Muskoka411 News Director Maddie Binning caught up with sports broadcaster and host Tara Slone to talk about the return of Rogers Hometown Hockey and the tour’s upcoming stop in Oro-Medonte. Listen to or read the interview below, and click here to read more about the Rogers Hometown Hockey Festival at Horseshoe Resort.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Of course I wanted to just catch up with you about Hometown Hockey and how it feels to be back on the road. How does it feel to be back after your hiatus?
So far so good. Obviously a few things there are different, you know, different types of safety concerns. We’re not able to be out and about in the festival the way that we normally would be, but really, it’s so great. It’s just so nice to see people’s smiles, as much as we can see them while masked, and I think we all just need that sense of community right now, so it’s special for the communities and the places we visit. It’s special for us too.
Right and what are you looking forward to on your next stop in Oro-Medonte?
Oh my gosh, well, it’s just such a beautiful part of the province, such a beautiful part of the country. There are places that I think Canadians know about and Oro-Medonte might not be one of those places. Unless you live in the area, it might not be a name that seems familiar to you, so what’s really nice is, on top of the hockey stories, we actually get to geographically introduce people to a gorgeous part of the world.
Absolutely. And what do you think it’ll mean to fans to have Hometown Hockey back after the roadblocks and restrictions of COVID?
Well, again, like I said, I think we all need community so much. We’ve all been isolated in our own ways, and from an emotional point of view, all those things aren’t back to normal normal. I think it does represent some return to the way things were before and so it can feel quite emotional being actually able to see kids on the rink, on our ball hockey rink, just having fun together. I have a 12-year-old daughter. I know firsthand how tough it was for her to be locked up, really, in her room at her computer for so many months, so these things are meaningful I think from a mental health perspective. It’s a bit of a marker that we’re moving in the right direction.
Definitely. I know you’ll also be catching up with aspiring Olympian Jesse Eldridge to talk about the women’s side of the game. What has it been like for you to see the growth and change and women’s hockey in particular?
I am a big loud fan of the game. The pandemic obviously ground everything to a halt, but I think in particular on the women’s side, the PWHPA (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) was gaining a lot of traction and then obviously didn’t play for quite some time, so these World Championships were so exciting and I think every opportunity that we have to demonstrate how amazing and exciting this game is for viewers, the better. But frankly, I want more and so do all the players, so we just have to keep yelling and screaming and demanding more and hopefully a viable league can be established in the near near future.
Absolutely. And I know of course, one of your goals in your work is to share intersectional stories and highlight women’s stories as well as other people who really have important things to tell, so along with your series Top of Her Game, how does it feel to be able to use Hometown Hockey as a way to share stories about women in sports?
Top of Her Game was really kind of an offshoot of Hometown Hockey because we’re so fortunate that Hometown Hockey is a bit of an island in the hockey world. We’re not a typical hockey broadcast. It’s very much shaped by the desires of the whole team to be representative and so we’ve had a little bit of carte blanche in terms of doing what we want to do, featuring who we want to feature and we want to get better, but I think part of showcasing Canada is showcasing all people. So I feel extremely fortunate to have this platform and hopefully making our mark and there are kids in front of the TV who see themselves reflected back.
Definitely. Well, and of course I know that there’s been so many places that you’ve been able to visit, so many people you’ve been able to meet. What keeps you excited for each and every season of Hometown Hockey?
It’s really the people. I mean, obviously geographical beauty is one thing. There’s so many extraordinary parts of the country from a scenic perspective, but it’s always the people. I say this every year like you get to a point in the season where you haven’t had a break at Christmas and you’re just heading towards the All-Star break and you’re just exhausted, but everywhere we go, there’s so much generosity. People love to share their stories with us. They grant us the privilege of sharing those stories with the rest of the world, so I think the main thing about Hometown Hockey is we’re able to highlight the bright spots and the kindnesses of humanity. It’s an uplifting show most of the time and so that’s what keeps us going. It’s always about the people.
Right, and over your years with the program, what stories and places stick out to you?
Oh my gosh, I mean there are so many. For me, I hate to single out any, but I guess I’ll just say what’s sort of top of mind for me. Our visit to Whitehorse, I honestly can’t remember if it was like season three, maybe? That really stuck out. Whitehorse is an extremely beautiful place and so just experiencing that, you know, it was winter time so it wasn’t light for very long. But we met Chase Blodgett who had come out as trans when he was playing with the Whitehorse Women’s Hockey Association and we had a chance to have Chase on the show. And that to me felt—first of all, for Chase to feel open enough and safe enough to tell his story on our show meant a lot to us, but it felt really like a different story in the hockey world. One that we weren’t—I don’t want to say we’re groundbreaking, but I just want to say that it may not have gotten airtime on a regular NHL broadcast, so that stood out and we’ve had other stories of people becoming their authentic selves and stories of acceptance.
For us, Alex Luey was a really meaningful figure in our journey. I don’t know if you know who he was, but he was a kid who had Ewing sarcoma and he was from Niagara Falls. He had part of his leg amputated and got back on the ice, so we met him. He was in remission and he was a huge Alex Ovechkin fan, so we managed, through all kinds of contacts, we managed to get Alex Luey connected with Alex Ovechkin. And Alex literally became Ovi’s almost good luck charm, so he ended up going to a game. I think Ovi scored a hattrick. Later that year, they won the Stanley Cup so the Washington Capitals were unbelievable to Alex Luey. But we lost Alex, I guess almost two years ago now and it was really hard for everybody, but we felt really blessed to be part of his journey. So anyway, there’s lots, so many. It’s like every week there’s just something that kind of takes our breath away.
I’m sure, yeah. Well, I know of course you’ve also worn many hats throughout your career as singer, actor and now host. Compared to your other endeavours, what is it like to work on Hometown Hockey?
Well, in some ways, it’s similar. I mean, I spent years as a touring rock musician, so now I’m just a touring hockey host. Sometimes I sit there and I’m like, ‘How did I end up here?’ but all roads kind of led me to this. I spent years doing music and theatre and as a performer, it kind of readies you for the camera, obviously, and I was a huge hockey fan. I feel so grateful that I was able to kind of approach the fork in the road that was at the end of my music career, or my professional music career, and really fortunate that I was able to find a path that led me here.
Perfect, well, is there anything else I didn’t ask about that you would really want to mention?
It’s really important that people know, it used to be just open and people could show up, but now it’s ticketed. So I do think that’s important for people to know that they have to go to HometownHockey.com to get timed entry tickets for the festival itself and also the viewing party on Monday night. Otherwise, I think it’s set to be a really beautiful weekend and the festival is as great as it was before. Things are touchless, but there’s still tons of entertainment. I know that Darryl Sittler’s signing this weekend and Carl Dixon is playing. It’s going to be, I think, pretty perfect.
For more information, visit the Rogers Hometown Hockey website, and read the article below to learn more about Hometown Hockey’s stop in Oro-Medonte from Nov. 6 to 8.