Wednesday, November 7, 2012 |
Hockey Night in Canada is one of CBC's most popular and important programs. Originally broadcast on the radio beginning in 1931, the Saturday night staple made the move to television in 1952. During its 60-year run, it became a pioneering force in sports broadcasting. It was the first program to use instant replay and introduced hockey fans to icons like Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan, Peter Puck and, most recently, Ron MacLean and Don Cherry. For more than 25 years, McLean and Cherry have teamed up on Saturday night for 'Coach's Corner' and are a pivotal part of HNIC history. HNIC's legacy is being honoured in a new book called Hockey Night in Canada: 60 Seasons and, as you'd expect, MacLean and Cherry are a big part of it.
Don Cherry joined HNIC in 1980 as an analyst for the Stanley Cup playoffs that year. The move was so popular that CBC hired him as a colour commentary for the entire 1981 season. But Cherry wasn't keen to play the objective observer, and often rooted for his favourite teams. Thus, 'Coach's Corner' was created. For the 1978-88 season, Cherry's co-host Dave Hodge (who was with HNIC since 1971) was replaced with up-and-comer Ron MacLean. While the two are now "like Frick and Frack when we're on the road," MacLean says, it wasn't always the way. Those early years broadcasting together were tough. Cherry saw MacLean as "some little twerp from out west," he told George Stroumboulopoulos in a recent interview. "We didn't get along for about a year there. He didn't get it. I'd give him a little shot and he'd go and pout."
MacLean eventually warmed up to Cherry's no-holds-barred style and has come to respect and appreciate what Cherry brings to modern broadcasting. Cherry's controversial quips and edge made the program about more than "say[ing] nice things about hockey," MacLean said. "We needed that, an edge. Don was giving us a whole picture that, in that plastic veneer that was television, was just a joy."
MacLean and Cherry have a camaraderie and respect for each other that comes with over 25 years of working together, but they also have a routine that makes their partnership work. Even though they only live 15 minutes apart, they never socialize together or see each other during the week. They have a phone meeting with the HNIC producers at 9:30 on Saturday morning (MacLean makes the call), then head to the studio for their Saturday night taping. "I don't see him until we go on," Cherry said. But they have each other's backs, through the ups and downs the NHL and Cherry's controversial comments bring their way, including through the most recent NHL lockout.
"That's the way it should be," Cherry said.