A review of Ron MacLean’s Cornered

So for Christmas, my daughters gave me a couple of books. One of them was the autobiography of Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean.

For those who don’t know, MacLean is the “sidekick” of Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner on the CBC. I use the term sidekick very loosely, as I am a big MacLean fan. I don’t think Cherry would still be on the air without his “sidekick.” MacLean is good at reeling Cherry in when needed, and the arguments created by the two of them makes for great television. I don’t think Coach’s Corner would work with anyone else but these two.

Plus, MacLean knows his stuff. I love it when he’s doing interviews and he really drives home the point. I remember at one of the Olympics years ago, MacLean was interviewing Sheila Copps, who, as Canadian Heritage Minister, was in charge of federal funding for athletes. The Canadian Olympic team was doing quite poorly, and there was a lot of talk about the fact the athletes weren’t getting enough funding to be able to train properly.

So MacLean interviewed Copps about it. At one point, he was asking why the federal government had cut money to amateur athletes. Copps responded by saying that the government had increased spending for amateur athletes by something like 15 per cent in the previous year. MacLean quickly responded by saying the funding was cut by 40 per cent before that, so it wasn’t close to what athletes were getting in the past.

Copps was dumbfounded. She had no response to that. Whereas most journalists would have let Copps slide with her “we’ve increased funding” remark, MacLean’s research showed that wasn’t the case, and was able to put her on the spot. It made her and the federal government accountable. That’s what more journalists should do.

So like I said, I’m a big Ron MacLean fan.

That’s why I was so disappointed with the book. It just seemed to be lacking something.

Co-written by Kirstie McLellan Day, MacLean’s book is filled with a lot of Don Cherry — a little too much so — and not much else. There are topics that he never covers, and it’s a little sad to see.

For example, he talks about how much of a friend Brad Richards is. But he never talks about athletes that bother him. Do any get under his skin? Are there any that come across as jerks to him?

I can understand his reluctance to want to attack people in his book. After all, he deals with these people all the time. But it does make for a duller book. He mentions he’s not that type of person, he doesn’t hold grudges, he doesn’t like pointing out the negatives (unless it’s Gary Bettman), etc.

But as someone who makes his opinions known, he’s not supposed to be just positive all the time. It would have been nice if, when he was talking about covering the 1998 winter Olympics, what was his thoughts on using Ray Bourque in the shootout instead of Wayne Gretzky. Or, on the flip side, his opinion on when Canada won gold in 2002, the first Olympic gold in men’s hockey at the Olympics in 50 years. Or his thoughts on the expansion of hockey in the Southern U.S. How about when Hockey Night in Canada lost the theme song it had been using for decades?

Even when he tried to explain his side of things, such as the Alex Burrows brouhaha from last season, it feels like MacLean is simply telling us what happened, and not his opinion. There were no lines such as “I felt lousy that I had done that,” or whatever. It comes across as: This is what happened, this is what I meant to say, let’s move on to the next story.

The only thing he seems to argue against — and vehemently — is the salary cap. MacLean would rather see dynasties, like there was in the 1980s with the Edmonton Oilers. He looks back at the Oilers and thinks how great it was then, and doesn’t like the parity now. Of course, fans of teams like the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils don’t look back on the 1980s with as much nostalgia.

Anyways, the book had another couple of flaws. One is the amount of stories about Don Cherry. There seemed to be more stories about Cherry than MacLean.

And one other thing that jumped out at me: Ron MacLean drinks… a lot. Every story seems to revolve around him drinking. Going to this bar. Meeting someone at this pub. Having beers with Cherry after every single broadcast. It seems to be one non-stop drinking binge. It got tired after a while.

The book was okay. Some of the background into his life  was interesting to read, and his stories flowed pretty well. I just wish he had given us his opinion on what he’s experienced.

I’d give the book 2.5 out of 5 stars.


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