At home with the Cup

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 2:21 PM ET


 Hockey Night in Canada's master of quick wit needs little time to come up with a humorous Darryl Sutter anecdote.

 As the story goes, Ron MacLean crossed paths with Sutter -- he was a Blackhawk then -- one day at Chicago Stadium back in 1987, MacLean's rookie season on HNIC.

 "You did a good job, Ron," Sutter said in complimenting MacLean's work.

 Turns out, though, that Sutter was referring to something more near and dear to every Calgarian's heart than hockey.

 "He meant the Stampede. He's a huge rodeo fan," said MacLean with a chuckle from his hotel room in Tampa, Fla., where he and the Hockey Night crew camped out for the first two games of the Stanley Cup final.

 MacLean, you see, is about as Albertan as it gets. Like Sutter, he's a native of the province. His TV roots run all the way back to Red Deer and Calgary. He later covered the famed Stampede for 20 straight years for the CBC.

 But if you're thinking he's extra excited about the Calgary Flames' current run to the Cup final ... well, guess again.

 "The only time I ever really felt partisan was when I was at the (2002) Olympics in Salt Lake City," said MacLean. "I just felt that Canada really needed to win that gold medal.

 "I haven't really felt that way about this playoff race ... You tend to cheer for people you consider good people. Don (Cherry) and I were talking about San Jose, and we both said it was such a great group of guys, and we hated to see them lose."

 Sure, MacLean is aware of what the Flames' presence in the final -- the first for a Canadian team in 10 years -- can mean for audience levels. Look at Game 1 on Tuesday, when nearly 3.1 million Canadians tuned in -- Hockey Night's second-best rating ever (Game 7 of the Canucks-Rangers final in 1994 drew 4.96 million).

 But just as quickly, MacLean will tell you that viewership numbers can't and shouldn't matter to a broadcaster.

 "In the infancy of my career, a guy named Wayne Denny drilled home the idea of one-on-one," said MacLean. "You relate to the viewer and the listener one-on-one. You don't think in terms of ratings or more audience. That's something for the (ad) sales people to think about."

 But don't think for a moment MacLean doesn't understand why Calgarians are in such a frenzy over their team's stunning run to the final. He recalls the Flames' 1989 Cup win as a "joyous" occasion, but it was a different time.

 "It was big and special ... but it was almost a bigger deal to beat the Oilers back then," said MacLean.

 "It's just out of control in that city now."

 Then again, a seven-year playoff drought made for a lot of dark springs in Cowtown. MacLean remembers a point when Flames fans "had lost their zest for the game."

 Not anymore. Now it's a great story for the CBC and Canadian hockey fans, great enough to push the impending labour doom well into the background.

 "That's really nice," said MacLean. "If we were doing San Jose-Tampa, I think we would have a greater inclination to get into that story. With this series, the game is definitely the thing for us, and you know that."


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