Peter Mansbridge is best known as that serious guy who brings Canadians their daily hit of news on CBC every night. But underneath those conservative suits beats the heart of a hockey-loving guy from Ottawa who spends many a weekend morning in arenas.
That's why he's looking forward to hosting The National Thursday and Friday from Stratford, the site of the tenth annual Hockey Day In Canada on Saturday. In fact, the British-born anchor fell in love with the game not long after arriving in Ottawa from Malaysia when he was 7.
``I got off the plane with a sawed-off cricket bat," he recalls. ``I didn't know what they were talking about when they talked about hockey. But I got hooked pretty quick.”
Mansbridge recalls playing outdoors and dressing in one of those typical wooden shacks heated by a wood stove. Like most kids of that era, he'd use the lettering on the top of the stove to burn his name into the handle of his stick. ``Those were great times," he says.
So what kind of a player was he? ``I was pretty average, a bit of a floater," he says with a laugh. ``I scored a lot of goals, but that was the benefit of hanging around at centre ice."
Mansbridge is a big Maple Leafs fan, but is a bigger fan of son Willie, who plays major atom hockey in Stratford. ``He's much better than me," Dad says. ``I'm not shy about telling him that."
Mansbridge is also not shy about his love of hockey, which always leaves him torn when the playoffs usurp his usual 10 p.m. slot.
``The professional image is one of a guy who's always upset about Hockey Night In Canada knocking us off the air ... That does irk at me,
``But personally, there's a monitor in the studio so I get to watch the game. I've come to appreciate how much a part of the Canadian fabric hockey is."
If a newsman giving in to hockey isn’t proof of the sport’s power in this country, I don’t know what is.
Hockey Day has become a tradition, even though there weren't high hopes when it launched 10 years ago. ``When we first started, I said this will go one year," says Don Cherry, who is threatening to dress like Henry VIII at some point Saturday. You may or may not notice.
The high-collared one wasn't alone, though. Cherry admits he's become a big fan of the day. ``The biggest kick of all is when I look at the kids' faces," he says. ``They're so excited. It's almost like Christmas has come."
He didn’t mention if he was wearing his red velvet jacket when the kids were acting like Santa had arrived.
Hockey Day is a bit of a labour of love for CBC. It doesn't draw huge audiences between games and doesn't exactly produce any ground-breaking material.
It's basically a feel-good exercise to promote hockey, though there are always a few great stories to keep the audience from going into diabetic shock.
``We were all fearful that we would gag ourselves with syrup when we first started with this, but it’s proven to be just the opposite," says host Ron MacLean, who deserves a medal for putting in these 13-hour days, much it spent shivering on frozen bodies of water.
There are some good stories planned for Saturday that should keep cockles warm in hearts across the country. There's one on a 13-year-old aboriginal girl who hopes to use her hockey skills to eventually become a lawyer. There's another on a family that used hockey to help cope with cancer.
All in all, Hockey Day will be an even more ambitious project than usual. In addition to the 13-plus hours of televised hockey, features and images of kids skating on ponds coverage will also be aired on CBC radio and Sirius satellite radio.
The theme this year is teamwork and how hockey promotes that concept more than any other sport. Stratford should be a good backdrop for all of this, what with the swans and memories of Howie Morenz comingling on the Avon River.
``Engaging the community is very important," says CBC executive producer Joel Darling, who's been working for months to pull this all together. ``The way we can do the best job is interacting with the people and tell the great stories about how this game is loved."
And nobody loves it more than the CBC and the CBC accountants.
SUPER SIZED: A group of American doctors has appealed to CBS and the NFL to air an anti-junk food ad during the Super Bowl. The ad points out that because of overconsumption, a lot of those watching the Super Bowl won't make it to the fourth quarter alive.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine chastises the NFL for encouraging the consumption of fatty good by airings ads from purveyors of artery-clogging goop such as KFC. It quotes studies that show that the amount of fat in a football fan's blood can more than double by the end of the game -- assuming he makes it that far.
Neither CBS nor the NFL has responded, but surely they can find a few seconds even it it's just for PR purposes. Judging by the size of some of the people in the stands, it might even save a life.