It was a mistake to replace Ron MacLean as host of Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) two years ago and the HNIC brain trust has finally seen the light.
It was a shock when it was announced that George Stroumboulopoulos would be taking over the iconic HNIC lead chair, snubbing Ron MacLean, which brought about a stir of negative backlash from its viewers.
But this season, the negative response from hockey fans was not based on a reluctance to change, but rather that Strombo is just not cutting it as a sports guy. Even now, two years later, he looks like the guy somebody else invited to the party but no one knows.
Hockey, like most sports, is a religious thing. The concept of putting a younger face on hockey might hold some merit, however, who the hell is George Stroumboulopoulos, and exactly what does he bring to the table? As it turns out, not much at all.
MacLean, a former referee, has played side-kick to Don Cherry for years, taking verbal abuse from the Trump-like Cherry who says what he wants, when he wants and how he wants. But “Grapes” is getting older every season and when talking is your claim-to-fame, it does not help that Cherry’s vocal chords are getting pretty tired.
MacLean has also grown older in front of us, but that doesn’t mean that he has somehow forgotten everything he knows about the game, which in some areas of conversation, exceeds Cherry’s.
But it might be that the old guard prevails, Stroumboulopoulos will go back to being a movie critic or interviewing Madonna, while McLean is put back in the position he has worked hard for and deserves.
The love/hate relationship between Cherry and MacLean in the Coaches Corner segments helps to create a tension which viewers like myself like to watch. It’s like watching NASCAR. You say it’s for the strategy of the sport and skill of the drivers, but the truth is, you are just waiting for the next big collision and fiery wreck.
Hockey is too entrenched in the trans-generational psyche of HNIC fans to be tampered with. Had Strombo performed well, people could have gotten over it and accepted him within the hockey fraternity, but he didn’t and they didn’t. Now HNIC has been forced to dine upon a large portion of crow in front of all of Canada and hand the on-air reins back over to the rightful owner.
There are other ways to give the HNIC a facelift, but it’s not by starring some guy most people can’t pronounce the name of and who knows just about as much about hockey as that over-opinionated dude in the stool next to you at the sports bar.
Strombo just didn’t have the right pedigree and no one in the hockey world had any idea where he came from and what his hockey roots were. So the people at HNIC now know that being young does not somehow automatically make you an expert in anything simply because you know your way around social media.
I see HNIC’s back-to-the-future move for next hockey season as a vindication for all of us old farts with a lifetime of experience and knowledge of what they do. Oh, and as a foot note: somebody please get rid of commissioner Gary Bettman and his thawing of Canada’s sport by dragging it down into the desert where the only ice they know is in their daiquiri.