Your Open Thread For The Return of the Puck, Wings-Avs on VERSUS

By the way, folks, as you watch tonight’s game, please check out my pal Brandon Worley’s new digs over at NBC Sports, prohockeytalk.com

Hockey Central, 8:30 PM
Host:
Bill Patrick
Analysts: Keith Jones, Brian Engblom and Darren McCarty

Detroit vs. Colorado, 9:00 PM
Play by Play:
Joe Beninati
Color: Darren Eliot
Reporter: Bob Harwood

16.6 Million Canadians Watched Gold Medal Triumph on CTV, Most-Watched Program in Nation’s History

From William Houston:

The Olympic hockey gold medal thriller on Sunday pulled in a record television audience in Canada.

A total of 16.6 million viewers watched Canada’s 3-2 overtime win against the United States, the largest viewership ever for a telecast on Canadian television.

That audience figure represents the combined total of viewers on nine channels, including the main CTV network, where the majority watched the game. Included among the nine channels were the affiliated French Olympic outlets as well as the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and the Rogers Omni ethnic channels.

It’s an impressive audience, but not a surprise given the hockey rivalry between Canada and the United States, and the quality of the game. Canada took a 2-0 lead, but the Americans narrowed it to 2-1 and then scored in the final seconds of regulation time to sent it into overtime where Sidney Crosby got the winner .

CTV reports that 80 per cent of Canadians (26.5 million) watched some part of the game.

44.2 million people in North America watched the game, on average.

BREAKING: 27.6 Million Watch the Gold Medal Game

Vancouver – March 1, 2010 – Sunday afternoon’s USA vs. Canada gold medal hockey game, that NBC’s Bob Costas called, “One of the greatest sports events I have ever seen,” was the most-watched hockey game in 30 years.  Canada’s epic 3-2 overtime victory (3:20-6:13 p.m. ET) drew an average viewership of 27.6 million, the most watched hockey broadcast of any kind since the USA vs. Finland 1980 gold medal game in Lake Placid on Feb. 24, 1980 (32.8 million).  For historical comparison, the “Miracle on Ice” USA-Russia semifinal game that aired on tape delay on Feb 22, 1980 from the Lake Placid Games drew 34.2 million average viewers.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat to observe a nation of fans that appreciates winter sports, is proud of their winter sport heritage and celebrates success – no matter which country wins – so it was only fitting yesterday when Sidney Crosby scored the goal to give Canadians the gold that meant so much to this country,” said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “‘O Canada’ will never be the same.”

TOPS 2002 SALT LAKE GOLD MEDAL GAME BY 10.5 MILLION VIEWERS: The 27.6 million viewers for Sunday’s gold medal game was 10.5 million more (up 61 percent) from the Canada-USA gold medal game from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics (17.1 million viewers).

The 15.2/30 rating for yesterday’s game was four-and-a-half rating points higher than the 10.7/24 for the 2002 gold medal game and was the highest-rated hockey game of any kind since the USA vs. Finland 1980 gold medal game (23.2/61).  The “Miracle on Ice” semifinal game between the USA and Russia had a household rating of a 23.9/37.

The audience peaked at 34.8 million viewers (18.6/34 hh rating) from 5:30-6 p.m. ET, when the USA’s Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils) sent the game to overtime with the tying goal with just 24.4 seconds left in regulation.  Canada’s Sydney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) gave Canada the gold medal, their 14th of the Winter Games (most of any country) when he got the puck past the USA’s Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) just over seven minutes into overtime.

Below is a list of the highest-rated and most watched hockey broadcasts of all time broken down by: Household Rating/Share, Average audience (people 2+) and Total Audience:

GAME                                                Avg. Viewers            Total Viewers                       RTG/SH

USA/Russia, 1980 (Miracle on Ice) 34.2 million   51.9 million               23.9/37

USA/Finland, 1980 (gold medal)  32.8 million   55.6 million               23.2/61

USA/Canada, 2010 (gold medal)  27.6 million   n/a                                15.2/30

USA/Canada, 2002 (gold medal)  17.1 million   38 million               10.7/24

Unified/USA, 1992 (semifinal)            11.7 million   25 million               9.3/32

AUDIENCE FOR GOLD MEDAL GAME SURPASSES TOP EVENTS:

