VERSUS Adds More Bonus Games to Schedule

VERSUS continues a practice that goes back to the week after the Olympics, adding quite a few extra games down the stretch run of the NHL season, here’s the VERSUS schedule the rest of the way.  Games that have been added are in bold:

Mar. 30: Buffalo at Boston, 7:00
Mar. 31: Chicago at St. Louis, 8:00
Apr. 1: Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, 7:30
Apr. 1: Chicago at Minnesota, 8:00 — in TB and PIT only
Apr. 2: Thrashers at Capitals, 7:00 — blacked out in local markets
Apr. 5: Boston at Washington, 7:00
Apr. 6: Washington at Pittsburgh, 7:30
Apr. 6: Colorado at Vancouver, 10:00 — blacked out in local market

Guest Chair: 3D Needs Work, But Could Be The Next Part of NHL’s TV Evolution

Here’s a guesting opinion from Steve Chernoski – Director of “New Jersey: The Movie” on the 3D broadcast of Rangers-Islanders last night. Would you like to sit in the guest chair? E-mail Steve at SMLepore@comcast.net

The NHL evolved on Wednesday. MSG Network’s 3D broadcast of the New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers last night could be perceived as a tacky gimmick to cash in on the latest 3D craze created by Avatar. Or it can be seen as another sea change in how sports are viewed in general. Whatever the consensus is, history was made last night. Cablevision offered the game in 3D to those who had HD capable TVs, making this game the first NHL contest broadcast in 3D to home viewers in history. For those wanting the fan atmosphere combined with the virtual experience, there was a broadcast of the game at the Theater at MSG, which adjoins Madison Square Garden Arena where the Rangers play.

For some in attendance, it was an experiment that was overly flawed. A couple people voiced their displeasure about the broadcast to me after the game. They commented that the screen wasn’t large enough and the Plexiglas dividers proved to be big visual obstacles. However, that was a small minority. A large majority of the people I interviewed, were very pleased with the product they witnessed last night. One person commented that when the camera was on a low angle shot, the hits along the boards gave you that necessary next step; the “being there” feel. I even saw one fan that mimicked banging on the boards after one of these hits.

At the theater, it was a packed house, but surprisingly sedate. The Ranger fans outnumbered and expectedly out cheered the Islander fans at times, but the mood was very movie theater-like most of the time. I wore my Devils’ jersey and didn’t even get booed or harassed! It was like we were already pre-programmed to automatically turn off our cell phones, eat popcorn and hush up during most of the action. This was greatly apparent when some former Rangers turned up in the Theater to be interviewed during the breaks in the game. Mike Richter and Ron Duguay spoke early on, and Mark Messier was given a hero’s welcome. But as time wore on, the interviews went past the breaks. Adam Graves, Ron Greschner, and Nick Fotiu were victims of bad hosting and were tuned out by the crowd, as if theatergoers were telling “that loud movie theater guy” to shut up and sit down.

For me, my expectations were very low going into the event. With images of the glowing puck in mind, I thought this try by the league would fail. The verdict? It was incredibly awesome. At some point, I even thought players might progress into some Matrix-style combat. It looked somewhere close to being at the game in real life and computer generated NHL players on Xbox and that wasn’t a bad thing.

During the 1st intermission, fans in attendance were even treated to highlights from the Winter Classic in Boston and during the 2nd, a short aerial movie shot over a Hawaiian island was shown. The 3D depth was apparent much of the time, but not all. The low cameras provided the best viewing experience. As mentioned before, the hitting against the glass truly benefitted most from the technology., but it would have been nice to see a goal scored from that low vantage point.

The producers do need to figure out how to get the camera higher and avoid the glass. But even with that drawback, it was somewhat interesting to see fans at the actual game, walking to their seats with cotton candy. They looked like they could have been in the theater itself.

I thought about the timing of this event. Was the NHL merely piggybacking on the new 3D pandemonium or was this the next logical step, especially considering the high ratings during the Winter Olympics and the continued success of the Winter Classic? Well, the NHL needed to be the first of the major professional sports to capitalize on this opportunity and they did so. Buzz has been created. Hockey has made national American news headlines for two straight months . . . and the playoffs haven’t even begun. If the costs of producing this can become cost effective, and the technology continues to develop, this has the potential to become mainstream. The way we watch hockey on TV is going to change drastically – all for the good.

