November 28, 2007

Walking With Legends by Ralph Mellanby

As a man who spent his entire adult life in show business, Ralph Mellanby knows controversy sells.

So when promoting his new book Walking With Legends: The Real Stories of Hockey Night in Canada, the 73-year-old former executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada hasn't shied away from sharing his thoughts on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Bettman to me is the real problem for hockey," said Mellanby.

"He's done so much damage to hockey it may never recover. We don't have time to go through the litany of errors."

Mellanby backs his case citing teams in bad hockey markets, ignoring Canadian and European opportunities, a deteriorating product, turbulent labour relations, the reluctance to embrace change and some controversial TV deals.

"Hockey has never been in worse straits," Mellanby said. "I'm an elder statesman now and I feel at times like a lone voice in the wilderness, but I'm not completely alone. The great minds of the game I talk to agree on these things, but no one is listening at the top."

Over his 2 decade career as the man behind Canada's most famous television show, Mellanby has talked to many of hockey's great minds. In fact, he hired many of them.

In his book Walking With Legends, Mellanby pays tribute to the many faces of both HNIC and the NHL. It is somehow fitting that the man behind the most influential program in hockey history is quick to give credit to the people he employed as opposed to getting higher respect himself.

The 5 time Emmy winner Mellanby remembers all the greats on HNIC, looking back at Foster and Bill Hewitt, Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin, Dan Kelly and Bob Cole and Dave Hodge. Mellanby saves his two best chapters for his two biggest risks and two biggest rewards - Howie Meeker and Don Cherry. And, interestingly, he admits he was completely wrong in thinking that Ron MacLean, arguably the best face of the show, was doomed to fail.

Mellanby also takes a look at the 1972 Summit Series, the 1980 USA Miracle On Ice, Harold Ballard, Gary Bettman, several of the NHL's greatest players over the years, and his son Scott Mellanby, a long time NHL star himself.

All in all Walking With Legends is a solid read with some nice insights, particularly on the HNIC faces we all have welcomed into our homes every Saturday night.


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