By Josh Plummer
The television show synonymous with Canadiana is a well choreographed, perfectly executed production brought to all of us by a group of some of the best and hardworking talent the business has to offer. Their efforts have made Hockey Night in Canada a national institution.
I tagged along for most of the day on Saturday as the CBC crews powered up' the two Premier High Definition trucks that provided the unseen central nervous system to the Vancouver home-base of the HNIC double-header broadcast.
There was an extra special buzz at GM Place because the dynamic duo of Ron MacLean and Don Cherry were shooting the ever popular Coach's Corner segment from the studios at The Garage for the first time this year.
But it almost didn't happen.
MacLean began the festivities with his introduction from the Olympia entrance as hockey fans around the country settled in for the national broadcast of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins attempting to derail the playoff hopes of the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.
Once the Pens and Leafs game was underway, the HNIC crew dashed upstairs for a quick bite to eat before Coach's Corner was set to air at roughly 4:30 Vancouver time. But Cherry was nowhere to be found.
Calmness turned into controlled hysteria as production assistants scurried around the building looking for the Dapper Don' while the first intermission in Toronto neared and the seat beside MacLean remained empty.
No more than 15 minutes before the cameras were set to roll - Cherry finally walked through the doors in all his greatness, wearing an ankle length, pin-striped coat to match his suit and he was already complaining. This wasn't a case of being fashionably late; it turned out the culprit was a cab driver with less than stellar navigational skills. How much would you pay to hear a frantic Cherry in the backseat of the misguided taxi on the way to the stadium?
Priceless, I'm sure.
MacLean and Cherry rushed through a brief outline of topics and then assistants and make-up artists were unceremoniously shooed out of the studio so Ron and Don could perform their shtick, at the request of Cherry, who insisted on no distractions.
Coach's Corner went off without a hitch as the CBC crew and a handful of Vancouver media and Calgary Flames PR staff watched the show on various TV's in the large conference room just down the hallway. The gathering was silent - except for a few chuckles when Cherry hit his high notes right on cue: BieSka and LuGongo.
MacLean and Cherry spent most of their night in the tiny studio watching the games on three or four different screens, while visitors like Canucks Vice-President and Assistant GM Steve Tambellini stopped by for quick handshakes and hellos.
Meanwhile, GM Place was primed for post season hockey.
The Canucks made their first return home after clinching a playoff spot earlier in the week in Colorado, so in true Vancouver tradition, each and every seat was draped with a white playoff towel ready for twirling.
Seeing The Garage with dabs of whiteness on 18,630 seats was amazing because it brought to life the undeniable reality the Canucks and their fans will actually be back in the post season competing for the Stanley Cup this Spring. It was an extremely validating feeling and made me proud to support this contending team.
And if the playoff towels weren't enough to scratch my playoff itch, Mark Donnelly and the crowd participation in his O Canada' national anthem put me right over the edge into post season bliss. Donnelly is the best anthem singer in the league - he's "Mr. O Canada" and "Mr. Lucky Charm!"
His beginnings to playoff and playoff type games in Vancouver always starts the night on the right foot - just ask Willie Mitchell and Jarome Iginla, although in their cases it might be starting the night on the right fist.'
And speaking of players who've been known to throw a few fists - Kevin Bieksa joined Scott Oake and Kelly Hrudey on HNIC's After Hours for an interactive interview.
It's always entertaining to stick around for the fan involved segment because Hrudey sometimes seems to have a hard time keeping a straight face while limber, Saturday night fans bellow, "Rooooody" from the stands.
For this episode, there was more than a few Canuckleheads who showed their Canuck pride by yelling, "Biiiiiiieksssssa" and "We love you Juice!" Even Kevin couldn't help but crack a smile at the fans enthusiasm on the show and in the stands.
Wow, would you look at the time. One HNIC producer saw me shooting pictures of Bieksa and commented, "You've definitely put in a full day haven't you."
I told him, "It's tough work trying to keep up to you guys."
We'll see you all again in a few short days when the playoffs begin.