Four Things I Liked (and Four More I Didn’t) From NBC and VERSUS’ Coverage of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final

Twitter has allowed us the chance to see the unfiltered opinions of everyone on the planet, and it is probably going to be what ends up destroying society. You knew that already, but here’s the thing: it makes it even more difficult to do a website that relies on some opinion once and a while when everything you see is opinion due to the very necessary evil of having Twitter as both a device for promotion or interaction.

So, chances are, if I know you on Twitter, I already know what you think of the production NBC and VERSUS did on the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the first as a pair of networks working under the same umbrella. Meaning that the same three people worked a hockey telecast for the entire seven-game series for the first time since 2004 and only the second time since 1994. Meaning that VERSUS was used even more as a support mechanism for what NBC was doing. Meaning that Darren Pang and Mike Milbury and Keith Jones could show up on both networks throughout the night.

Is it good that I get to hear all this opinion on what is ultimately something that should be secondary to the game? Not at all. That said, here are my thoughts on what the NBC Sports Group did both right and wrong with the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

Right

1. Mike Emrick

I say it often, but Emrick has become the dean of hockey announcers now that Bob Cole has faded into old age stereotypes. Despite losing a tad of his own fastball (I’m fairly certain Brad and Andrew Ference are not related), Doc remains hockey’s best off-ice ambassador. He’s the only announcer who can completely lose it at any moment, and still retain dignity and class and gravitas while doing it (I’m looking at you, Gus Johnson). The final half-minute or so was terrific and stirring as usual, after a year in 2010 where none of the championship calls ended up looking good in retrospect. Emrick is probably the most-liked major network announcer (can you imagine fans pouring out the love for Buck or Costas or Nantz?) and for good reason: it’s because he’s better than everyone else, but still maintains the immense likability, personality and charm that makes this sport so terrific.

Also, in a hilarious turn of events, Doc was featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live’s weekly recurring segment, “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship.”

2. Liam McHugh 

Of NBC’s three hosts over seven games (McHugh, Bill Patrick and Dan Patrick) McHugh was best at remaining on point, on key and supporting his analysts. Look, the fact is, when Dan Patrick is at a desk it’s most likely he’s the most recognizable figure to the casual sports fan, so he’ll tend to overplay things. McHugh manages to retain his lively personality from hosting the at times fun, but at times unwatchable The Daily Line, without making things about himself, as studio hosts are won to do. His rise at VERSUS has been the biggest surprise of the NHL TV season, and I hope he sticks around now that there’s a lot more hockey to be done at the network.

On another note: NBC needs to have a permanent hockey host, whether it is McHugh or somebody else. When he was with Milbury, or Milbury and McGuire, the discussion got quieter and 400,000% more intelligent. It was like going from Tucker Max to Malcolm Gladwell. He seemed to fit well with that team, so I hope they keep him around. Regardless, I certainly hope NBC doesn’t leave Milbury and McGuire to themselves again.

3. Let’s See That Pretty Face

During NBC’s broadcast of Game 2, they had the line of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows introduce themselves. I’m not sure if it was to get viewers better acquainted with the Vancouver Canucks, to make Burrows a little less of a villain (or perhaps more of one) after the Game 1 biting incident, or just to try something out, but I liked it. I think NBC should expand upon it: next season, do what the NFL does. Have each team playing’s top line, top defense pair, and starting goaltender introduce themselves on camera. We’re always complaining about how we don’t get the players out there and how they’re unrecognizable … well this is the perfect way to solve that problem. Let people connect with the players on a visual level.

4. The amount of coverage

Hockey coverage on television was not in a good place in 2006, and that was especially true during the Stanley Cup Final. OLN did okay with Games 1 & 2, airing pre-game and post-game, but then disappeared for the series. There was no NHL Network, so when NBC went on and off the air, it was surrounded by nothing. It was hard to get into it when it was just a game telecast.

Flash forward to 2011, Games 3-7: I can tune into NHL Live at 4:00 p.m. ET and go straight through on NHL Network’s On the Fly (which was awesome during the Final) until 7:30 p.m. ET, and then follow either On the Fly or VERSUS’ Hockey Central up until game time. Following the final whistle, I can go over to VERSUS for Hockey Central until at least 11:30 p.m. ET, and On the Fly until about Midnight, and after Game 7, I could’ve sworn I was seeing new material until at least 2:00 a.m. ET. That’s 8-10 hours of hockey.

