coverage, before going to Spain to occupy the hosting chair as the CBC covered the 7th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Seville, Spain.
The year 2000 saw Ron on the road again, this time to Sydney, Australia, to host CBC’s late night and early morning programming from the Summer Olympics. August 2001 saw Ron in Edmonton, AB, hosting the CBC’s coverage of the 8th IAAF World Athletics Championships.
All this time, his work on Hockey Night in Canada was continuing. However, in the summer of 2002, negotiations for the renewal of Ron’s CBC contract reached a point where it seemed very likely that Ron and the Corporation would part company over money. On September 30th, the CBC announced that it had failed to come to terms with Ron MacLean, and that he would not therefore be returning to his role as host of Hockey Night in Canada.
When the story was leaked to the media, the immediate public outcry was enormous. Fans made phone calls, and sent letters and emails, demanding that Ron be rehired, and such was the furore that the CBC took only two days to work out a new deal with their sports coverage star.
In the ensuing years, Ron continued to demonstrate his exceptional skills as host of much of CBC’s sports programming, and when in 2006 Brian Williams left the CBC to join CTV, Ron became the network’s #1 sportscaster and host.
In 2009, Ron was approached by the producers of a new CBC series, Battle of the Blades, to appear as co-host with Kurt Browning. The program would feature competing pairs of skaters, one figure skater and one hockey star per team. “I thought: ‘not a chance’,” Ron told Danny Rode of the Red Deer Advocate. Then Ron changed his mind. “They said I’d be co-hosting with Kurt Browning,” he said. “I wanted to work with Kurt. He’s a great guy, funny and super talented.”
So the deal was done, and Battle of the Blades was a smash success in the 2009-2010 season for the CBC and all the show’s participants, to such an extent that it was immediately renewed for the 2010-2011 season.
During his career, Ron Maclean won many awards, including ten Gemini Awards given to recognize achievements in Canadian English language television production. He won six as Best Sports Broadcaster, for his work on Hockey Night in Canada, the All Star Game and the 2002 Winter Olympics, and four as Best Host or Interviewer in a Sports Program or Sportscast, for Hockey Night in Canada and the CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada.
In 1992, in honour of the city where he spent much of his childhood, Ron formed the Ron Maclean Foundation, which was created “…to assist needy organizations in Red Deer and Central Alberta to fulfill their worthy mandates…” with a focus “…toward providing assistance to groups that serve the needs of children and families in many areas of life.”
On March 20th 2000, Ron’s family association with the Canadian Forces, plus his oft-stated support for the work of Canadian troops, was recognized when he was made Honorary Colonel of 1 Air Movements Squadron, 17 Wing, Winnipeg.
On May 20th 2010, it was announced that, with co-writer Kirstie McLellan Day, Ron Maclean would soon be publishing his memoirs through HarperCollins Canada.
On Tuesday November 26th 2013, Rogers Communications and The National Hockey League announced jointly that they had concluded a 12-year, $5.232 billion (Canadian) agreement for broadcast and multimedia rights to NHL Hockey. The agreement was described as “the largest media rights deal in NHL history and one of the largest media rights deals in Canadian history, including the largest-ever sports-media rights agreement”.
On March 10th 2014, Rogers unveiled the details of the new broadcast team for Hockey Night in Canada and Rogers’ other hockey properties. Replacing Ron MacLean as the lead host would be CBC broadcast personality George Stroumboulopoulos, who before becoming a talk show host had spent four years as a sports broadcaster at The Fan 590 in Toronto.
Ron MacLean would return with a reduced role, but would continue to host Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays, and would be seen on Sunday nights hosting Hometown Hockey Community Celebration.
On June 20th 2016, following a hockey season where television ratings had suffered – in some part because no Canadian team made the play-offs – there were media reports that it was possible that Ron MacLean might return to replace George Stromboulopoulos as the lead host on HNIC.
Written by Paul Patskou: updates by Pip Wedge