Rogers Hometown Hockey’s Tara Slone has arrived in Williams Lake and is ready to co-host the hockey festival taking place this weekend with Ron MacLean.
Slone has been with the tour since its inception four years ago and told the Tribune Friday morning she loves getting to see the country.
“It’s a real privileged way to visit communities across Canada,” she said. “There’s a lot of good will and I think people love having us in town.”
Seeing what makes up a place is exciting, she added.
“For instance, today we are working with the Williams Lake Fire Dept. and they are obviously going to talk about the wildfires this summer. I will get to spend some time with them and I think I’m helping them put out a controlled fire, so I’ll really get my feet wet.”
Her father and stepmother lost their home to a wildfire in Nova Scotia, and through that Slone said she saw the injustice and the randomness of wildfires.
“It burnt eight homes in their development. Some homes were completely untouched and theirs burned to the ground.”
Slone will visit the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin Friday afternoon and will meet with the Stampeders hockey team.
On Saturday she will host a half-hour Hot Stove interview on stage with former NHLers Kirk McLean and Jyrki Lumme who are also in Williams Lake for the festival.
At Saturday night’s game between the Stampeders and Kelowna Sparta being held at the Cariboo Memorial Complex, she will drop the puck.
“In between that I have to get my notes together, so it’s pretty busy,” she said, chuckling. “We really have a great team that helps us put it all together.”
While MacLean doesn’t fly into Williams Lake until Sunday morning, Slone said she normally arrives on the Friday morning before the festival gets underway.
“It’s a pretty long travel day from Toronto and this is a pretty thorough shoot,” she said of the stop in Williams Lake. “Some shoots are done in advance. We came out west in September and got a few under our belts. It’s hard for me to be away five days of the week because I have an eight-year-old daughter back home.”
While there are differences in each town or city they visit, it’s the sense of community that is a common theme across the country, she added.
“Hockey is the lens through which we tell our stories, but it’s always about communities coming together. We love the game, but it’s almost more about the time we spend together, the lessons we learn and the challenges we overcome. That is a really universally Canadian experience.”
Every community receives the festival differently, and Slone said her favourites are always smaller communities because bigger cities are used to having lots of big events.
“It’s fun. We get to come to town, be the big event, and be really integrated with the community for a weekend.”
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Choosing locations to bring the tour to is done by a committee and there are many communities throwing their hats in the ring wanting to be included, she explained.
“I will say that we went to Haliburton, Ont. because I think former NHL player Walt McKechnie reached out to Ron and said they would love to have us there and would help make it happen. The requests get passed up the chain and it’s up to the committee, but I think the seed of the idea can come from someone talking to us sometimes.”
Slone has never played hockey in her life and can “barely” skate.
“I cannot even describe where my passion for hockey came from, other than the fact I always watched Hockey Night in Canada. My family grew up in Montreal so I was a Canadiens fan and from a very young age I always loved the culture of hockey. I always maintained a strong interest and then lucked out with my job.”
The crew that sets up the festival has been daring Slone to get on the ice because they will often have ice time when they are on the road.
“It’s hard because those ice times are usually very late at night, but I know I should try it,” she agreed.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Slone was the lead singer of the alternative rock band Joydrop in Toronto, and left to begin hosting a breakfast program in Calgary.
When she returned to Ontario four years ago for her job with Rogers, she reunited with her band friends and they are doing live shows again.
“It’s been really fun after 15 years,” she said.