The 27.6 million average viewers for the USA-Canada Gold Medal hockey game surpassed the following during the 2009-2010 seasons:

2010 Grammy Awards                                    25.9 million

2010 Rose Bowl                                        24.0 million

2009 World Series 4                                                22.8 million (Gm. 4 was most watched)

2009 NCAA Basketball Championship            17.6 million

2009 NBA Finals – Game 4                                  16.0 million (Gm. 4 was most watched)

2010 Daytona 500                                          16.0 million

2009 Masters Golf – Sunday                          14.3 million

NBC’s BOB COSTAS ON GOLD MEDAL GAME: “That’s one of the greatest sports events I have ever seen.”

“A script so classic that if it were a movie, they would send it back because it was unrealistic.”

“With all due respect, this can never be repeated. On home soil, for Canada, in the sport that matters most, against the Americans – this can never be repeated. This can never be approached, let alone equaled.”

NBC’s AL MICHAELS THOUGHTS ON THE GAME: “You could not have written a better script for this country. The goal that will resonate throughout history in Canada.”

FROM THE OPENING TEASE OF NBC’S COVERAGE, 17 DAYS AGO: “The host nation is on a mission.  No one bears the weight of expectations like the 22-year-old captain of the Stanley Cup champions. O Canada’s face of the Games, charged with leading his nation’s pursuit of their Holy Grail – the Olympic hockey title.”

UNIVERSAL SPORTS TO REPLAY GOLD MEDAL MATCH: For anybody who missed this game or want to watch it again, Universal Sports, the preeminent multiplatform destination for Olympic-related sports programming which is available in 57 million homes, will replay the USA-Canada Olympic gold medal hockey game this Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET with repeats each night at 11 p.m. ET.

OLYMPIC STARS RETURN IN NHL “GAME OF THE WEEK” THIS SUNDAY: This Sunday, March 7, the NHL returns to NBC as the Detroit Red Wings led by silver medalist Brian Rafalski of Team USA travels to Chicago to take on a Chicago Blackhawks team filled with members of both Team USA and the gold medal-winning Team Canada.  Among those suiting up for the Blackhawks are Team USA’s Patrick Kane and Team Canada’s Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Bren Seabrook. The NHL “Game of the Week” from the United Center will air this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Top 25 Metered Markets for USA-Canada Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game:

1. Buffalo, 32.6/51

2. Pittsburgh, 31.9/50

3. Detroit, 26.9/47

4. Minneapolis, 26.4/53

5. Milwaukee, 24.5/43

6. Boston, 24.1/46

7. Chicago, 23.5/41

8. Columbus, 22.3/37

9. Denver, 22.2/42

10. Philadelphia, 20.9/35

11. West Palm Beach, 20.3/33

12. Kansas City, 19.5/35

13. St. Louis, 19.4/39

14. Seattle, 19.3/45

15. Cincinnati, 19.2/31

16. New York, 19.0/36

17. Hartford, 18.5/30

18. Providence, 18.4/34

T19. Salt Lake City, 18.3/38

T19. Cleveland, 18.3/32

T21. Washington, D.C., 18.1/33

T21. Baltimore, 18.1/32

23. Ft. Myers, 18.0/34

T24. Austin, 17.1/34

T24. Indianapolis, 17.1/29

VERSUS Picked Some Bang-on Games This Week

NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 1, 2010)-VERSUS will drop the puck on its wall-to-wall post-Olympic hockey coverage tonight at 9 p.m. ET when the Colorado Avalanche host the Detroit Red Wings in the first game following the two-week Olympic break and the only NHL action on television tonight.  The action continues on Tuesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. ET when the Philadelphia Flyers visit the Tampa Bay Lightning.

To build on the excitement generated by the 2010 Winter Games, the network added five bonus games to the week’s schedule.  VERSUS’ first bonus game of the week, on March 2, will feature the San Jose Sharks hosting the New Jersey Devils at 10:30 p.m. ET.  The match-up will showcase many U.S. and Canadian Olympic hockey team members, such as Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner of the Devils and Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski of the Sharks.  The game will not air on VERSUS in the team markets due to local blackout restrictions.

