It would have been difficult to get through the weekend in Red Deer without sensing even just a little of the hockeyism that hit town.
Rogers Hometown Hockey — a mini hockey festival full of celebrities, activities, contests and seemingly endless giveaways — took centre ice on Saturday and Sunday, focusing on all things hockey with a special Red Deer flavour.
It concluded with locally grown sportscaster Ron MacLean broadcasting live from the Red Deer Arena during the Calgary Flames versus Montreal Canadians National Hockey League game on Sunday night.
MacLean and his wife Cari are originally from Red Deer where he began his career in the industry as a night disc jockey in 1978 and went on to host CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada for 26 years. He is now host of Rogers’ new Sunday night NHL hockey broadcast.
During the show Sunday, features aired on Calgary Flames defenceman Kris Russell, who was born in Red Deer and grew up in Caroline, and on the Sutters, primarily Darryl Sutter, coach of the LA Kings and one-time Red Deer Rustlers player, and his son Christopher, who has Down Syndrome. All six members of the famous Sutter hockey family played for the Rustlers before eventually making their way to the NHL.
Hometown Hockey is touring 25 communities this NHL season, with Red Deer being the fourth stop on a long road that includes three communities MacLean has never visited — Fort McMurray, Prince George, B.C., and Brandon, Man.
The hockey festival, geared toward being a family event, included among many things, a meet and greet with several NHL alumni such as Darcy Tucker (originally from just down the road, Castor), a hockey skills competition, street hockey, cheering contest and local entertainment.
MacLean, 54, said Rogers Hometown Hockey will cover 29,000 kms, going to communities that have produced a total 634 NHL players between them. “Which is neat.”
MacLean, along with his wife Cari also happened to be Red Deer’s honorary chairpersons for the 2019 Canada Winter Games Bid Committee. The games were recently awarded to Red Deer.
Hometown Hockey is broadcast from a mobile studio.
“That’s made it a little bit challenging because we can’t get an instant feed as we call it … so we’re not seeing what’s happening on television live,” said MacLean.
In the case of London, Ont., and Saskatoon, for example, they were getting the feed on one-second delay. “That’s an important second when you’re trying to voice over a highlight or describe an individual.”
“You know, if I say there’s Al Ferchuk (former coach of the Red Deer College Kings) now on your left but actually Al Ferchuk was on your left a little bit earlier than what I’m saying, that’s challenging.”
MacLean, who has now been in Red Deer six times this year for a variety of occasions (normally they get here once or twice a year), admits the Hometown Hockey travel schedule is an adjustment.
“One of the tips — this is me talking through my hat cause I’ll never stop — we go for beer after and whatnot. That’s gotta stop, you can’t make it a 26-hour day.”
“I just know that I’m adding wrinkles and shortening years by just going out for a drink after. I’m going to have to learn to pace.”
When asked about the future of hockey, MacLean had this to say: “Hockey has a couple of things that are peculiar. One is it has equipment … women’s hockey has just gone crazy in the last decade. I think one of the excitements that young girls found, that we all realized as boys when it was more a boys’ game, was it’s just fun to have the gear.”
“Everything about the hockey equipment is cool to a young kid. And as great as soccer is, it’s a pair of running shoes and a ball. So it doesn’t have quite that same … you know how kids love to dress up. That’s one of its appeals that doesn’t get talked about much.
“It’s very enjoyable for a kid to think about what stick they’re going to use, to compare what they have to what Sidney Crosby uses. So that’s a real lure.”
“We’re all biased in our country but it’s such an exceptional sport. It’s a really neat sport to be able to master because both hands and feet are involved. … We have a lot of winter and it’s a great way to enjoy that big part of our existence.”
“You can’t play soccer year-round. You can’t golf year-round. So you should have a winter pursuit and it’s as good as it gets.”
As for the Red Deer Hometown Hockey event, it was a hit with locals.
Ron Holmes, his wife Tammie and their 16-year-old daughter Jennifer, of Red Deer, took in the action Saturday.
“It’s awesome,” said Ron, who was thrilled that his son got an NHLer autograph the day previous at school.
He was also thrilled to meet the radio guys in real life at SN 960 who do the Calgary Flames broadcasts, and who were in Red Deer.
While Jennifer is not a huge hockey fan, she said the best part of the event for her was seeing her dad so thrilled at Hometown Hockey.
Hockey moms Cindy Braun and Cora Hasna also attended with their sons, respectively, Jackson, and Ty, both 12, and who play for the Peewee A Sunrise Roofing team.
The boys had played hockey in the morning and they had all come to check out Hometown Hockey.
“It’s good. It’s fun,” said Braun.
Lori McGowan, a Flames fan, is a pond hockey mom. She was busy watching her son seven-year-old Kade play street hockey in the mini rink in the Arena parking lot. She said the event was fabulous, and was contemplating attending Sunday activities as well.
Adam McCaig’s son, Joseph, 7, was one of the many children to sport a free Hometown Hockey jersey. The pair had come in from their hometown of Blackfalds to check out the “neat” event.