Hockey Night in Canada far from over

Despite the allegations to the contrary, if Ron MacLean departs CBC permanently, it will not serve as the death of Hockey Night in Canada, nor will it be a devastating blow to Canadian culture.

It’s undeniable that the Saturday evening staple has been ingrained deep into the Canadian psyche since its October 1952 television debut. And while the personalities associated with the show have always driven its largely undaunted success, they are only a part of the whole, a temporary component of something much more permanent.

Fifty years ago, there was no “Coach’s Corner,” no Ron and Don. The familiar face was that of Foster Hewitt, and the show’s trademark was Hewitt’s familiar “Hello, Canada!” Even today, those sights and sounds are still burned in the memories of many Canadians.

Hockey Night in Canada icon Don Cherry didn’t enter the scene until 1980. Ron MacLean has seen fewer Saturday nights, joining in 1987. MacLean’s departure may mark the end of an era, but that era is only a small chapter in the program’s long-running history. Someone else will take his place. Canada will move on.

Like other Canadian cultural artifacts such as the CBC or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Hockey Night in Canada is not the product of one person. It’s an institution, and it is this institution–what it stands for, the tradition it carries, the people whose lives it touched–that will remain unscathed, regardless of staff or policy.

It’s true, our generation has grown up with MacLean as long as many of us can remember. Any Canadian claiming even a small stake in the hockey arena has witnessed the sport through MacLean’s eyes for the better part of 15 years. But this is simply a matter of circumstance. Hockey Night in Canada isn’t important because of Ron MacLean. Ron MacLean is important because of Hockey Night in Canada.

If the two sides don’t resolve their contract dispute, Canadians tuning into the show next weekend for the first time will know Ron MacLean only as a legend, a story their fathers tell of “the great voice of hockey.” MacLean’s departure won’t be a dire moment for Canadian hockey and it certainly won’t be a eulogy for Canadian identity. It will be a turning point that signifies only change. And just as Ron MacLean did a decade-and-a-half earlier, whoever fills the seat next to Don Cherry will be a player in something more entrenched and of far more importance than just one man.

This is not to say that MacLean is entirely expendable. If he departs, there is no question he will be missed. But, just as quickly, he will be replaced and Hockey Night in Canada will remain on a pedestal for another 50 years.