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Ron MacLean (Greig Reekie)
Ron MacLean (Greig Reekie)

Usual Suspects

Focus shifts to MacLean's integrity Add to ...

And lo, there was peace in the valley. Sort of. L'Affaire Alex Burrows is now history at Hockey Night In Canada after a phone conversation Wednesday between members of the Vancouver Canucks management team and CBC Sports executives. Both sides were tight-lipped following the klatch, but the skinny is that Vancouver's one-game boycott of Hockey Night will not extend into this weekend's Hockey Day In Canada game between Toronto and Vancouver at the Air Canada Centre.

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That is a huge relief to Hockey Night -- which has been playing defence on this story for almost two weeks. What had started as a debate about Canuck Alex Burrows's integrity had morphed into a question about how to save the integrity of broadcaster Ron MacLean, the man who launched into a one-sided takeout of the Vancouver forward on the January 16 version of Hockey Night. With NHL vice-president Colin Campbell at his side, MacLean claimed Burrows could give Keanu Reaves a run for his money in the acting game, and that his word isn't worth an ice shaving either.

The Canucks said they hadn't been giving a fair hearing on the broadcast. And that, as host of Hockey Night, MacLean was not in his rightful place delivering opinion pieces on the truthfulness of individual players. Canucks fans and bloggers have asked were MacLean to have run an equally one-sided piece about the integrity of referee Stephane Auger -- the man whose alleged threats against Burrows started this investigation -- would the league have not done what the Canucks did? Which is, to ask for a balanced piece.

The team boycotted CBC's coverage of their game against Chicago last Saturday to protest what it called flawed journalistic treatment for Burrows at the hands of MacLean. Several attempts to resolve the stalemate this past week foundered. Sources had told Usual Suspects that, while CBC privately conceded that MacLean was over the journalistic line for not allowing Burrows to defend himself on charges of diving and lying, Vancouver couldn't get the apology it wanted.

The question then became, how could CBC placate the Canucks without publicly reprimanding its veteran host? Did MacLean or CBC finally deliver a mea culpa to the Canucks as part of the live-and-let-live? Were other concessions made instead? No one is saying. Yet.

The settlement probably means more to Hockey Night. Sources tell Usual Suspects that the Canucks feel they've gotten Hockey Night's attention with their protest and don't need to extend the action indefinitely. They're not happy but they will move on.

So, don't look for an on-air duel between Vancouver GM Mike Gillis and MacLean on Saturday -- even though CBC had offered such a forum (as if they were going to get a word in around the avalanche of Maple Leafs melodramas). Instead, look for the Canucks to monitor how they're covered by the Toronto-biased HNIC crew. The Canucks may also wrest some behind-the-scenes concessions from Hockey Night as CBC tries to make nice to avoid alienating its West Coast mandate.

And should MacLean decided to launch any further harpoons the Canucks' way, the Orcas are prepared to toss them back.

*****

No Star Game: Because of the Olympics, the NHL All-Star Game is not being played this January. Well, it's hardly played in the years in which it is staged - but you get the point. Between players begging off the game for injury reasons and the shinny quality of the game's play, the NHL All Star game barely noses out the NFL Pro Bowl in its narcoleptic quality. To say nothing of the nastiness that ensued last year when future Hall of Fame players such as Nicklas Lidstrom - who's played in 10 All Star games already - were disciplined by the tin ears at the league for taking a pass on the casual contest.

If the league's corporate schmooze/scrimmage is to make any relevance, the bright minds at the NHL need an alternative. Can someone maybe phone Gary Bettman with a snappy idea? Such as - how about merging the wildly successful Winter Classic with the All-Star Game? Instead of two teams risking valuable points on an uncertain ice surface, why not have the league's brightest stars play the outdoor game instead?

This would also allow miking of players live during play and other frills that would not be permitted in a regular-season match. NBC already loves the concept of outdoor hockey. Give 'em a star-laden version to distract people from how lame the all-stars are playing.

Or, how about having Hockey Day In Canada/ America serve as the league's midwinter spectacle? CBC has already done a great job of growing the TV aspect of the day already. Marry it with the similar days that are now taking root in the U.S. and make the All-Star Game and all-day event? Plus, you get the bonus of real NHL hockey games, not faux festivities.

*****

Nice Play, Shakespeare: On Saturday, CBC inflates the tires for the aforementioned Hockey Day - to be played in Stratford, Ont., the home of (wait for it) Howie Morenz, the Stratford Streak. Stratford's participation is an attempt to show that the Ontario city of 30,000 isn't just a la-di-da artsy burgh with tea houses, scones and grease paint but a vibrant hockey town.

The branding effort owes a lot to its peripatetic mayor Dan Mathieson who (according to sources) is the kind of mayor who personally shovels off the outdoor rink on the Avon River, does daily checks on flooding temperatures to make sure the ice is proper, and coaches a team along with some guy named Peter Mansbridge. Mathieson even travelled to Vernon, B.C., site of a previous Hockey Day, to help prepare Stratford's bid for immortality and a Don Cherry sighting.

The other famous Stratford name sure to be mentioned in Saturday's spectacle - outside of local products Chris Pronger and Rob Blake - is former NHLer Tim Taylor who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay Lightning. Taylor coaches locally and helps in the running of the city's programs. Hockey Day often hews closest to the real spirit of the game which can get lost in the Hockey

Night circus. If you can't give it all day, give Hockey Day a look-see between games.

*****

Bobby Clobber: How did Hockey Night miss out on Nick Kypreos? The TV home of "manly" hockey would be the ideal niche for Kypreos' ongoing symposium on psychotic behaviour. Writing in his Sportsnet.ca column about the Patrice Cormier elbowing incident - which led to the Team Canada junior captain being suspended for the season - Kypreos related a discussion he'd had with Sportsnet colleague Sam Cosentino about the art of checking.

Kypreos explained to Cosentino, "for some players, the objective isn't just to separate the puck from the stick, but to separate one's head from their shoulders. I also told Sam that when I competed, there were nights when I looked in the eyes of another player and felt I could kill him with a check like the ones we've seen."

Kypreos writes that he's not proud of that fact, but then blithely adds, "What I can tell you is the game has a way of overwhelming you with emotions that border on psychotic." Ah yes, those pesky psychotic emotions. Where would hockey be without them?

*****

Purple Prose: The overtime defeat of the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday by New Orleans robbed Usual Suspects of many things - not least of which is the Vikings' fight song written by the Twin Cities own purple-people-eater Prince. The diminutive composer had put on his raspberry beret thinking cap and came up with a ditty to make doves cry and strong men weep. Sample purple prose in the verses?

"we come in the name of the purple and gold

all of the odds r in r favour

no prediction 2 bold

we r the truth if the truth can b told

long reign the purple and gold

r spirits may b tired

r bodies may b worn

but since this day is r destiny

r history - that's y we must b

4ever strong as the wind that blows the Vikings' horn

in the name of the purple and gold."

Guess that tonight we're going to party like it's 31-28?

 

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