Helping Grow NHL Net is Nice… But When the NHL Has An Event, It Needs to Be With Broadcast Partners

The NHL spent a lot of time (and assumedly, money) promoting last night’s 4-3 shootout victory by the Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The game featured otherworldly stars like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Jordan Staal, Jose Theodore… well, those other guys for sure.  The point is, this game’s become a heated rivalry, a playoff-tested rivalry and the NHL has every right to promote the living daylights out of it.

Except, when it’s on the NHL Network, using a feed from Comcast Sportsnet… it can’t help but feel a little cheap.  Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin and all of those guys do a fine job for their viewers, but the fact is, the NHL Network took time out of both nationally broadcast and locally broadcast NHL games to promote this, and the NHL fan can’t even get a crew that won’t potentially have a tendency to talk more to one audience?

More on NHL Network later.  The league and NBC/VERSUS need to get something in their head: As much as we complain about being condescended to about how great the Penguins, Red Wings and Capitals are… fact is, that’s who we all tune in to see.  The ratings from Tuesday night’s Detroit/Pittsburgh game show that viewers are far from tired of the Wings/Pens matchup.  A 1.3 for Pens/Caps, a regular season high for the rivalry, on NBC shows that the Crosby/Ovechkin fire is just starting to burn smoothly.

My point is… don’t worry about overexposing it, all four Pens/Caps games should be on NBC or VERSUS.  VERSUS does not air one of these games until the last week of the season, and didn’t air a Pens/Caps game at all the season before.  Why not?  Get these games on as much as possible.  Especially with all the buzz that’s been happening around the rivalry, they should’ve capitalized on Wings/Pens momentum and aimed higher for tonight.  They’ve been showing so many games lately, why not?

But that’s another complaint for another day.  Fact is, there needs to be better coverage from the NHL Network.  Aside from the World Junior Championship games featuring Team USA, the NHL Network has not produced a second of original coverage of a live hockey game this season.  They still haven’t given a shot to doing the NBATV trick where they impose their own graphics over the local broadcast, and sometimes you can’t help but feel a little cheated by this.

I’m sure the network will grow to that place.  But, after a season in 2008-09 where they started producing their own games and doing more, and when they had an hour-long pre-game show in that nice studio of theirs, you come to expect just a little bit more growth.  I’m certain they’ll get there, it’s just disappointing to see that it wasn’t happening in a week with so much buzz.

With The Vault, Game Center Live Comes Close to Creating the Ultimate NHL Multimedia Experience

I woke up yesterday and randomly decided to check out Game Center Live, as I have on various days throughout the season.  I suddenly noticed a feature called “The Vault” and next to it, a tab that said “Classic”.  I click on it, and what do you know?  What seemed like an endless supply of games from the 1970’s until about 1998.  Brilliant.  Mostly, I was overjoyed because they had FOX’s coverage of one of my favorite things ever, the 1997 NHL All-Star Game in San Jose.  It was good.

Here are the details:

The NHL has also announced the launch of NHL Vault, a classic games library currently featuring nearly 150 digitized, full-length NHL games dating back to the 1960s.

Exposing the rich visual history of the National Hockey League, NHL Vaultis an added value for all NHL GameCenter LIVE subscribers, or as a standalone subscription for $4.95 per month. Additional classic games are selected by the NHL’s own editorial team and added to NHL Vault every month.

In addition to digitized classic NHL games, NHL Vault also includes new features specifically designed to meet increased fan demand for:

Condensed Games – 10-12 minute game highlights available the next day. In-market condensed games will be made available 48 hours after the contest.

Enhanced Search and Filtering – Finding the game you want to see has never been easier.

NHL GameCenter LIVE and NHL Vault were both co-developed with the NHL’s strategic partner NeuLion.

So if you have GCL, check this out.  It’s the closest the NHL has ever come to creating a total multimedia experience for it’s fans.  In a word… awesome.