Mike Babcock’s Hat Just One of Many Great Things About the Winter Classic in Chicago


Courtesy Abel to Yzerman

Courtesy Abel to Yzerman

Let it be known throughout the land that 2009 was the year we all discovered that, while it couldn’t match the unique spectacle of the inaugural event, the Winter Classic can be a different, equally indelible and, ultimately, supremely entertaining showcase for the National Hockey League every year.  This was the year where the Classic proved it had staying power.

First of all, the presentation the NHL put on was terrific.  I felt the decision to stick with Chicago sports celebrities – Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins – over mainstream Second City/Hollywood talent was a good one.  Everyone among the 40,818 at Wrigley enjoyed it, and most importantly, got into it.  The “Detroit Sucks” chants brought the game a unique look from what seemed to be a divided crowd in Buffalo last time around.

The NBC broadcast was first rate.  You almost wish they would bring it inside for their nine “games of whatever week NBC has open broadcast space”.  The pre-game show, which lasted a surprising half-hour, set the scene perfectly.  Bob Costas truly has a Mike Emrick-ian (as Doc would no doubt say) knowledge for baseball history’s many anecdotes.  He was able to use baseball’s great heritage and a “good enough” grasp of what was going on hockey-wise to give viewers a healthy prep-course for the game.  Remember, a good chunk of today’s viewers have not watched an NHL game on TV yet this year, so giving them something to pay attention to was important. 

As far as the game telecast, the visuals were incredible for hockey.  Without the snow’s interruption, the plane-cam proved an exciting, invigorating new look at the sport.  Eddie Olczyk’s 3rd period jesting “Can we get a plane in [the arena]” was hilarious, but must have given the lower-IQ hockey fans something to ponder, well, “What if?”.

The camera angles were good a little closer to the ice as well.  The numerous looks NBC had at Brett Lebda’s 3rd period goal gave conclusive evidence to overturn it from a play that was initially wiped out.  Though there was a camera view from on top of the glass above the boards, NBC seemed unable to use it.  No matter, however, since they managed to get some views for the ice to prove Lebda had scored.

Dave Strader, subbing in for laryngitis-ridden Mike Emrick, was the consummate pro he always is.  After so many years of playing second and third banana to Emrick and Gary Thorne and, somehow, Steve Levy at ESPN, VERSUS and NBC, it was nice to see Strader get a big game onto his resume on American TV, after calling the Finals for every country but the US and Canada for so many years.  Like I said when the news broke, if you’re not going to be able to have Mike Emrick call a game, and you need another American announcer to do it, you’d better get Dave Strader.  While his vocal inflictions don’t bring the spine-tingling excitement that Doc does, Strader more than holds his own at bringing a top-level event to the viewers.

The rest of the NBC crew was a mixed bag.  Eddie Olczyk talked a bit too much, but was mostly harmless and added a level of Chicago knowledge the rest of the booth (save Darren Pang) didn’t really have.  Pierre McGuire is Pierre McGuire, you know what you’re getting when he’s between the glass.  He can be a tad annoying at times, but 100% of the information (not analysis, information) he gives from between the benches is useful and usually is something that can not be given to you from a play-by-play man, color analyst or regular ice-level reporter.  Darren Pang was used sparingly, and that’s really the way it should be.  Panger is fine in small doses, and added what he could to the broadcast.

The features NBC presented were good as well.  This was the non-blog reading percentage of America’s introduction to the Blackhawks go to Dale Tallon’s funeral story.  It was something that couldn’t be ignored after all the attention it’s gotten the past few weeks.  The story on Jonathan Toews’ time in his backyard rink, complete with home videos, was charming.  They could’ve used a little more background on some of the Wings players but, hey, the event was for Chicago, they’re going to talk about the city and it’s team.  Plus, the national viewer knows the Wings at this point after so many years of them dominating the network TV schedule.  Let’s introduce the country to the Hawks.

Overall, I feel the same way today that I did on January 1, 2008: proud to be a fan of this wonderful sport and it’s amazing athletes.  NBC and the NHL did a great job bringing the Winter Classic to the world stage.  Maybe the league can bring it closer to my neck of the woods next year?  ‘Cause as I said, the 2009 Winter Classic proved that this isn’t going anywhere, and there’s no reason for it do so.  Regardless of the score, it was truly a classic.


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