Story by Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland
Rogers Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone arrived in Cobourg around noon on Friday ready to learn all she can about the community ahead of Sunday night’s live broadcast on Sportsnet.
Her first stop was to the Concert Hall at Victoria Hall to film a feature on the Concert Band of Cobourg before touring the rest of the historic building.
Saturday and Sunday will be the Hometown Hockey festival with activities and autograph signings with NHL alumni at the Cobourg West Harbour.
At the Cobourg Community Centre on Saturday evening, the Cobourg Cougars will host the Trenton Golden Hawks in an Ontario Junior Hockey League match-up. Slone will be dropping the puck during the ceremonial faceoff and will appear on-camera for Hockey Night in Canada from the CCC.
“Being a part of Hometown Hockey means so many things. First of all, it’s just an exploration and for somebody who is curious it’s just an absolute gift,” Slone said.
“The only way to really understand the community and what is important to a community is to actually be there. Whether it’s experiencing the Concert Hall or being at the festival or just wandering around and talking to people while being at the rink, sometimes you’ll just find out that there’s a particular storyline that has meant a lot to the community that needs to be portrayed during our broadcast.”
Slone and co-host Ron MacLean sit down with the producer before the show and run through the planned lineup, but changes can still be made leading up to the broadcast.
“If something has emerged as important, we’ll fit it in,” Slone says. “We do tend to cram quite a bit in and sometimes it’s as simple as making sure that a name is mentioned that’s really important. Obviously our bigger features, they’re not going anywhere, but the content surrounding them is always to be determined.”
While MacLean doesn’t arrive until Sunday, Slone says she feels like she’s always playing catch-up to his vast knowledge of people and places, which is why “getting my feet on the ground” is so important.
“Ron would concur that there’s only so much you can learn from research,” she says. “We have a fantastic group of producers, we have a researcher that does work several months out and we have a features team that produces pieces also months and weeks out, but for us there’s only so much you can get from Google and be accurate.”
Slone and MacLean have been Hometown Hockey co-hosts since 2014 and she estimates they have visited over 140 communities. She appreciates having had the opportunity to work with MacLean.
“He is the best at what he does. He’s been nothing but gracious with me. I wouldn’t be his co-host if it wasn’t for his endorsement, but I almost think that he has more faith in me than I do and he always has,” Slone says. “He’s a very generous broadcaster. He’s not proprietary about stories and isn’t like ‘that’s what I wanted to say.’ He’s an authentic person with an insatiable curiosity. What you see is how he is. He’s no different on-camera than he is off-camera.”
Slone spends more than 100 days on the road for Hometown Hockey each season and the most challenging aspect can be travelling out west through different time zones. The reward, she says, is the conversations she has with people and incredible backdrops such as the Rocky Mountains.
Slone is quick to credit the crews who travel with the show, especially for the weekend festival.
“The broadcast crew comes in and out, but the crew that sets up the festival stays on the road for the better part of six months. They really experience the country,” she says. “We like to give them credit whenever we can because they are the unsung heroes, they are the ones that spend all this time on the road. They set everything up in whatever weather conditions exist, they tear it down. When we’re signing off the air when the broadcast is over and we’re walking off site, they’re still there until four or five in the morning. They are incredible ambassadors…they’re there all weekend greeting the public and everything they do, they do with a smile on their face.”
Slone travelled a lot previously as a touring musician with her band Joydrop which had hits such as Sometimes Wanna Die and Beautiful. She was also a contestant on Rock Star: INXS.
Sometimes she’s still visiting towns for the first time during her travels with Hometown Hockey.
“For sure there’s some unchartered territory for me, which is an incredible privilege,” she says. “I toured Canada with (Joydrop) many years ago so I guess I have the good fortune of doing a little exploration in that way, but certainly we tended to hit bigger markets.”
Joydrop still reunites a couple times a year in spring or summer, Slone says, but Hometown Hockey is her full-time job due to the time commitment it requires. Still, some great opportunities come her way, including a recent charity function with Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea fame and she’ll also get to be a part of the Hockey Day in Canada concert with Dave Bidini, lead singer of the Rheostatics, in Yellowknife.
“I love music and whatever chance I have to do music I do,” Slone says.
Prior to Hometown Hockey, Slone began her foray into sports broadcasting even back when she was a member of Joydrop. She made regular appearances on Off the Record with Michael Landsberg and later, in the early days of web content, worked on features as she went to the arena to interview players from the Maple Leafs and visiting teams. She was also host of Breakfast Television in Calgary from 2010 to 2015.
“I had no designs of being a broadcaster, but I’ve always enjoyed hockey culture and being around the game,” she says.
The stories on Hometown Hockey every week never cease to amaze Slone.
“I’m just always struck by the kindness of Canadians,” she says. “There are a lot of tough stories that we cover, too, like the Humboldt bus crash and kids who have gone through terrible ordeals and parents who have lost kids. Without fail, the community rallies to support and to help. I’m not surprised because I know the kindness of Canadians, but it never fails to hit you in the heart. We live in an amazing country and there’s just a lot of good people.”
Visit www.cobourg.ca for a full list of Hometown Hockey activities this weekend.