On Wednesday, March 3, at 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS will televise the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres game, in which goaltender Ryan Miller, MVP of the Olympic hockey tournament, will resume his post in the Sabres net and Alex Ovechkin makes his return to the NHL-leading Capitals.  Local blackouts apply so home team markets will see the Philadelphia Flyers/Florida Panthers game at 7:30 p.m. ET.

VERSUS’ week of bonus game coverage concludes on Thursday, March 4, when Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and the hero for Team Canada with the Gold Medal game-winning goal, will visit the New York Rangers at 7 p.m. ET.  The game will be blacked out in team markets and viewers in Pittsburgh and New York will have access to the Toronto Maple Leafs/Boston Bruins game.

Beginning on Tuesday, March 2, and continuing through the end of the regular season, VERSUS will also air HONDA Drive to the Playoffs; a 30-minute pre-game Hockey Central prior to each Tuesday night NHL telecast.  The network will also air full half-hour pre-game shows on March 1 and 3.  The network’s regular season coverage continues on Monday, March 8, at 7 p.m. ET when the Dallas Stars visit the Washington Capitals and on Tuesday, March 9, at 7:30 p.m. ET with the Philadelphia Flyers hosting the New York Islanders.

VERSUS’ WEEKLONG NHL SCHEDULE FOLLOWS:

Mar. 1: Detroit Red Wings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET

Mar. 2: Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET

Mar. 2: New Jersey Devils at San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET
Mar. 3: Washington Capitals at Buffalo Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Mar. 3: Philadelphia Flyers at Florida Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET (airs in Washington and Buffalo only)
Mar. 4: Pittsburgh Penguins at NY Rangers, 7 p.m. ET

Mar. 4: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (airs in Pittsburgh and New York only)

VERSUS, the fastest growing sports cable network in the country, prides itself on super-serving passionate sports fans across all platforms (VERSUS.com, VERSUS on Demand and VERSUS HD).  The network is the cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), IZOD IndyCar Series, Tour de France, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR).  VERSUS also has partnerships with top sports leagues such as NASCAR, NBA and UFC and airs collegiate sports featuring nationally-ranked teams from top conferences such as the Pac-10, Big 12 and Mountain West.  The network is also home to the best outdoor programming on television and airs original programs not available anywhere else, including Sports Soup and Sports Jobs with Junior Seau.  VERSUS, a wholly owned company of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA, CMCSK), is distributed via cable systems and satellite operators throughout the United States.

Quotes From a Solid Gold Day of Hockey

VANCOUVER – February 28, 2010 – NBC Olympics daytime coverage concluded with the much-anticipated men’s gold medal hockey game with Canada defeating USA 3-2 in overtime seen live across the country.

NBC’s Mary Carillo hosted the daytime show from the studio and Al Michaels hosted from the site of the gold medal hockey game at Canada Hockey Place.

Joining Michaels for analysis were Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick. Mike “Doc” Emrick provided play-by-play, Eddie Olczyk provided game analysis and Pierre McGuire reported from “Inside the Glass.”

MEN’S ICE HOCKEY GOLD MEDAL GAME: USA vs. CANADA
Al Michaels (Host), Bill Patrick (Host), Mike Milbury (Analyst), Jeremy Roenick (Analyst), Mike “Doc” Emrick (Play-By-Play), Eddie Olczyk (Game Analyst), Pierre McGuire (“Inside the Glass” Reporter)
Canada: 3 USA: 2

CARILLO ON CANADA IN THE GOLD MEDAL GAME: “Today is the day all of Canada has been anticipating. What may be a once in a lifetime event. The U.S. vs. Canada in the gold medal hockey game at an Olympics being held in hockey mad Canada.

“No sport brings Canadians together quite like hockey. Every graceful thrill of connecting stick to puck to the back of the net is cause for communal celebration.”

“Here this isn’t the Super Bowl, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl.”

MICHAELS ON THE GOLD MEDAL GAME: “Before this day is done the roof could come off at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver. This will be riveting.”

OLCZYK: “This is about motivation. This is about an opportunity at the highest level to win a gold medal and a little hockey respect.”

FIRST PERIOD

EMRICK: “The hockey culture, the language. The only difference is passports.”

