TORONTO — Ron MacLean is officially back as host of "Hockey Night in Canada," returning to the chair he occupied for nearly 30 years before being ousted in favour of music journalist and CBC talk show star George Stroumboulopoulos.
MacLean will host the early game on Saturday night next season while David Amber will take the helm for the late broadcast, Sportsnet announced Monday.
Stroumboulopoulos is leaving "to explore new creative opportunities," according to a Sportsnet release.
Stroumboulopoulos signed a five-year deal to host "Hockey Night in Canada" in 2014 after Rogers acquired the NHL rights in a 12-year, $5.2-billion agreement. Pushing MacLean aside was a controversial decision by the broadcaster, with Stroumboulopoulos seen by many fans as an outsider who didn't have the necessary hockey background to replace his experienced predecessor.
Ron MacLean talks to the crowd during the Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup Reunion at Rexall Place Oct. 10, 2014. (Photo: Getty Images)
MacLean, 56, saw his role reduced to being Don Cherry's sidekick on Coach's Corner and hosting "Hometown Hockey," a Sunday night show that he will continue to front despite his expanded Saturday night duties. He will also keep his job alongside Cherry, who recently agreed to a new contract.
"Two years ago we made some changes to Hockey Night in Canada. We were enthusiastic about the changes but at the end of the day they did not resonate with hardcore hockey fans,'' Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL properties, said on the conference call. "Ron is a tremendous host and bringing him back to the program, along with David Amber, I think will resonate with those fans."
News that the 43-year-old Stroumboulopoulos, a six-time Gemini Award winner, was on his way out was first reported a week ago by the Toronto Star.
MacLean said Stroumboulopoulos "probably had to put up with a lot" during his time at Hockey Night in Canada, praising his two-year replacement for his professionalism and ability.
"We were enthusiastic about the changes but at the end of the day they did not resonate with hardcore hockey fans."
"It wasn't about quality, it was about 'Where was Hockey Night in Canada? Ron and Don and a few of the other faces were familiar and it was a real challenge for George," MacLean said.
It's been a tough year for Sportsnet's hockey coverage, with no Canadian teams making the playoffs and a last-place performance by the Toronto Maple Leafs, usually a big ratings draw for the network.
Audience levels fell below the million mark for many early-round playoff games this season. While ratings improved for the Stanley Cup final, they were down on average from last season.
Panellists Elliotte Friedman, Kelly Hrudey and Nick Kypreos will join MacLean and Amber in-studio Saturday nights. Daren Millard will continue to host the Wednesday night show alongside Friedman and Doug MacLean.
A veteran broadcaster, Amber has been a reporter with Hockey Night in Canada for the past five years.