Television is all about building block programming, and getting a chunk of viewers to stay with something for hours and hours. It’s why college football and basketball rule Saturdays and the NFL rules Sundays during the fall and winter: you tune in at Noon, and you can watch live programming until around midnight that day. It encourages and rewards you for staying tuned 12 hours straight. The NHL and their TV partners have finally made it so that hockey fans can put the same experience around their league’s biggest event, and it’s a very good thing.

Wrong

1. Lack of Interviews 

I could be wrong on this account, but on NBC’s coverage of Game 7, after the Bruins had won I don’t think I saw more than four interviews with people from around that franchise. There should be a lot more. Every key player on the team should have a microphone in their face. Send Dan Patrick or Darren Pang down to ice level to get everyone. I wanted to see (and this includes some I did) Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Claude Julien, Brad Marchand, Mark Recchi, Peter Chiarelli, Cam Neely, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and perhaps even Jeremy Jacobs, and I don’t think lone man on the ice Pierre McGuire got half.

The Stanley Cup is the coolest, most iconic image associated with hockey, and especially associated with the NHL. There is no player that draws fans to this game more than the promise of the Stanley Cup being presented does. Connect more of the athletes with that moment, so that everybody around this country knows who the key players in winning sports’ most difficult professional tournament were.

2. Reporters

I think inside the glass is the greatest innovation in televising hockey since I was born, but it does not provide you with the amount of interviews you want. Have one or two reporters on site to check out the atmosphere around the game. It was really cool when we got to see Darren Pang interview Wayne Gretzky during Game 6. Sure, it can be annoying, but heck, let’s show people how much of a draw the Stanley Cup Final is. Get someone to put mics in the faces of Denis Leary and Michael J. Fox (who attended at least one game together) and let them trash talk. Talk to Michael Buble, the multi-platinum crooner who cancelled a concert in Connecticut so he could fly cross-continent to watch Game 7, and again, have more access to players. I was not thrilled that people like Bob Harwood (who finished up the year on NHL Network) were let go when NBC’s folks took over VERSUS. I think the networks should find a way to let ice-level reporters and inside the glass co-exist.

3. The “analysts as coaches” thing. 

Are we really back to this, guys? This sounds a lot like the notes networks give, but I find it just plain weird and off-putting when NBC has the studio analysts (in this case, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones) “play pretend” as the coaches of both teams. The two analysts seemed confused by the gimmick and how far they should take it, and I’m sure everyone in the audience couldn’t say anything but “… what on earth is this?” I don’t think it adds anything that you couldn’t get from just straight analysis (does anyone buy that either of these guys know what the coach would or should say to his players?) and it just plain comes off as odd.

4. The Green Men

Now, I like The Green Men. They completely cop to the fact that they are unoriginal (the whole gag of spandex, uni-colored suits is stolen from FX sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and just doing it for the love of the team and a bit of attention. How is it that NBC managed to ignore them during the entire seven-game series? The Green Men were flown out to Boston for Games 2, 3 and 6, so they were at all of them. Yet, NBC found a way to almost entirely block them out.

Love them or hate them, isn’t there a story to be made there? For a network that’s biggest angle on the Canucks seemed to be “Hey, guys! Remember Ryan Kesler from the Olympics? America, booyah!” wouldn’t focusing on just what sort of wacky person follows the Canucks do wonders to make the team more recognizable? I can picture my barber going “oh yeah, well Vancouver has those guys in the green suits? ain’t that somethin’ else?” I think we could’ve used a little more of a display of just how crazy hockey fans in Canada were than just the simple, incorrect platitude that all of Canada was rooting for a Cup.

Conclusion 

So it would seem that this stuff evens out. I’d still give NBC and VERSUS a beyond-passing grade for their coverage of the Stanley Cup Final. None of the things that annoyed me had anything to do with their ability to cover the actual game on the ice from all the angles. It was all superfluous. On the other hand, the things I did like were things that I had to see during game action, for the most part.

