This weekend is all about ice in Collingwood, and that includes the sport that got its start on the frozen waters of the St. Lawrence River.
Ron MacLean and Tara Slone are bringing Rogers Hometown Hockey to Hurontario Street during this year’s Frozen in Time Ice Sculpture Festival. The weekend’s events include icetime in and out of the rink with a sledge hockey game at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena, some ball hockey in the street, an NHL game on the big screen, and more than 25 ice sculptures downtown.
The event culminates with a live broadcast and viewing of the Sunday night NHL game between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Arizona Coyotes.
Veteran sports journalist, broadcaster, Hockey Night in Canada host, and self-professed Rink Rat, Ron MacLean has spent his life around Canada’s game from refereeing to calling the Stanley Cup playoffs to broadcasting the Olympics. He speaks fondly of the Hometown Hockey show, now in its fourth season, as an effort to bring more people from all walks of life to the game.
“I think when you get to watch Hometown Hockey, you feel really good about the sport,” said MacLean.
He recalls a time in his childhood when he watched a show on ABC called the Wide World of Sports.
“I was always learning about other parts of the world, not only their sport, but their culture,” said MacLean, and that’s a lesson he’s carried into his work on Hometown Hockey.
“You can see all the different ways you can come to the game,” said MacLean. “You’re learning about the country and you’re seeing Canadians reflected to one another.”
Hometown Hockey is a two-day festival, and it’s stretched to three days in Collingwood with a Friday night sledge hockey game at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena tonight beginning at 7 p.m. The schedule for Saturday and Sunday will include autograph signings with Shayne Corson, Jason Arnott, The Owen Sound Attack, and Natalie Spooner.
There will be live music, a hockey circus show, family-friendly activities and live interviews with hockey heroes, including veteran referee Bill McCreary.
On Sunday, MacLean and Slone will do the pre-game show and a live broadcast of the Knights vs. Coyotes game.
“In the case of the Olympics or Hockey Night in Canada, we take the viewer from Collingwood to the big stage,” said MacLean. “But Hometown Hockey takes the big stage to Collingwood, and it’s nice to make a first-hand experience for the people of Collingwood.”
On Sunday night, there will also be a Parade of Champions, which will feature local minor hockey leagues.
“The Parade of Champions gives us a fantastic vibe on Sunday night,” said MacLean.
MacLean won’t be arriving in Collingwood until Sunday, since he’s got another commitment to host Hockey night in Canada on Saturday night alongside Don Cherry. Part of the Hometown Hockey demonstration will include the Battle of the Chainsaws, which is a live ice sculpture carving competition.
“I’m going from Don Cherry on Saturday to chainsaws on Sunday,” said MacLean. “It’s lots of noise makers this weekend. I’m looking forward to the noise makers.”
Part of the show will also include some of the history of hockey in Collingwood, and MacLean said there’s been a lot of stories submitted on that topic.
“I can’t wait to see the rink, there’s great history there,” said MacLean, who did referee Collingwood Blues games, but never at their home rink. “So many great stories have been given to us.”
The stories include the Sheffield Family, particularly Howard Sheffield, of Collingwood, who played for the Black Flashes, an all-black hockey team based out of Mount Forest. The Hometown Hockey duo will also be talking about Collingwood’s fast-growing girls and women’s hockey leagues.
“As I think about what Tara and I are going to distill this weekend, it’s going to be a challenge,” said MacLean.
MacLean has many friends in the Collingwood area, in fact he was here a few weeks ago for a shinny game with some former NHL players and fellow journalists. He’s looking forward to showing Canada more about Collingwood’s beauty, culture and hockey history.
What MacLean loves most about the game is its ability to equalize, to allow its players their individual identities, while still pushing them together into a tight team.
“I love the fact that there’s no class, gender or anything in the dressing room, you really are welcomed into the fold,” said MacLean. “It’s been carved by huddling against the cold, driving on winter nights, building rinks, and there’s just something about how it happened that makes it one of the greatest examples of a team.”
MacLean still plays hockey twice a week and in his hockey closet, he keeps photos of athletes who have been killed in accidents to remind him of how lucky he is to be playing the game.
“The game is really about sharing your time on this earth with people who are there to have some fun and compete,” said MacLean. “We’re always searching for that balance.”
He and Tara try to honour the inclusivity of hockey in their work for Hometown Hockey. They strive to create a place where their guests can be comfortable and their audience can reflect on the game that brings them all together and connect to the people who are their heroes and idols, but are also still ordinary people.
“We’re all, at the core, Rink Rats,” said MacLean.
He’ll be spending New Year’s Eve in Collingwood and is looking forward to checking out the Frozen in Time festival while he’s here.
“Top to bottom, it’s going to be a great hockey celebration,” said MacLean.