If you haven’t done so yet, we’ll wait while you google Hockey Moms. Odds are, you probably did this months ago, when casting calls went out and the reality show, produced by lake-area residents John McCally and Randy Lee, made its way through the Twin Cities media circuit.
Online, the response to the show, which premiered on December 26, was initially mixed: Many viewers were enthusiastic, sharing the story with like-minded hockey lovers. Others were less sure, expressing concern that Hockey Moms would end up like Dance Moms, a reality show about dance families who usually devolve into petty drama and catty behavior on screen. That show, and others like it, makes many viewers roll their eyes.
And it’s true that most reality shows are met with prepackaged skepticism. But Hockey Moms producers John McCally and Randy Lee know this. McCally, in fact, brings up the comparison freely. “This show is not going to be Dance Moms on skates,” he says with a smile.
McCally and Lee’s journey to Hockey Moms started almost 40 years ago. The friends, who now both live in the Lake Minnetonka area, grew up in Rochester, and played hockey together at Mayo High School. After graduation, they went on to play hockey together again at Gustavus Adolphus College in the 1980s, where they formed a lifelong bond.
Lee is two years older than McCally, and even now in their 50s, the pair maintain a big brother/little brother relationship—Lee the even-keeled businessman, McCally the creative force—and it’s a friendship based on mutual respect.
After college, the duo went their separate ways. Lee spent 25 years at Seagate Technology working in sales and marketing. McCally meandered, like so many creative minds do. He worked as a video producer and photographer, and worked in a variety of marketing and advertising positions.
Hockey continued to play an important role in their lives. Lee spent the last 23 years raising kids who play hockey. His youngest, Torsten, is a sophomore at Mound-Westonka High School, where he plays hockey and tennis.
Meanwhile, John McCally’s work took him to Milwaukee. While running a marketing consulting firm, a new junior hockey team—an amateur hockey league where most players are coming out of high school and hoping to land on a college team—arrived in nearby Janesville, Wis. He contacted the team in hopes of doing marketing work, and instead became the general manager of the Janesville Jets.
By 2008, Randy Lee had retired from Seagate. He and McCally kept in touch over the years, reconnecting once or twice a year as old college friends tend to do. In 2012, McCally was looking to move back to the Twin Cities.
Over the years, he had brought several ideas to Lee, looking for his friend’s feedback. They discussed creating a business together. “I had no intention of going back to work [after retiring],” Lee says. “Ultimately, he came up with these shows I could relate to. He got to a point where he wanted to go all in and chase his dream.”
In 2013, the pair founded McCally-Lee Entertainment, with McCally handling the creative side as chief executive officer and chief entertainment officer, and Lee handling the business side as president. The company creates both original programming and branded entertainment, producing marketing content for companies, but the goal for McCally has always been to produce original television shows. “We pitched a number of shows nationally, and the timing just wasn’t right,” McCally says.
He did, however, have an idea for a local show called The Minnesota Traveler. He had worked with a variety of visitors bureaus and cities in the past, and had an interest in the world of travel and the outdoors. Regional networks Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin picked up the show for an initial season and recently asked McCally and Lee to produce a second.
The show takes viewers to attractions and events around Minnesota, pursuing an answer to the question, “What is there to do in Minnesota?” The 13-episode first season aired last summer, and an encore showing of that season ended last month. The second season is set to premiere in June. And the success of The Minnesota Traveler was setting the stage for things to come.
During McCally’s time as general manager of the Janesville Jets, inspiration struck: He came up with the idea for a reality TV show about hockey moms—more specifically, about hockey host families. Junior league players, like those with the Jets, often play on teams that are headquartered far away from their hometowns. The players, some still in high school and others recent graduates, stay with host “billet” families in their adopted city during the hockey season. McCally wanted to capture that dynamic and the lifestyle of a junior hockey player in a documentary-style reality show.
He mulled over the idea for a while, and brought it back to the table a couple of years ago. McCally and Lee worked on the concept of the show and molded it into its current form: Instead of focusing on junior league players and host families, the stars of the show are the parents of hockey kids of all ages, specifically in Minnesota.
McCally and Lee began pitching the show in the spring of 2014, hoping to find a national audience. They held an open casting call before the show had a home, and found a family to showcase from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.
But nationally, nobody bit. McCally and Lee were told that hockey doesn’t appeal to a wide enough audience. As a pair of Minnesotan hockey devotees, McCally and Lee didn’t agree—and they began pitching the show locally, where they knew viewers would have hockey hearts as big as their own.
Sure enough, the concept of showcasing real hockey families during the ups and downs of the season had more appeal in the local market. With so many hockey families in the state of Minnesota, there is a built-in audience that can relate to the lives they see onscreen, both on and off the ice. “We think people are tired of the stereotypical reality show,” McCally says. “They have become so phony. There is so much of it that is yelling and screaming and fighting. We can still make an entertaining television show and do it in what we consider a docu-series type of show.”
With the success of The Minnesota Traveler, McCally says the pair has developed more credibility locally, which helped them find a home for Hockey Moms on 45TV. (The station also airs the state high school hockey tournament.) Their team held an open casting call during the summer of 2015 to find starring families that would be a perfect fit.
The criteria for the casting call was varied: How many kids are in the family? How many play hockey, and at what level? McCally and Lee wanted to find just the right mix of personalities for the show. And, of course, there’s a focus on positivity. “There’s just a great experience that people go through in this sport that we are trying to capture,” Lee says. “It’s not going to be all this negativity. There’s enough good, entertaining material where we don’t need 20 minutes of every episode with someone yelling.” The producers believe that there’s plenty to engage audiences already built into the lives of youth hockey players, without a souped-up reality show mentality.
Hockey Moms premiered in December and currently airs on 45TV on Sundays at 6:30 p.m.
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