REVIEW: ‘The Ovechkin Project’ is All Bark, Occasional Bite

Few names in the hockey world spark more discussion, emotion and controversy than the otherworldly talented Alexander Ovechkin. Few names in the hockey writing world spark more controversy and debate, for better or worse, than Toronto Star writer Damien Cox. So, along with ESPN writer Gare Joyce, it makes sense for Cox – who last penned a fairly inoffensive, interesting, well-written biography of Martin Brodeur – to take his talents to writing about The Great 8.

Couple that with months of lead-up, including a furious, immature debate between Cox and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis about the contents of the book, and you have what could be the most controversial hockey book since … has there been one before? The fact is, most hockey biographies are either sold on compelling writing (The Game) or the personalities they cover (every other hockey bio ever). There hasn’t been one with this kind of lead-up in the genre. This is something that’s good for the game. Not every hockey book should be all sunshine and butterflies.

Where The Ovechkin Project disappoints is that it fails to provide much controversy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an ably written hockey book, chronicling one of the most exciting talents in the game at the biggest crossroads of his career. It’s a book that deserves to exist just as that. However, one can’t feel a little bit disappointed after all the dispute and name-calling between a billionaire owner and a well-off columnist and the person who comes off worst in the book is … Ovechkin’s mother.

Other than Tatiana Ovechkina, who is often portrayed as the ultimate stage mom, everyone is given a pretty fair shake, and as my dad points out, you’re not really a stage mom if your child is actually talented. While Ted Leonsis is noted for some of the mistakes he’s made, but well, those mistakes happened, and I’m sure Leonsis has made his peace with them now that he’s where he is now. As for Ovechkin, well … other than some disputes with his agent, he’s seen as the free-wheeling, fun-loving, benevolent millionaire you imagine him to be.

Let’s take a look at what the book does right. There is some well-written, insider info on the history of Russian hockey players making it to America that I’d certainly never read before. Learning about Ovechkin’s boyhood and tragic loss at a young age is a good story, and the re-telling of Jagrgate and the history of the Capitals is a fun one. These parts of the book are all well researched, well-written and certainly worth a look at.

However, the book often has trouble defining what it wants to be. Is it an intimate look at Ovechkin’s life? Sometimes. Is it a history of hockey in Washington? Sometimes. Is it a look back and look ahead at Russian-North American hockey relations? A little bit. Is it the look at the marketing of the modern NHL superstar? Not enough. These are all individual books that’d be a great read on their own, but when trying to tell the full story of Ovechkin, they tend to seem like padding. When The Ovechkin Project is on topic, it can be surprisingly candid and sharply written. However, the book is often like Ovie himself: skating around wildly with great success at times, but just not reaching the ultimate goal.

TSN Acquires Rights to 24 Regional Habs Broadcasts

Toronto, ON (October 21, 2010) – TSN announced today it has secured the exclusive regional English-language broadcast rights for Montreal Canadiens games. The multi-year agreement will see TSN present 24 games in the current season to viewers in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and parts of Eastern Ontario, including Ottawa, Belleville, Kingston and Pembroke, on a TSN alternate feed, with at least 30 Canadiens games to be broadcast regionally during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 NHL regular seasons. The announcement marks the first time TSN has had English regional broadcast rights for Canadiens games since the 2001-02 season.

TSN’s regional coverage of the Montreal Canadiens begins this coming Monday, October 25 when the Habs take on the Phoenix Coyotes at 7:30 p.m. ET. Presented in both HD and standard definition, the broadcasts will be produced by TSN with veteran broadcaster Dave Randorf calling the game action on Monday along with analyst and former NHL player Mike Johnson.

TSN has secured carriage of Monday’s game on Bell Satellite TV on channel 1402 in HD and channel 402 in SD. TSN is working with other distributors in the territory to ensure the broadest possible distribution of the Montreal Canadiens games. Fans should contact their local television service provider for specific channel details.

“The Montreal Canadiens are extremely pleased to have concluded a broadcasting agreement with TSN that will enable a greater number of hockey fans in the province of Quebec and in other parts of the country to see the Canadiens in action,” says Pierre Boivin, President of the Montreal Canadiens. “Over the years, TSN has been an outstanding partner of the NHL and the quality of their broadcasts will continue to enhance the hockey experience on television for our fans.”

“TSN is thrilled to deliver more coverage of one of the NHL’s most storied franchises to fans in Eastern Canada with exclusive English-language broadcast rights to 24 additional Montreal Canadiens regular season games,” said Stewart Johnston, President, TSN. “The addition of these Montreal match-ups bolsters TSN and TSN2’s already impressive NHL broadcast schedule to 148 total games – the most ever in network history – and gives Canadiens fans more coverage of their favourite team than ever before.”

