The 2011 People of the Year in Hockey Broadcasting
December 28, 2011 5 Comments
One of the reasons Puck the Media was created was so there’d be at least one sports media blog that isn’t ESPN-centric. That’s what all the newspaper media writers tend to be: non-stop coverage of the Worldwide Leader. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s wildly entertaining, in fact. But hockey isn’t on ESPN, so there’s no real reason for diehard hockey fans to discuss it, unless they’re pissing them off via omission. So you won’t likely see many hockey people on the round-ups for biggest sports media stories of 2011. Here’s where I come in. This is a list of people whom, in my humble opinion at least, made waves in the hockey broadcasting world this year. Hope you enjoy it.
John Collins, NHL Chief Operating Officer
After having seen John Collins speak twice and met him once, it is hard not to come away impressed. The man gives off a vibe that is part-Don Draper, part-Mike Babcock. You can easily see why his work with the NFL and now the NHL have won him the favor of many across his industry. This year, he’s continuing the task of – as he puts it – “turning the NHL from a licensing company to a media company”. Instead of allowing other companies to produce content with their blessing, making the content themselves. Things like increased news coverage on NHL.com (one of the truly under-appreciated things is how that site has grown), the continued expansion of the Winter Classic and other advancements in the NHL’s multimedia presence have his fingerprints all over it. The league was always a little bit ahead of the others in terms of an online footprint, but Collins has brought the league into the future.
One example of the NHL turning into a media company is the creation of Ross Greenburg’s new NHL Original Productions, which sounds like a hockey fans wet dream if there ever was such a thing. The goal of the project is to develop documentaries – long-form and short-form – about the grand history of the sport and connecting it to players today. Two examples are the programs Greenburg is launching with the new NHL 36 series, which focuses on a day-in-a-half in the life of a current player, and Summit Series ’72: Cold War on Ice, the first ever American production to take us inside the 1972 battle between the Soviets and Team Canada. Combine that with late last year’s premiere of 24/7, which he spearheaded, and his work has really redefined what hockey can look like – away from live game coverage – on television.
Mike Emrick, lead play-by-play, NBC
It might seem odd to single out Doc in any year, because his work has been consistently great since long before I was born. 2011, however, has been a banner year for him in terms of awards, though if you ask him he’d never say it matters. He was, however, honored with his first-ever national Sports Emmy, defeating some of the biggest names in broadcasting, all of whom (Joe Buck, Jim Nantz, Al Michaels) call sports with much higher market shares than the one Emrick calls. The accolades continued with induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame recently, and he signed a new deal as the lead play-by-play man for NBC and it’s cable sibling that broke the hearts of Devil fans everywhere. I’d bet that on nights the Devils aren’t playing, though, they’ll still tune in to hear that familiar voice and all the familiar catchphrases, just like the rest of us.
Sam Flood, Executive Producer, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network
Kind of odd to think that the NHL has now been with it’s current broadcast television partner in NBC longer than they have been with any before. One of the reasons why is Flood’s broadcasts on NBC, and now VERSUS, which will become NBC Sports Network on Monday. They’re often divisive to some diehard hockey fans, but they’re clearly effective. VERSUS has drawn higher ratings for games in November and December than they ever have before. Inside the Glass remains one of the best inventions ever for hockey on television, and the Winter Classic always looks great. However, the one thing Flood deserves real credit for in 2011 is Hockey Day in America, a nine-hour marathon day of hockey that will be repeated in 2012, which – with coverage of youth hockey, pond hockey, inner-city hockey – felt like something that regular season hockey often isn’t, a real spectacle.
Kevin Weekes, analyst, NHL Network/CBC
Kevin Weekes has an important role in the televised hockey world, but you’d never notice it from the analysis he delivers. Weekes has slowly become more and more prominent as an analyst since he retired, making him the first person of color to do so in the sport to my knowledge. There’s a certain amount of pressure, one would argue, in doing that. Weekes, however, is so cool and calm and fun on-air, that it doesn’t matter (and never should), he’s just that guy with the big smile, having fun talking about the sport he devoted his life to on television, just like everyone else. That’s something even more important. You’d never know he was breaking barriers and showing millions of viewers on Hockey Night in Canada and On the Fly (and occasionally Overtime) every week that truly, hockey is for everyone, as long as you’re enjoying yourself.
Jack Edwards, play-by-play, NESN
With Emrick and Dave Strader gone to the land of the exclusively national, is Jack Edwards hockey’s most talked about voice to be constricted to local television? Here’s the dirty little secret about Edwards, who’s been calling Bruins games at least part-time since 2005: he’s not really a homer. Oh sure, you’ll get his occasionally silly soliloquies about why Montreal deserves to lose or laughing about the crowds in Philly, but he’s not what you traditionally define as a homer. His goal call for the opposing team is always equal to those for the Bruins. From my perspective, I’d rather have the clearly, insanely passionate Edwards over the announcers who sound like someone killed a brood of puppies when the opposing team scores. Edwards not only makes headlines for his passion, but keeps Bruins fans entertained year-round. After all, it’s supposed to be fun, and what’s more fun than telling a guy you think is dogging it to “GET UP!”?
Bob McKenzie, insider, TSN
Recently, TSN sent out a press release proclaiming Bob McKenzie as the most-followed media personality in Canada on Twitter, with over a quarter of a million followers. That may be true, but it struck me as odd that they did, because it seemed so un-like the man’s persona on television. He comes off as every bit the consummate Canadian on TSN’s panel (and in his occasional appearances on VERSUS). He’s very polite, funny, never condescending and gets the job done. He continued to “out-scoop” the competition in the past 12 months, and remains the reason why TSN is North America’s pre-eminent hockey network of record. Whether it’s coaching changes, trades, suspensions or merely the waiver wire, no one is more plugged in.