MICHAELS: “If you’re in this building, it feels like the most important game in the history of hockey. Certainly, to this country.”

MILBURY: “Team Canada knows just how hard they have to work to out muscle Team USA.”

SECOND PERIOD

MICHAELS: “It’s hockey at its best.”

ROENICK: “Team USA got on the board late in that period and that’s giving them a lot of momentum going in. They’re starting to see chinks in the Canadians armor. They obviously see that Luongo’s a little bit shaky. They are feeling good. They’re saying, ‘Let’s keep the pressure on the golden boys and the Canadians are sitting in their room saying, ‘Guys we cannot sit back. We did it the other day against the Slovaks, they almost came back and beat us. We’ve got keep the hammer down, keep the pressure going on them.'”

THIRD PERIOD

EMRICK ON CANADA HITTING THE POST TWICE: “Do you believe in omens?”

EMRICK ON THIS OLYMPICS HOCKEY TOURNAMENT: “One year ago there were players from Finland and Russia and Sweden all talking about how they were going to be a part of, in their minds, the greatest hockey tournament in history. We have seen that.”

OLCZYK ON THE TOURNAMENT: “It’s been high quality. Entertaining. Just a privilege to be a very small part of it.”

EMRICK ON THE BROADCAST CREW: “I should make mention of this, it’s not about us. It is about our crew. They have been in Vancouver here for 13 days. They have done 42 games. We hope you’ve enjoyed them. Eddie and I have been involved in about half of them, but there are some who have done all 42 – the equivalent of half an NHL season in two weeks time. They will sleep well tonight.”

OLCZYK ON THE BROADCAST CREW: “I tip my hockey helmet to them. A gold medal winning performance by our great crew behind the scenes. It sure helps when you have unbelievable hockey.”

MCGUIRE ON USA’S ZACH PARISE’S GAME TYING GOAL: “Zach Parise almost jumps over the glass here at Canada Hockey Place.”

OVERTIME
PATRICK: “17,000 people in this building. Their hearts stopping and starting with every shot.”

“Sweaty palms filling this building. I can’t imagine what the players are feeling.”

MILBURY: “If you didn’t like that period, you don’t like hockey. It’s a turf war out there. They’re fighting for every inch they can get.”

ROENICK: “Do you understand what we’re going to get right now? We’re going to get the most exciting things in all of sports – sudden death overtime. Someone tonight is going to be a national hero. Tonight, someone is going to make dreams come true for lots and lots of kids in their country. I can’t believe it.”

MILBURY ON USA’S PARISE: “This guy has been the most persistent player on the ice for both squads today. He just won’t quit on it.”

EMRICK: “It is about the team, that’s for sure. Somebody has to get the winner. If it is a Canadian, they will be equivalent to Paul Henderson who scored in ’72 against the Soviets. If it is an American, Mike Eruzione will have company as a hero”

OLCZYK: “An unbelievable tournament. And why expect anything other than overtime in the gold medal game.”

EMRICK: “The hockey fans here in Vancouver saluting and respecting the unbelievable job of that man right there, Ryan Miller.”

EMRICK ON HOCKEY IN CANADA: “How big is this for Sidney Crosby and for the nation of Canada? When they announced the team, 4 million watched on television just to hear who was going to be on the team.”

EMRICK ON CANADA’S SIDNEY CROSBY: “He didn’t have any points for two complete games coming into this game. He didn’t have any for the sixty minutes. Got the winner.”

POSTGAME INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

CANADA’S SIDNEY CROSBY ON WINNING GOLD: “This is a dream come true. I’ve always dreamed of playing for Team Canada and obviously winning a gold medal. This was a lot closer than we would’ve expected. An unbelievable feeling.”

CROSBY ON STARTING OFF THE TOURNAMENT SLOWLY: “We dropped that game to the U.S. and had a close against the Swiss. Our goal was to continue to get better and I think we did that. That was our motivation to get better each and every game. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. There is a lot of great teams here. I though tonight it took a lot of work and extra to do it.”

CROSBY ON WHAT THIS GAME MEANS TO NORTH AMERICA: “It means a lot. Even outside of that. Hockey all over the world is incredible. Year after year, everybody’s getting better. The teams are so competitive. A perfect example is this tournament here. Hockey’s in really good shape. Whether we would have won today, or somebody else, I think everyone saw a pretty amazing display of skill and the way the game should be played here the last couple of weeks.”