TSN’s 24 Montreal Canadiens regional games complement the network’s previously announced national broadcast package, which includes 16 Canadiens games, for a total of 40 Canadiens games this season.

2010-11 TSN Montreal Canadiens Regional Broadcast Schedule

Regular Season
October
• Monday, Oct. 25 – Phoenix @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Friday, Oct. 29 – Montreal @ NY Islanders at 7 p.m. ET

November
• Tuesday, Nov. 2 – Montreal @ Columbus at 7 p.m. ET
• Friday, Nov. 5 – Montreal @ Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Tuesday, Nov. 9 – Vancouver @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Tuesday, Nov. 16 – Philadelphia @ Montreal at 7 p.m. ET
• Thursday, Nov. 18 – Nashville @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Monday, Nov. 22 – Montreal @ Philadelphia at 7 p.m. ET

December
• Sunday, Dec. 19 – Montreal @ Colorado at 8 p.m. ET
• Tuesday, Dec. 21 – Montreal @ Dallas at 9 p.m. ET
• Sunday, Dec. 26 – Montreal @ NY Islanders at 7 p.m. ET
• Tuesday, Dec. 28 – Montreal @ Washington at 7 p.m. ET
• Thursday, Dec. 30 – Montreal @ Tampa Bay at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Friday, Dec. 31 – Montreal @ Florida at 5 p.m. ET

January
• Sunday, Jan. 2 – Atlanta @ Montreal at 1 p.m. ET
• Thursday, Jan. 6 – Pittsburgh @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Monday, Jan. 17 – Calgary @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET

February
• Tuesday, Feb. 15 – Buffalo @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Thursday, Feb. 24 – Toronto @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET

March
• Thursday, March 3 – Montreal @ Florida at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Tuesday, March 8 – Boston @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET
• Thursday, March 10 – Montreal @ St. Louis at 8 p.m. ET
• Thursday, March 17 – Tampa Bay @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET

April
• Tuesday, April 5 – Chicago @ Montreal at 7:30 p.m. ET

TSN is Canada’s Sports Leader and Canada’s most-watched specialty network. Delivering more sports coverage in High Definition than any other network in Canada, TSN’s comprehensive broadcast schedule features an exciting lineup of sports including NHL, IIHF, CFL, NFL, NBA, MLB, Season of Champions Curling, Golf’s Majors, F1, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Grand Slam Tennis and Championship Boxing events. TSN properties include TSN2, TSN MOBILE and the industry leading sports website TSN.ca. Official broadcaster of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and London 2012 Games of the Olympiad, TSN is a division of CTVglobemedia.

Christine Simpson Joins Devils Crew

Christine Simpson has joined the Devils’ MSG Plus broadcast team as a host and will make her first appearance on Thursday night when the team faces the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. She joins Mike “Doc” Emrick, Glenn “Chico” Resch, Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko. Simpson’s first host appearance will come on Nov. 24 when the Devils play the Calgary Flames. She will host when Cangialosi moves over to call play-by-play.

“Christine has grown up around hockey, and her knowledge and passion for the sport shine through on air,” said Jeff Filippi, senior vice president and executive producer of MSG Networks. “We’re thrilled to have her join one of the top broadcast teams in the sport.” Simpson, whose brother Craig is a former NHL player, was raised in London, Ont. “I’m very excited to be joining the Devils broadcast team on MSG Plus,” Simpson said in a statement. “Not only am I looking forward to working with a crew that includes some of the best in the business, I think everyone in the hockey world is expecting big things from the Devils this season. I’m just lucky enough to have a front row seat.”

Your Announcers and Open Thread For Bruins-Capitals

Boston vs. Washington, 7:30 PM ET, VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play:
Joe Beninati
Color: Andy Brickley
Reporter: Lindsay Soto

Your Announcers and Open Thread For Avalanche-Rangers

Colorado vs. NY Rangers, 7:00 PM ET, VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play:
Sam Rosen
Color: Darren Eliot
Reporter: Bob Harwood

NLCS Averaging Lower Numbers Than Stanley Cup

Baseball is sliding closer to hockey’s ratings, at least among younger viewers.

The first two games of the NLCS on FOX have averaged a 2.0 rating among Adults 18-49 after drawing a 2.2 last night, with a 1.7 for Game 1 on Saturday. This is lower than the four-game average of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC, which drew a 2.4 in the same demo. The NLCS has drawn bigger viewership numbers, but still, the difference in this demographic is interesting, and if the Yankees don’t advance to the World Series, it’ll be interesting to see if the numbers continue to be close.

