FORT SASKATCHEWAN -- He can hardly see the grass roots anymore, they're buried under a blanket of snow, but Ron MacLean hasn't forgotten them - and last night in Fort Saskatchewan he stopped by for another look.
As the colourman for the AJHL's now-defunct Red Deer Rustlers back in 1981, MacLean's very first live broadcast was a road game in Fort Saskatchewan. Twenty-three years later, as one of the top dogs in Canadian broadcasting, he and his CBC crew were back.
"I was going to be in Edmonton for a Canadian Paraplegic Gala Dinner (today)," said MacLean, who flew in from Oakville yesterday. "So we took a lay of the hockey land and since Fort Saskatchewan was playing and they happen to be the site of the first game I ever broadcast, we thought it would be a good little story to incorporate into the movie introductions."
The Hockey Night in Canada host, filling his lockout days as host of Movie Night in Canada, did the zamboni entrance intro he and Don Cherry made famous on HNIC, then spent the rest of the game talking with fans and reminiscing about the early days.
COMPLICATIONS ON AIR
It seems like a million years ago that he was a flustered kid scrambling to make it to air.
"I remember the complication of getting it set up," said MacLean. "I had to take a telephone receiver with alligator clips to hook up a microphone and a mixer, and nothing was working. We just couldn't get a line to CKER in Red Deer. I was panic stricken.
"This was all happening during the pre-game warmup and I remember that the whole time pucks were flying into our rickety old press box at the end of the arena."
He finally made the connection with about two minutes to air time.
"I was host and colour commentator and I thought it went exceedingly well during the pre-game show," said the 44-year-old. "Then they dropped the puck. Because the press box was at the end of the ice, the Traders were skating towards us for two periods and you couldn't see their numbers. I had no idea who the hell anybody was. It was absolutely awful. It was a really lousy first and third period.
"The only thing that bailed me out is the Traders had a kid named Sid Cranston who was in on just about everything that happened."
As he fought his way through that virgin broadcast, no one had any idea that six years later he'd be hosting Hockey Night in Canada.
"I was doing the Rustler broadcasts, the TV weather and I was disc jockeying and I remember telling myself that if I was ever lucky enough to get one job that I could make a living at, I would stick to it and not split my focus ever again. That was my lesson: that you have to give 100% to one job because when you're trying to be a hockey broadcaster, a weatherman and a disc jockey all at the same time, you're kind of lousy at all three."
For a lot of broadcasters who've made it big, flying out to small towns or deep into the Canadian Arctic like he did for one of the annual Hockey Day in Canada specials, is the last thing they want to do. For MacLean, it's a part of the job he truly enjoys.
"I absolutely do," he said. "Last week we went up to Parry Sound, and seeing Bobby Orr's dad when we did it there, they get as big a kick out of it as we do."
KEEPS HIM BUSY
Yesterday's footage from the Jubilee Recreation Centre will be cut into the tripleheader of Halloween movies this Saturday - Monsters Inc., Young Frankenstein and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It's not the Oilers versus the Canucks, but it keeps him busy during the lockout. "At least we have something to do," he shrugged. "But this whole situation is lousy, what can you say?"
LATE HITS ... Thanks to a hockey pileup that left him with two black eyes and a broken nose, MacLean was in fine Halloween form. "I got smoked into the boards Sunday night in Oakville," he laughed. "We were debating whether to cover it up with makeup or just leave it for the Halloween show."