USA’S GOALTENDER RYAN MILLER ON WINNING SILVER: “It’s not quite what we wanted, but I think we gained a lot of respect. Our guys came here as an after thought to a lot of people. I think we started a new trend with USA Hockey.”

Grading NBC’s Coverage of the 2010 Olympic Hockey Tournament

This is going to be straightforward.  Department, Grade, Explanation of Grade.  Enjoy Ken Fang’s thoughts as well.  Let’s do it.

Preparation – GRADE: D+
It became clear once the men and women started playing on concurrent days that NBC woefully unprepared itself talent-wise.  Mike Emrick, Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko and Eddie Olczyk were all made to do at least two games a day.  Joe Micheletti seemingly never slept, working as a reporter on some games and as an analyst on others.  While you credit them the yeoman’s work – and I will later – you have to ask yourself: Would it have been that much more to bring Dave Strader in?  Could Darren Pang not have been chased from the CTV/TSN studios to call the occasional game?  Hell, the fact that Jim Hughson was not working this tournament is a travesty to end all travesties.

That all gotten out, NBC did a pretty solid job with what they had, produced a killer feature on (yes, you know it) the Miracle on Ice, and getting Al Michaels to host some of the games added some extra gravitas.  Still, you couldn’t help but feel that this was being done on the cheap for most of the fortnight.

Play by Play, Mike Emrick and Kenny Albert, Grade: A
Look, you know that I love Emrick as a play-by-play man.  Probably has something to do with my Devils fandom, and probably takes away from my writing.  But he was bang on for most of this tournament.  The versatility he – and the entire NBC broadcast team – brought to this tournament was indisputable.  He was entertaining, excited and funny throughout the tourney.  A great line from the Gold Medal Game: after two posts for the Canadian team in the 3rd period, he asked “Do you believe in omens?”.  Great stuff once again from American hockey’s premier play-by-play man.

The ultimate team player during this tournament was Kenny Albert.  Giving the same workload as Emrick, but asked to call clearly lower-profile games, he brought the same level of enthusiasm, if not skill, as Doc did.  He got the best he could out of the usually annoying Joe Micheletti, and his ability to come up with interesting statistics – as well as explain the various seeding scenarios at the end of the round robin – were very informative.  It’s a shame Albert’s usually relegated to the radio as far as hockey goes.  If FOX ever got the sport back, they might bypass Emrick and make him the #1 guy for their coverage.  After the last two weeks, I can’t see that as being all that bad.

Color Commentators – Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire, Joe Micheletti, Grade: B-
People are often a little bit too hard on Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire during NBC’s coverage of the National Hockey League.  During this tournament, Olczyk proved most of the criticisms wrong, while unfortunately, McGuire did exactly the opposite.  Eddie O. had some of his finest work during this tournament and during the Gold Medal game.  Excited without being overstated, Edzo found a perfect balance without once getting on my nerves during these two weeks.  For any analyst in any sport, that’s good work in my book.

Pierre McGuire only showed up for a game each day, and he as usual cluttered up the NBC broadcast team.  Look, I’m thankful that McGuire created the Inside the Glass position, but frankly, the gimmick was not needed during the NBC telecasts.  He could’ve been utilized better giving Olczyk a rest and doing a two-man booth with Emrick during that game, or with Albert during the midnight broadcast.  There’s not too much time to fill up with the Olympics, and it filled to the point of bursting when NBC went to three announcers.

Joe Micheletti has never really been an announcer I enjoy.  He tends to overstate the obvious, apologize for the home team, in other words… be a typical NHL color commentator.  But I’ll go easy on Joe during this tournament, as he proved himself versatile and a solid analyst.  NBC really should go back to regional coverage and use Albert and Micheletti as a B-team.

Now, as for Mleczko, she is not in a position that I envy.  Having to call the entire women’s tournament, she is prone to seeing some really, really, really awful hockey, and during that bad hockey, there is usually lots of time to talk.  However, during the times where there was good action, she continued to err on the side of chatting a little bit too much.  That said, she’s clearly intelligent and well-spoken, and I hope women’s hockey makes a more frequent appearance on TV the next four years so that I can see her work again.

