Watching Hockey Night in Canada this past Saturday and the discussion between hosts Ron MacLean and Dave Hodge was some of the most enjoyable and gratifying television I have seen in recent years. It was totally personal for me, but it was certainly also enjoyable for the many other Canadians who listened to the two men who have hosted HNIC for 45 of the past 47 years.
I’m not sure which of the two men was more proud and happy. Was it MacLean, who had been welcomed to the show in the fall of 1986 by Hodge? Or Hodge, who was finally able to don the blue blazer again for the first time since his fateful pen-flip in February of 1987? The pen-flip was a moment that most of us that were involved in the show thought would never happen. And when Dave reminded Ron that Saturday was about celebrating the jacket, not those who wore it, it occurred to me that both deserve a great deal credit for maintaining a certain standard as host of the show. It’s a standard that is both similar, yet distinct. A standard that reflected each of their own personalties and passion for the game and television.
Hodge was the serious one. He believed in logic and common sense on the air. Actually, what he really believed in was no-nonsense approach to the task. He demanded so much of those around him. He made you, the viewer, think.
Ron MacLean was the folksy one. He believed in the power of the game to tell a story. He hoped that you loved the game as much as he did. But he too made you, the viewer, think.
I have worked with both men and I can’t tell you how much joy and angst each of them have given me. I have also learned so much from them and they made me better at my job. They were and are so good at their jobs, it’s time to honour them. It’s time to let them know that they have made a difference to so many, changing the viewing habits of so many Canadians. They are part of the fabric of the greatest, longest-running sports television show in this country, and on this continent. Hockey Night in Canada has always believed that the host of the show is the “face of the franchise.” You see, you don’t program the game. But during the pre-game, the openings and the intermission–that’s where true creative licence and storytelling occurs. And that’s where MacLean and Hodge shined.
For the past few decades, the Hockey Hall of Fame has recognized the work of great broadcasters through the Foster Hewitt Award. Many quality broadcasters have been recipients including Danny Gallivan, Rene Lecavalier, Bob Cole, Mike Emrick, John Davidson, Sam Rosen and this year’s winner, Joe Bowen. Many others are deserving of this recognition. However, under the award’s current criteria, Hodge and MacLean are not eligible to win the award. Through some rather illogical decision, the award can only go to broadcasters who have been in the broadcast booth. Play-by-play people or colour analysts. No hosts.
But something should change because the business has changed. The complexity of the hockey broadcasting business has changed, and people like Hodge and MacLean should be recognized for their contributions to the business. There are others, like Don Cherry and Howie Meeker, who under the current rules, cannot win the Hewitt Award. That really is a shame. And again, something has to change.
Last Saturday night hockey fans from coast-to-coast watched and marvelled at these two men shared their love of the game. It’s frustrating that they’re prevented from doing as they’re being honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Like I said, Dave Hodge and Ron MacLean have always given us something to think about.