Ron MacLean and Christopher Bates. Photo: CBC
“We’re not used to hosting fashion shows here,” said Monika Platek, the social media lead for CBC Sports. She wore a slim-cut scarlet dress and shifts her weight on her white pumps. She had to wait for the mostly male cast of Hockey Night in Canada to finish primping and enter the studio.
I am not a hockey person, but I don’t think I’m a bad Canadian. I may prefer Starbucks over Tim Hortons, but I vote in every election and usually remember the ‘u’ in words like labour. Still, I find any sport in which I can’t see the players’ faces difficult to watch– and the violence of hockey completely puts me off.
When I was invited to a sneak preview of the Hockey Night in Canada sportscasters’ new looks, I knew I needed backup. I hoped my friend Dervla, who has a Toronto Maple Leafs tattoo and barely misses a game, would prevent me from embarrassing myself in front of Ron MacLean. She was more than happy to oblige. Indeed, she was giddy with excitement at the studio, especially when she noticed the Stanley Cup shining like a brand new silver dime.
“But why is it just sitting in the corner, by the trash cans?”
A CBC rep came over and explained that, because it was a game night, there wouldn’t be a ton of time for questions afterwards.
“How can it be a game night?” I whispered to Dervla. “Don’t they play on Sundays?”
“They play throughout the week,” she responded. “Jesus, Max.”
When Platek was finally given the go ahead, she welcomed the small gathering of reporters to Studio 42, home of Hockey Night in Canada and Coach’s Corner.
“Tonight, we’re taking a break from the action on the ice to see what happens when the fashion world collides with the hockey world,” she announced. “Believe it or not, I see it on a daily basis.” Apparently, on Twitter and Facebook, hockey fans post comments about what sportscasters wear all the time. In an example of the kind of social media-baiting, reality TV synergy that characterized Kristen Stewart’s CBC, the producers matched each sportscaster with a different Canadian fashion designer, with the notable exception of Don Cherry. No one explained his absence, but it was as if his screamingly loud jackets had burnt a mark on the TV screen–his ghostly presence was felt all evening.
Platek first introduced Ron MacLean and his designer Christopher Bates. MacLean wore a sharp dark suit jacket with a very delicate check pattern.
“Christopher Bates,” began MacLean, “was one of the top six designers in the country voted by Sharp magazine in 2009, the year the Penguins won the cup, so maybe that’ll get Pittsburgh back in the series. It’s really nice to partner with him.”
“Ron was my first choice of the guys to dress because he’s got a classic sensibility,” added Bates. “He’s a gentleman. So all I really wanted to do with his look was contemporize it a bit.”
Next came former player P.J. Stock and his designer, Philip Sparks.
“I was just sitting with Philip in the back,” said Stock, “and I asked him who’s his favourite hockey player. He was like, ‘Uh…’ I said, just say Sidney Crosby in moments like this.”
They were followed by Kevin Weekes and Marlon Durrant, Elliotte Friedman and Haithem Elkadiki, Andi Petrillo (the sole female sportscaster) with Caitlin Power, and Glenn Healy appeared on screen. His designer Farley Chatto couldn’t make it, so he went to the game.
“I just wanted to know what bowling alley you guys stole your shoes from,” said Healy. Explaining his suit he said, “The first thing I said to Farley was, ‘You see the way you’re dressed? Don’t dress me that way.’ He was okay with that.”
The new outfits will officially be unveiled tonight (Boston vs. Pittsburgh). Afterwards viewers can weigh in online and vote for their favourite.
Kevin Weekes and Marlon Durrant
One could really appreciate the beautiful details of Kevin Weekes’s suit when he came over to the scrum of reporters. Both his and Durrant’s parents came from the Caribbean, so he said that the inspiration for his outfit was a combination of Canadian pride with the fine tailoring of the islands. The jacket’s lining had a giant red maple leaf.
I asked Weekes if any rules governed how he could dress on air.
“It’s what the public can accept, to be honest with you,” he said. “I know that Don is a pioneer. And he’s very outside the box. I’m not sure that everyone in Canada has the appetite to accept that.” But he acknowledged the country’s growing fashion awareness.
“I think that as people become more accustomed to seeing different looks, I can continue to go bolder…I would love to wear an ascot, I’ll put it that way.”
“We talked about that,” Durrant chimed in.
“I’d love to be able to rock an ascot on Hockey Night in Canada and not have Twitter light up with, What are you doing? What are you wearing? C’mon!” Seeing the fancy dressers of London, Paris, and Rome, Weekes pines for a day when Canadians won’t be so self-defeating with their clothes.
“Being humble and unassuming is our other national sport,” I said.
“Exactly!” Weekes laughed. “I’ve been wearing a suit and tie to church since I was three years old. Our parents were old school and that’s the way you had to present yourself. Playing in the National Hockey League, I was always very conscious of what I wore to games. I felt like I wasn’t only representing the team I played for–I was representing the city, the fans, and my family. Now that I’m broadcasting, a lot of people say, We saw that you wore this, we saw that you wore that. And I look at it sort of like, this is my uniform.”