Studio Hosts – Bill Patrick and Al Michaels, Grade: B+
If Emrick, Olczyk, Micheletti and Mleczko had thankless gigs, imagine having to be Bill Patrick.  Work every single game of the men’s and women’s tournaments, have to have good knowledge of every single team in each, and have to deal with Milbury much of the time?  God bless you, sir.  I bet you never thought you’d miss the banal, boring quotings of Brian Engblom.  Patrick was well-prepared, and simply very good at what he did.  I hope he gets a more profile hosting gig during NBC’s Summer Games coverage in London 2012, because he certainly took one for the team this time around.

Now, the reason Patrick’s job got so thankless is because, during some of the biggest games of the tournament, Al Michaels was given hosting duties.  To be fair, Michaels is synonymous with USA Hockey for his work during the Miracle on Ice.  To be more than fair, Michaels was extremely good at transitioning the hockey neophyte as he was back then.  That said, they could’ve found at least a reporter’s role for Patrick to reward him during the Gold Medal Game.

Studio Analysts – Jeremy Roenick, Mike Milbury and Cammi Granato, Grade: B
Roenick was the breakout star, commentator-wise of the Olympics.  While Milbury managed to embarrass himself at times, Roenick maintained credibility even in hysterics during the OT intermission of the Gold Medal Game.  He was funny, confident, and exactly what this tournament needed: a personality.  Whether or not this will translate into the NHL TV ranks is yet to be seen, but after his work here, we all certainly deserve to find out.

A lot of what Milbury did was muddled by the fact that he used a sort-of slur for Europeans in describing a Russian game that was pretty terrible.  But the real point here is that Mad Mike got outshined by JR throughout the games, and his absence in the midnight game was rarely noticeable.  With JR in the house, Milbury might as well be Keith Jones.

Cammi Granato was her standard decent self as the studio analyst for the women’s tourney/de facto face of USA Hockey, women’s division.   She was extremely honest in what is an uncertain time for her sport, as it is being called out by every commentator/writer in the world to get more competitive immediately or get out of the Olympics, while people forget how bad basketball used to be when they introduced the pros.  She praised a lot of the work, but criticized when needed.  I hope she too gets another chance to do some analysis, maybe even another shot at working men’s games.

Overall, Grade: B
Look, fact is that NBC took the lazy way out for some of these games.  CTV simulcasts, using the same announcers to death, re-using Foo Fighters “My Hero” to the point where it almost loss it’s emotional potency.  But the tournament managed to overshadow NBC.  If that happens, then you’ve done yourself a good job at handling this tourney.  Cheers.

It’s The Best Game You Can Name: Olympic Gold Medal Game Draws 17.6 Overnight Rating

According to Sports Business Daily (reg. required), the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game drew an astronomical 17.6/33 overnight rating.  This is up 46% from the 2002 USA/Canada showdown, and will very likely be the highest-rated hockey game since 1980.  The share means that 1 in every 3 Americans with a TV were watching the game.  This is, to put it professionally, out of this world.

More info via Sports Media Watch:

The Canada/USA Olympic Men’s Hockey Gold Medal game drew a 17.6 overnight rating on NBC Sunday afternoon, up 46% from the ’02 Gold Medal game, which featured the same two teams.

Overnight ratings for the 2006 Gold Medal game were unavailable.

Sunday’s game is on pace to finish as the highest rated hockey telecast in the United States since 1980.

To put the numbers in perspective, Sunday’s game drew a higher overnight rating than every World Series game since 2004 (including every game of Yankees/Phillies last year), every NBA Finals telecast since 1998, and every NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four game since at least ’98.

Excluding the NFL, the 17.6 overnight for the game is the second-highest of the year for any sporting event, behind only the Texas/Alabama BCS National Championship Game in January (18.2).

Absolutely insane.  I’ll try and find viewership numbers later.

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

Hockey was the talk of this nation again, for the second straight Sunday.  People were glued to their TV screens all day, checking out what Bob Costas dubbed “the greatest game I’ve ever seen”.  Al Michaels added “Hockey at it’s best is the best.”  Many others around the world were putting in their thoughts on Twitter.  Even President Barack Obama watched the game, and bet Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper over the game with cases of beer (Because President Obama literally cannot go a day without offering someone beer).  The commentator quotes will be posted in the afternoon.

