MacLean and CBC reach new deal

Ron MacLean will be back in his familiar spot on Saturday nights this winter.

On Thursday, Nancy Lee, the head of CBC Sports, announced that MacLean has agreed to a new contract and will be on the anchor desk for an 18th season of Hockey Night in Canada.

"Seventeen years between Hockey Night and the Olympics," said Lee at news conference at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto, "you just don't let that get away.

"I'd like to thank the fans. They love hockey, they love Hockey Night in Canada and they clearly love Ron MacLean."

While neither side was willing to divulge financial details of the contract, MacLean did say it was a multi-year deal. He also added there would be no change in his responsibilities.

"I'm delighted," he said. "I obviously felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation from the viewers and that's always the bond you try to strike."

Lee met with MacLean's agent, Don Meehan, at his Mississauga office Thursday to hammer out an agreement. Later in the evening, MacLean showed up at the downtown broadcast centre to endorse the deal.

Four days ago, negotiations between MacLean and the CBC broke down and it looked like HNIC would have a new face when it debuted on Oct. 12.

RON MACLEAN Age: 42. Home town: Red Deer, Alta. Personal: Wife Cari. Broadcasting career: - Began in 1978 when he took a part-time position at CKRD Radio in Red Deer. - Was hired to host Calgary Flames telecasts on CFAC, an independent TV station in Calgary in 1984 before becoming sports anchor on the local evening news. - Joined CBC in 1986 as host of Toronto Maple Leafs' telecasts on Hockey Night in Canada. Became full-time national host in 1987, replacing Dave Hodge. - Also hosts CBC's Olympic, Pan-American, Commonwealth Games and Calgary Stampede coverage. Honours: Has won numerous Gemini awards as best sports broadcaster in Canada. Extra info: MacLean is a Level 5 referee for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.

But in the wake of an outpouring of support for MacLean and a backlash against CBC, the two sides started talking again on Wednesday and hammered out a new deal by Thursday afternoon.

News of the possibility of MacLean's departure dominated television, radio and newspaper coverage across the country on Tuesday, as throngs of Canadians voiced their outrage over the CBC not renewing his contract.

Fans started online petitions and wrote scathing messages in web site forums, taking the CBC to task for allowing MacLean to slip away.

MacLean said he will never forget the support he received at this time.

"To the viewer, I'll never forget that it was house party out of control. I love a party. (The viewers) are a big reason why we're here."

But MacLean added it was a call from Joel Darling, executive producer of Hockey Night Canada, that helped bring the two sides together.

After talking to Darling, he said that he thought Lee deserved to hear his voice before leaving the company for good.

That is when talks struck up again.

"(The call) was only to express the thoughts of the HNIC staff," Darling said. "We've been through a lot of shows with him and we were still hopeful."

Fans weren't the only ones crying foul over MacLean's contract not being renewed. On Tuesday, Labatt, a major HNIC sponsor, conducted a conference call with the CBC, urging the network and MacLean to resume contract negotiations.

That said, Lee told the gathered media the CBC "felt no pressure from the sponsors" to do a deal with MacLean.

MacLean joined the network in 1986 and hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs' telecasts on Hockey Night in Canada before becoming the full-time national host in 1987.

His role expanded over the years to include hosting CBC's Olympic coverage.

MacLean also anchored CBC's coverage of the Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and Calgary Stampede.

The first HNIC broadcast is scheduled for Oct. 12.