The added coverage and sheer number of people working the event helped too. Though I’d love to see VERSUS do a half-hour NHL Overtime show every night during the Final, off days included, I thought on game days NBC, VERSUS and NHL Network shone like gold to bring hockey fans a cornucopia of pleasure for the eyes. They can tap into it even more, but with 10 years up ahead on these networks, it is hard not to feel like they are well on their way in the right direction. Whenever you see that NBC commercial about them televising hockey’s biggest moments for the next 10 years – another awesome bit of business during the Final – you totally believe them.

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

3 Responses to Four Things I Liked (and Four More I Didn’t) From NBC and VERSUS’ Coverage of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final

  1. Stephen says:

    I really like the article you wrote. The second with the introduction of the Sedins and Burrows was great. I thought about that as well like during NBC Sunday Night Football where they introduce the Offense or Defense of the team.

    Also, the amount of coverage during the Stanley Cup FInals like the pregame on Versus then switches over to NBC for the game then return back on Versus for the postgame show. They should’ve done it for games one or two. But they did a great job doing that as well.

    The third where neither both the Inside the Glass anaylist and Ice Level Reporter was okay. But, neither of them will co-exist on that. Besides, I like the Inside the Glass stuff and their doing a heck of a job. Not like the ice-level reporters of Bob Harwood, Charissa Thompson, Lindsey Soto, and before then Christine Simpson as they were boring to watch. I’m glad Pierre McGuire call the entire seven games of the Stanley Cup Finals on NBC and VERSUS.

    By the way, on the last article you wrote before game seven, not on Wednesday but Tuesday, you said that Pierre McGuire might be leaving TSN for NBC/VERSUS, well there the website call Toronto Sports Media.com and on that Saturday, it was said that multiple sources that Pierre is leaving TSN to sign with NBC/VERSUS not only its permanent Inside the Glass, but also an studio anaylist as well when he’s not calling a game. That’s great because he can call on the games during the Winter Olympics in 2014 and 2018 with NBC.

    Well, all can say is that the ten year deal with NBC/VERSUS is great. I can’t wait for the season to start again and don’t forget, July 18th, VERSUS will be renamed to I think the NBC Sports Network. That’ll be my new home of sports to watch. I’m done with ESPN when they don’t show highlights of hockey when they almost go off the air.

    Great article and can’t wait for the debut of the NBC Sports Network on July 18th.

  2. Arthur says:

    Not a bad summation LePore. But I beg to differ on a couple points.
    Yes the Sedins-Burrows soundbyte was great but the Bruins PR staff nixed the same request (like they always do). They suck in dealing with national tv. Chara won’t do a damn thing for the national broadcasters and he is the captain of the team. Very weak Boston PR staff, very weak.
    You contradict yourself with your assessment of the Inside the Glass thought. Former players were brought down Inside The Glass to provide perspective from that angle and capture the moods and intensity of the action at ice level. In NBC’s way of doing things it is all about what is happening on the ice. You can’t have them doing interviews with people not in the game and away from the action, unless it is at intermission.
    And as for the analyst playing coaches, what is wrong with that? The only time you get to go inside the locker room is on HBO during their Winter Classic shows. I thought it was great for the former players to give their insights as to what would be said. Milbury’s “Thelma & Louise” remark was made in the context of him being the coach talking to his Bruins. So he said what everyone on press row was thinking but he gets barbecued because it gets repeated out of context?
    The hockey fan has been and will be very well served by the Versus/NBC group for many years to come.
    The coverage was excellent. If you want Green Men and fluff interviews with celebrities who provide nothing, you are in the wrong place.

    • stevelepore says:

      It just seems a bit silly too me. It’s just hard to take seriously sometimes.

      I’m not saying make it all about that, I’m just saying, a little fluff is okay once in a while. Hockey prides itself on being less of a circus than other sports, and I’m fine with that, but I”m saying a little bit couldn’t hurt. Besides, guys like Leary and Fox have always been big hockey fans (Phil Esposito appeared on his show) so it wouldn’t have been like seeing the latest Disney pop sensation on ABC’s Final coverage.

      You’re right, NBC/Versus did a great job, and I have no worries about the next decade.

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