I agree with all these sentiments.  The game was the single most heartwrenching, heartpounding, heartstopping, emotional game I’ve ever sat through that didn’t involve the Devils.  Crosby’s Overtime winner broke my heart almost as much as Game 7 of the Devils-Canes series last year, and Devils-Avs in ’01.  Sidney Crosby is now Canada’s most famous resident.  He will be endlessly worshipped by Canadians until the day he dies.  His anointing has hockey’s premiere superstar – especially combined with Alexander Ovechkin doing some damage to his own rep this fortnight –  is nigh.

Back to the states, however.  The fact is, I’m going to post the ratings for the game about noon.  They will be massive.  It is very likely somewhere from 25-30 million people watched Overtime alone, and 15-20 million on average for the whole game.  Hockey will likely front every sports page north of the mason dixon line.  Americans were genuinely heartbroken over this loss, and connected to guys like Ryan Miller (made Team USA’s poster boy for the Olympics, and deservedly so), Zach Parise (who scored one of the most important goals in American hockey history) and Bobby Ryan (because of a heartbreaking story).  These are names the average American knows that they didn’t yesterday.

So, if you’re a hockey fan, and if you’re the NHL… what do you do about that?  How do you tell your buddy that the next 16 weeks of hockey are just as awesome, passionate and fun than the last two.  Because it’s not, at least half the time.  There will be some very good, even great hockey played during the season’s final 6-7 weeks, and the two months of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be dynamite as it always it.  But it won’t be USA-Canada, one game for the Gold Medal, unless you hit jackpot with another seven game Stanley Cup Final.  How do you convince the average American, who merely tuned in out of national pride, to stick around and remain a fan?

It’s a confusing prospect.  The immediate impact: American teams with large/key amounts of American players (New Jersey, NY Rangers, Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago, Colorado) will now sell a few extra tickets at home and away, as people want to see the heroes of this two week tournament.  NBC needs to figure out a way to show a Sabres game before the season ends.  Miller became a name as big as Apollo Ohno or Lindsey Vonn when this Olympics ended.  The network needs to find a way to cash in on that.  Buffalo plays Carolina in a game listed as a potential flexer on March 21.  Take a shot on it.  I know it’s vs. Carolina, but they’re playing better.  I know you’d miss out on Rangers-Bruins in taking it, but you could do worse.

As far as American TV goes, the NHL should – once it sees the ratings numbers for this afternoon’s game – immediately demand NBC pay them a rights fee for the next four seasons, in exchange for – whether over the table or under – If NBC covers the next Olympics, NHL participation in the Sochi Games.  Without NHL players, there might still be some interest in today’s game, but it doesn’t hit the made-for-TV numbers they’ll get.  They should also demand VERSUS and ESPN and whoever else in the cable world pony up big bucks.  This is the NHL’s power play opportunity, especially with the NFL and NBA headed toward labor disputes and the NBC being colder than an Irish potato.

Look, there won’t be too much of a short-term effect, if you’ll forgive me for being pessimistic.  Colorado and Detroit will play on VERSUS tonight at 9PM.  It will not draw more than a million viewers.  It may hit a season high for VERSUS (and maybe a network high for a regular season game), but the NHL will remain buried in the cable doldrums for a while.  The key for this league is to use this newfound momentum into sustaining long term growth with it’s media partners.

Use the next NBC deal to guarantee that – if NBC gets the Olympics, again – NHL Network get the same access as any of the NBC networks in the next tournament.  I want to be able to see NHL: On the Fly, live from Sochi.  The truth is, NHL Network was rarely tuned into in my house during this tourney, except for the occasional NHL Live.

Use this momentum to commit NBC to hundreds of millions of dollars between itself and VERSUS/Whatever VERSUS turns into to our game.  Hell, make them pitch in a few more bucks, and give Universal Sports a non-home market exclusive Game of the Week, a la HDNet, to help grow that channel.  Make sure that, in the long term, that people will be able to see the average NHL player almost every night of the week.  Because after this Olympics, they certainly deserve more than the occasional coverage they get.