Puck the Media Interview: ESPN’s John Buccigross Talks Jack Falla, Hockey on TV, and Protruding Hairlines
January 9, 2009 1 Comment
John Buccigross has company for his hockey watching at the ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut. Where once it was just he and analyst Barry Melrose, now there is a third man in: ESPN’s Matthew Barnaby. In what we hope won’t be our last chat with Bucci this season, we talked about the influx of new blood at ESPN, hair gel, and why folks have such an affection for NHL2Night, after the jump.
PTM: Your entire season of columns have been in tribute to the great hockey writer Jack Falla. I’ve just begun reading some of his work, and I can certainly see why. How did you discover Falla and why do you feel so connected to him?
JB: I’ve written my column since 2001 and annually write about my backyard rink construction. Jack must have come across one of those columns and reached out to me, including mailing his book “Home Ice” to me here in Connecticut. The book confirmed a lot of my own views about life and how to live it and helped me discover some more. It helped peel off some layers of me and help me discover things about myself I didn’t know were there. I like independent-thinking New Englanders. They are my favorite kinds of people.
PTM: Now, we seem to say once every year since the lockout “Boy, it seems like ESPN is beefing up it’s hockey coverage”, but this year, it really seems like ESPN is beefing up it’s hockey coverage! Can you attest to this?
JB: I think it’s just extenuating circumstances. We needed arreplacement for Barry Melrose and so Matthew Barnaby was hired. After Barry became available after his firing ESPN quickly rehired him. They love Barry because he is very good on television. Between ESPN.com, ESPNews, First Take and SportsCenter there is plenty to do. ESPN could hire 14 more NHL analysts and I don’t think it would effect it’s bottom line.
PTM: I’m sure you have a few friends around the NHL, but was it rough to read and hear Barry Melrose get criticized and eventually fired after being such close friends and colleagues for so long?
JB: Yes. I felt very badly for him and wish they would have given him the year. The Lightning is not a good team and they weren’t a good team when they began the season. They needed half a season just to evaluate all of the personnel and how it would all fit. But, I am really glad he is back at ESPN. He is fun to hang around with and fun to do TV with and he will bring out the best in Matthew because Barry brings out the best in everyone on TV.
PTM: How’s it been working with Matthew Barnaby so far this season?
JB: I love Matt. He has great energy and a great desire to do well. He prepares, maybe overprepared at times, and really loves the game. Hanging around and watching NHL hockey here at ESPN will go down as my favorite exercise when I’m 94 and pooping my pants on the front porch thinking about my days as a young man.
PTM: NHL TV ratings are up across the board, the Olympics are 13 months away, so what do you think the league needs to do to keep the momentum trending up from now until then?
JB: To continually make adjustments to the game that favors the offense and while not sacrificing the sandpaper aspects of the game. Hockey is a game of vinyl not digital. Toughness must be one of the core values. But, so much speed, quickness, and time and space. That keeps the league young and vibrant. Hockey is a young man’s game. Maurice Richard was 23 when he scored 59 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 season. Bobby Orr was 22 when he scored 120 points and flew through the air to win his firstStanley Cup in 1970. Wayne Gretzky was 21 when he went 92-120-212 in the 1981-82 campaign. Other than that the NHL has little control on what players enter it’s league. That is the job of Hockey Canada and USA Hockey and those two organizations are obviously doing a great job. The level of hokcey player that is entering the NHL in terms of physical skill set blows away what was in the NHL even 10 years ago. Ratings are up because of the young star power and High Definition. Also, big market teams are doing well.
PTM: The lack of an NHL2Night-style program has been one of the biggest knocks on VERSUS. You hosted NHL2Night for many years, why do you think fans see it as such a big deal?
JB: I’ve not stopped getting emails from people who say they miss NHL2night. It remains the only nightly NHL highlight show produced in the United States in the history of Western Civilization. The show gave the fan highlights and news, yes, but it was also produced and delivered by people completely in love with the game. I think that came through the TV set. We celebrated hockey on a nightly basis. The show had personality and flair as well. It will always be the favorite part of my television career. I interviewed with VERSUS the last time my deal was up here at ESPN hoping to get back into hockey and it sounded like they were close to starting such a show but I guess it just hasn’t made enough fiscal sense yet.
PTM: Name one thing the NHL currently does wrong with regard to television at the moment.
JB: Letting sideline reporters interview people during play. This infuriates me. Also, analysts who talk too much, especially about off-ice issues. The game is more exciting when you let the play-by-play man build the action, identify players and pay it off with a goal call. Hockey on television is fantastic. It’s an unfair knock. Everything is better in person.
PTM: Name one thing the NHL gets oh, so right with regard to TV at the moment.
JB: The audio is great, high definition games look great especially in certain arenas. There are lots of really good play-by-play announcers who are great to listen to when analysts don’t talk too much. The on ice audio is gold as are the iso cameras.
PTM: ESPN currently owns everything but a senate seat from Illinois. Is there room for NHL games?
JB: There is definitely room for NHL games, especially playoff hockey. ESPN and ESPN 2 are in HD, in homes, bars and hotels and come spring it is the best tournament there is and it lasts two months. ESPN would love to balance the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA playoffs on a nightly basis on ESPN and ESPN2. I hope it is soon, but I watch every game anyway.
PTM: Finally, who spends more on hair gel in a calendar year? Yourself or Melrose? I know Barry’s got that mullet, but I’ve seen you in HD lately, you’re no slouch on the product yourself.
JB: I don’t use gel anymore. I wake up in the morning, throw some water on it, stick my fingers in it and move it around until I am presentalbe. That’s way too much self-hair analysis. Barry’s hair is a freak of nature. He’s the only man with a protruding hairline.