Rogers Hometown Hockey in Red Deer begins today

Ron MacLean says he’s thrilled Rogers Hometown Hockey is coming back to central Alberta.

The two-day hockey-themed festival, featuring opportunities to meet NHL alumni, live entertainment and a live Sportsnet NHL broadcast, is coming back to Red Deer for the first time since 2014.

“It was only our fourth show when we arrived at the old Red Deer arena in year number one (of Hometown Hockey). That was a really nice stop for us, and it’s great to go back,” MacLean said Friday.

“I was telling (co-host) Tara Slone and our gang that Christmastime in Red Deer and what they do at City Hall is so impressive. It’ll be great to see friends and everybody else.”

The long-time sportscaster and co-host of Hometown Hockey said he has vivid memories of his time in the city.

“Growing up in Red Deer was just heaven. We had two great outdoor rinks I could play hockey on with my friends … and just the fun of playing all sports, having a great circle of friends and a sense of community, that’s the stuff you think about,” he said.

Red Deer has lost a local hockey legend, Cecil Swanson, since the last time Hometown Hockey was in town, said MacLean.

“He was such a gentle spirit and so successful in the game,” MacLean said of Swanson, who coached the Red Deer Rustlers and sharpened skates for years.

“For me as a boy to meet Mr. Swanson, the guy they talked about on the Red Deer Rustlers broadcast who coached the junior team, and to have him sharpen my skates was surreal,” said MacLean.

While Hometown Hockey is running along smoothly, now in its sixth season, Hockey Night in Canada, which MacLean also hosts, has undergone major changes since Don Cherry was fired by CBC.

“It’ll be a while until we get a hold of the rudder,” said MacLean.

“When I apologized for what I knew was a mistake, it’s incumbent on us to acknowledge and recognize what we do wrong and try to rebuild and repair a relationship. That’s kind of a phase that will take some time.”

Cherry was fired following controversial comments about wearing poppies on Coach’s Corner on Nov. 9.

During this Sunday’s Hometown Hockey broadcast, MacLean said he will discuss the legacy of female hockey in Red Deer.

“We had great female hockey players, even back in the 1970s. That’s now clearly a strength and an example of the growth of the game, but Red Deer was way ahead of the curve,” MacLean said.

Tara Slone said it will be a great weekend, especially considering MacLean’s ties to Red Deer.

“It’s been a nice year for him obviously, with the Canada Winter Games there and him being able to be there more often. I can really just sit back and let him tell all the stories on this one, if I wanted to,” said Slone.

This will be the ninth stop for Hometown Hockey this year.

“The stories keep on coming and the welcomes get warmer and warmer, I think, as people have more awareness of our show. We continue to feel really fortunate to be able to do what we do,” she said.

Slone said she’s excited for gold-medal winning coach Melody Davidson and former NHLers Shane Doan, Glenn Anderson and Glen Wesley to join Sunday’s broadcast.

“We have these people who are heroes – they’re hockey heroes. But everybody comes from somewhere,” said Slone.

“In spite of all the social media craziness and the divided political climate, the truth is that Canadians are very kind. There are a lot of wonderful stories and willingness to tell those stories, and a lot of hometown pride.

“I think that extends from the stars of hockey to minor hockey kids and parents, to you name it. Everybody wants the opportunity to showcase where they come from.”

Sunday’s broadcast will lead into a televised showdown between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

Activities for Rogers Hometown Hockey run from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday at Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza.

For more information, visit www.hometownhockey.com.

* This article was updated on Saturday, Nov. 30 to correct an error.

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