TORONTO – He doesn’t like the salary cap, thinks the ice surface is too small, and believes a string of rule changes have “put hockey on a road to hell paved with good intentions.”
Ron MacLean may be thought of as Don Cherry’s setup man in some quarters but the veteran “Hockey Night in Canada” host is not short of his own opinions.
MacLean gives his side of the story in “Cornered,” co-written with Kirstie McLellan Day. The book is subtitled “Hijinks, Highlights, Late Nights and Insights.”
“Cornered” is a lot like MacLean himself—entertaining, erudite and all over the place.
Comfortable in his own skin, the 51-year-old native of Red Deer, Alta., has no problems in opening up, from what his house cost to not having kids with wife Cari.
“I sometime feel that without children to sort of rein me in and give me responsibility, I’ve never really grown up,” MacLean writes. “I’ve been able to play hockey, go out with my buddies and become obsessive about work. I’m selfish in a way that children don’t allow you to be. I’m not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing, It’s just the way it is.”
MacLean literally opens the book on his life, detailing what he makes throughout his career although he doesn’t share his current salary. He does acknowledge making $475,000 going into the contentious 2002 contract negotiations that triggered a flurry of public support for him.
“I think I end up in the book around a half-million and I’m not far off that now,” he said in an interview.
“I’ve always believed in transparency,” he said by way of explanation. “That book isn’t me totally laid bare but it’s very close. … People have this perception that Ron’s this saint sitting next to Don, getting bullied. Well it’s often the other way around, of course.”
“Cornered” does lift the cover on the MacLean-Cherry dynamic—a life built “around conversations over beers at night.”
The two like to throw some light beers into a bucket filled with ice and cold water—”You have to have a lot of water so the cold transfers quickly,” he explains—and decide what to talk about on “Hockey Night.”
“That’s our favourite time,” MacLean said. “And it’s probably a favourite time on Wednesday night when I play beer-league hockey, go back to the pub afterwards and just talk about everything under the sun.”
In his foreword, Cherry credits MacLean for him lasting 25 years on TV.
“I feel he is like my defence partner on the Rochester Americans, Darryl Sly,” Cherry writes. “He carried me on the ice for years. I had my strengths—tough in front of the net, I could fight and hit. But Darryl did all the legwork for me.”
From a man who admits he is not giving of compliments, it is the highest praise. And when raised, it clearly pleases MacLean.
Cherry, he says, is misunderstood and his “smarts” underrated. There is far more than garish suits, high collars, and endless bluster.
“A lot of depth in Don,” MacLean said. “Extremely well read, extremely bright.
“It’s so nice to be with somebody that is so quick-witted,” he added. “As I always say he’s little quicker because he doesn’t weigh the consequences the way I might. But that’s a joy in our business, because everything else is so scripted and so structured. It’s lovely to see someone live by their wits.”
Cherry may not mince words, but he usually thinks ahead, MacLean added.
“He works at it,” he said. “He doesn’t just shoot from the hip. He sits and stews about what he’s going to say for days on end.”
Interestingly, the book comes out in the midst of yet another Cherry controversy. “Coach’s Corner” came with an apology Saturday night as Cherry backed off comments made during the season opener about a trio of former tough guys.
On the issue of hockey, MacLean worries that the game has become too much about “the instant gratification of the goal.”
“To quote U.S. founding father Thomas Paine, ‘Be careful not to admire the plumage and ignore the dying bird,’ ” he writes.
On the subject of “Coach’s Corner,” MacLean details the many missteps but also his dissatisfaction at times when he saw unwarranted interference from the CBC higher-ups.
“It’s a very tricky dance,” he said of the network’s journalistic-rights-holder dichotomy, a tangle complicated by the CBC’s role as public broadcaster.
He also shines a spotlight on his much publicized contract dispute, calling it “a three-day circus.”
“It was like a car accident for me and I was glad to be done with it,” he said. “Grateful for the process and grateful for the support, obviously, but clearly glad to get through it.”
Readers will leave “Cornered” with a better handle on the author.
MacLean’s unfettered enthusiasm for events like “Hockey Day in Canada” makes far more sense when one reads about a youth that saw multiple stops across the country.
“Two things shaped me: the rink rat and air force brat,” he explained. “And being an only child … All those friendships, all those invitations you got were such a huge relief because you were so lonely when you moved into each new location.
“So it’s just such a joy to go do ‘Hockey Day’ and know that you’re giving those folks a chance to be recognized the way I felt I needed when I was a kid and pretty vulnerable.”
MacLean says he had past offers to write a book but cites McLellan Day, a friend, as the one who convinced him to finally take the plunge.
“I’m really grateful I did, in hindsight,” he said. “We all find navel-gazing and that kind of thing a little bit awkward. I think when you do this for a living, you get so much blame and acclaim that you had enough of it. But I’m glad I did it.”
Adds MacLean: “It gives you an idea of what to hate about me and what to like about me.”
“Cornered: “Hijinks, Highlights, Late Nights and Insights,” Ron MacLean with Kirstie McLellan Day, HarperCollins Canada, 307 pages, $33.99.