Ron MacLean returns to roots during Hometown Hockey stop in Lacombe
Ron MacLean will once again return to Central Alberta roots as he visits Lacombe this weekend in one of four Hometown Hockey stops. (Ashli Barrett Photography)
For Ron MacLean, hockey in the country is like a tree; Hockey Night in Canada showcases the fruits of a sport the nation can’t get enough of, while Hometown Hockey reveals its roots.
In the City of Lacombe – whose very logo, fittingly, incorporates a tree – those roots not only run deep, but connect the famed Hockey Night in Canada host himself to the game.
A referee for 23 years, MacLean says one of his craziest moments happened when he was just 20 years old during a playoff game for the Lacombe Generals’ predecessors in Bentley.
“My baptism by fire was in Bentley doing a Generals versus Sylvan Lakers game back in 1980,” he said. “I made a call that went against Bentley and the crowd poured over the glass and protested my work. They were ready to attack me...The mother of the goalie had the top plate of her false teeth that came out on the ice. It was a crazy thing.”
One of the Sylvan Lakers was an RCMP officer who stepped in to calm things down, but he was paid by a Bentley man the $75 he was owed for the night in 75 one-dollar bills.
“You think I would’ve quit refereeing right there on the spot, but I remember doing a little soul searching and understanding the passion involved,” he said. “I don’t know why I enjoyed it, but I took comfort in the craziness of it all.”
That passion for hockey in the area – one he shares – is what he’ll explore when he arrives in the city Sunday morning for the 10:30 a.m. broadcast which will feature the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens match up.
There’s certainly no shortage of material for him to draw from.
The father of Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier and Paul Messier, Doug Messier, played for the Lacombe Rockets who dominated senior hockey in the 1960’s alongside legendary University of Alberta Golden Bears coach Clare Drake.
There’s the Lacombe Rockets minor hockey teams of today, the current Lacombe Generals team set to host the 2019 Allan Cup, and of course, Lacombe native Rob Cookson, who currently serves as an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators.
“They just love this guy. Everybody does. He’s worked extensively with the Sutters in Calgary and on our Olympic teams,” he said. “He’s just a really great story.”
It’s those stories in every community that have kept Hometown Hockey going for four seasons, and why MacLean continued to host even after taking back his Hockey Night in Canada duties following Rogers failed attempt to reinvent Saturday night programming.
“I really adore the show. I love meeting people, I love hearing their stories, learning stories,” he said. “It’s so refreshing versus sitting in an ivory tower...Sunday feels more connected, more real.”
His personal memories of Lacombe extend beyond hockey. He and his wife, Cari, had their engagement photos done in the 80s at Lacombe Nurseries, and he’d partake in the annual Lacombe Lions Baseball Tournament every summer.
Although the broadcast will end on Sunday afternoon, he and his wife, will spend some additional time in Central Alberta visiting friends, and then giving a speech regarding the 2019 Canada Winter Games Monday in Red Deer.
“It’s actually a really nice visit and a chance for Cari and me to come back and visit our prime,” he said.
The Hometown Hockey festival runs Feb. 3-4 in downtown Lacombe.
For full details on events, visit www.hometownhockey.com.