Ron MacLean addresses Don Cherry's firing in U of A convocation speech

Ron MacLean only uttered Don Cherry's name once while accepting an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta Tuesday. 

But that's all he talked about.

"This is not beyond my experience, but it was beyond my education," a reflective MacLean told the capacity crowd at the Jubilee Auditorium for the University of Alberta fall convocation.

MacLean was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree for his "enduring contributions to Canadian sport" and his more than three decades of hockey broadcasting.

Cherry, MacLean's longtime broadcast partner, was turfed by Sportsnet on Nov. 11, two days after Cherry blurted out controversial on-air comments during their "Coach's Corner" segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

Speech from the heart

Not pulling any punches, MacLean launched into the controversy swirling around him and Cherry over the past 10 days.

In an unscripted and often rambling 15-minute speech, MacLean described the very public parting of the ways with Cherry and the damage to their friendship, from which he is still recovering. 

"This is a very much a learning living experience that has been taking place personally," MacLean told the crowd. 

Reaching out for advice from a broad network, MacLean said he sought the counsel of trusted friends such as hockey great Wayne Gretzky, his favourite authors, and "First Nations chiefs, people of colour, [and] women." 

Crowd onside

Aware of the controversy, but perhaps not preoccupied with it on an important day for graduates, a supportive crowd appeared to appreciate MacLean's message.

Trevor Wilson/CBC

Victor Tran said he knows MacLean has been in a "really uncomfortable" position this last week, but thinks he handled the pressure and the speech "pretty well."

Calling him a "Canadian treasure," MBA recipient Eric West said MacLean was "eloquent and well spoken."

"I loved that he didn't have a paper, he was just speaking from the heart," said Joy Tannous, a PhD in chemical engineering.

Trevor Wilson/CBC

Cradling a stick from a hockey class she had just attended, U of A education student Kallie Loewen said she was impressed by the way MacLean turned a bad situation into a positive learning experience. 

"I thought it was cool that he brought it in and turned it to a positive ... showing you how you can learn from those types of situations," said Loewen, a native of MacLean's hometown of Red Deer.

"I love hockey, it's been a part of my life for a long time," she added.