TORONTO -- Sometimes trying to explain an on-air flub gets you deeper in a hole.
Take Ron MacLean, host of the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, who provoked a viewer backlash Wednesday night when comparing hockey players to first responders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington. D.C.
Speaking just before the start of a second-round Stanley Cup Playoff game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, MacLean told viewers: “It’s crazy to compare what the emergency responders did during that time, but a spirit has to start somewhere. And as you enjoy this series between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, you can’t help but be struck by the players and the way they’ve played these games.
“They are like police officers; they are like firefighters," he added. "You can’t fight fire with ego. ... The pain these men have faced, the price they keep on paying, the hearts they keep on lifting.".
The U.S. sports media wasn’t amused.
“Ron MacLean, seriously? One of the most idiotic television segments of all time,” New York Post hockey writer Larry Brooks said on his Twitter account.
Late Thursday, the CBC issued an explanation for MacLean's dramatic on-air flourish before the puck-drop for Wednesday night’s game that came without an apology.
“Washington and New York: The two cities united by the tragedy of 9/11. I -- like everyone on the planet in his or her lifetime -- saw, beyond the horror, the single greatest testament to the strength of the human spirit in the efforts of the first responders", MacLean said in a statement. "We never know if we'll have that spirit. The bravery, the resilience. As I made clear, the hockey games in no way compare. However, sports has proven a worthy training ground in nurturing the qualities which beget that spirit."
Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons on Friday questioned in a Tweet whether MacLean’s nonclarifying statement came with an English translation. “I needed footnotes or something to understand it,” he tweeted.
MacLean will be back Saturday night hosting the deciding Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals for the right to face the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.