“It really is a privilege for me to be in people’s living rooms… As a former goalie, I think of it as a game of inches. On the ice, it’s a game of inches. There’s literally this much space between making a save and the puck going in. Now being on air, it’s the same thing. Some people will come in and they’ll be wearing beat up sneakers. They’ll say, It’s under the desks, they won’t see it. For me, that won’t fly. Everything on me has to tie in. It’s not only a sign of who I am, but it’s respect for the person on the other side of the TV.”
Next Andi Petrillo came over with Caitlin Power. Andi wore a cloudy blouse with a sporty black and yellow stripe down the front, and an asymetrical sculptural skirt.
“When you fist started, were you surprised at the focus on your appearance?” I asked. “Did it ever bother you?”
“I was a little surprised, because you would think, Here I am, I have a knowledge of sports, that’s why people have hired me. But at the end of the day it is a visual medium and people want to see how you look because if it’s also not something that they absolutely love, it will be such a distraction. It’s been an overwhelming response with Hockey Night in Canada. It’s opened my eyes to how fashion savvy hockey fans are.” She said hockey fans aren’t just sitting at home their in their tattered jerseys, but tweeting at her about her outfits, ostensibly for their wives.
I asked Power if she followed hockey, expecting the half-hearted responses I received from most of the designers.
“Yes, I actually I grew up playing hockey,” she explained. “It was a cool call I received to do this project. My career choices were to become a female Olympic hockey player or to be a fashion designer.”
Caitlin Power and Andi Petrillo
Elliotte Friedman, in a boxy camel jacket, was the only broadcaster who seemed a bit uncomfortable in what he was wearing, but he was a good sport about it. When a reporter asked him the main concern he had when getting dressed in the morning he said, “Does it make me look fat?”
I asked whether the sportscasters kidded and jibed each other backstage.
“This is not a work place for the faint of heart, I’ll put it that way. That’s why I think we like it… with the clothes, you get comments like, Did you dress in the dark? I know that we’re all going to hear it about all of our outfits. If you work here, you better be able to take it as much as you dish it out.”
Ron MacLean and P.J. Stock walked over with Philip Sparks, but had to wait for Christopher Bates.
“Did you see the slash last night?” Stock asked.
“Yes, I did.” MacLean shook his head. “He snapped, didn’t he?”
“It wasn’t McSorley-Brashear, but it could have been…”
Bates joined us and the conversation returned to fashion.
Stock stayed succinct in his explanation of his suit: “I just said, Philip, do what you want to do. For me, I could wear a chicken suit on TV. It doesn’t really matter on that much.”
Turning to MacLean, I asked if he’s had to dress more formally throughout the years he’s been on air.
“Yes, for sure. I’m not on Twitter, so I don’t get that. God forbid, every time you take a chance on your attire, you’re going to hear it. You know, I started in the industry in the 1970’s. I was the weather presenter at CKRD in Red Deer, and shortly there after I moved up to sports. People would always ask you, What’s the weathergirl like? I get that with Don now, but then it was always the weathergirl, cause she was the one person on the broadcast who brought style to the show. And she was a woman, I suppose. It was there at the beginning. Clothing drew a remark.”
“But in the thirty years I’ve been on Hockey Night,” he continued. “I don’t think I got into brown shoes until now. I literally went with black shoes and a black belt for thirty years. It was a leap for me to wear the brown shoes with the blue suit. But right away I felt right in it. Why wouldn’t you do that earlier?”
I asked the designers if they followed hockey. Bates answered he was a lifelong Flames fan and Theoren Fleury was his favourite player. Sparks smiled, looked a bit embarrassed, and said he liked Sidney Crosby.
I had worried we were a country of two solitudes–not French and English, but hockey-fans and fashion-lovers. Afterwards, as Dervla gushed about how genuine and down to earth the TV personalities she had watched for years were in real life, I realized that, even if the game is different, we’re united by our fandom. We can all relate to being dorks about something or other. I might have freaked out when I finally met Jeanne Beker, but one person’s Jeanne Beker is another’s Ron MacLean.
“It’s funny cause I don’t know him, but I would know that voice anywhere,” said Dervla at the beginning of a Ron MacLean-stream-of-consciousness. “I liked his suit, but it’s very similar to what he wears all the time. He always wears black or navy blue, and I don’t know what he looks like from the waist down…”
“Ron MacLean is a celebrity in this country. But he was very genuine. I didn’t get any smarmy media bullshit. And he was a gentleman! He’s exactly how I imagined him. I would’ve been so devastated if he was a dick, but he wasn’t!”
“Why do I like him? He has to sit next to Don Cherry and take it. He’s made a career out of wrangling Don Cherry. He’s just a nice dude. He’s an everyman! He deserves to be in his position. He worked his way up. And he’s nice, and has a lovely voice. And I’ve always sort of felt like I knew him, and now I’ve met him!”
When I turned her attention to the designers, Dervla added, “To be fair, Christopher Bates sounded very rehearsed. Nobody says Theoren Fleury. His name is Theo Fleury.”
It takes a true fan to notice.
Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_.