To be fair, it should be noted that a dispute between Cablevision and Newscorp. has kept the World Series out of 3 million homes in the New York area.

Stars Hit Best Mark Since Lockout with Modano Return

From the Stars:

Mike Modano’s return to Dallas Thursday night produced the highest-rated Dallas Stars telecast on FOX Sports Southwest in over six years, according to Nielsen Media Research. The game against Modano’s new Detroit Red Wings team averaged a 1.7 Nielsen household rating in Dallas-Fort Worth, the best mark for a regular-season Stars telecast on FOX Sports Southwest since a 2.4 on April 2, 2004 against the Minnesota Wild.

An average of 44,630 homes in Dallas-Fort Worth tuned in to watch the former Stars standout play his first game in Dallas wearing a visitor’s sweater. The game was the night’s No. 1-rated cable TV program in Dallas-Fort Worth, beating ESPN’s West Virginia-South Florida college football telecast that averaged a 1.6 rating.

NHL Opens Big

NEW YORK (October 15, 2010) – The National Hockey League, coming off its best business year ever, launched the 2010-11 season with record TV audiences in the U.S. and Canada and continued hypergrowth on its digital distribution platforms – further evidence of the strong worldwide demand for NHL content, the League’s global reach and distribution, and the digital disposition of NHL fans.

“Our fans worldwide have proven again and again that they have a voracious appetite for NHL content. The record numbers for the start of the season, on the heels of last year’s success, are a strong indication that we have a compelling product and that we are super serving our audience through a variety of different platforms,” said NHL COO John Collins. “Whether it’s on TV, online, on mobile devices or through these new partnerships, we are reaching our audience in new and exciting ways.”
Strong Demand Drives Record Rating for VERSUS, CBC

VERSUS dropped the puck on its sixth year of NHL coverage with the most-watched opening night game on U.S. cable in eight years and the most-watched NHL regular season cable telecast in six years.  In Canada, CBC’s HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA attracted record audiences for its Saturday night debut this weekend.  The local RSN and national TV ratings through Sunday, Oct. 10 combined were up 5% from last year’s opening weekend with 13.9 million gross viewers across North America.  On a country by country basis, U.S. gross viewing was up 16% and Canada was up 2%.

New Partnerships Increase Distribution, Reach

In the lead-up to the start of the season, the NHL  made a trio of significant announcements.  The NHL and HBO outlined plans for a new series leading into the NHL’s New Year’s Day outdoor game, “24/7 Penguins/Capitals” Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” a four-episode all-access series which chronicles the two fierce rivals. The NHL also became the first professional sports league with a dedicated presence on Foursquare, one of the leading social media innovators.  And the League also has partnered with Stan Lee on The Guardian Project, a new franchise from the legendary comic book creator that will incorporate the identities of all 30 NHL teams into superheroes.

Deep Digital Experiences Drive Consumption from Tech-Savvy Fans
The NHL has the most tech-savvy fans in all of professional sports and their insatiable appetite for NHL content worldwide was once again proven through an explosive opening weekend for traffic on NHL.com and other digital platforms, building on the momentum from last season.  Highlights from the start of the season include:

· NHL.com scored the 2nd-most regular season video starts in its history on Sunday, October 10. Unique visitors to NHL.com increased 19 percent over last year’s opening weekend and opening day drove a 13 percent increase over last season.

· Opening day video starts increased 131 percent vs. last year; opening weekend was up 209 percent.

· Mobile page views during opening weekend increased by 46 percent over the same period last year.

· Subscriptions to NHL GameCenter LIVE are up 30 percent over the same period last season; and the first day of the season drove the highest single-day subscription total ever.

· An expanding portfolio of mobile products for Google/Android, Blackberry, Nokia and iPhone drove hundreds of thousands of app downloads worldwide

NHL.com Traffic Highlights Growing Global Demand for the NHL
Unique visitors to NHL.com reflected the global fan demand for NHL hockey.

The top 10 countries in NHL.com traffic and their UV increases over last year:

1.        Finland +68 percent
2.        Russian Federation +58 percent
3.        Slovakia (Slovak Republic) +53 percent
4.        Germany +42 percent
5.        Czech Republic +37 percent
6.        United Kingdom +35 percent
7.        Switzerland +33 percent
8.        Sweden +27 percent
9.        Canada +15 percent
10.        United States +12 percent

VERSUS Scores Best Start to NHL Season Since 2002
VERSUS averaged 730,000 viewers for the season-opening game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, making it the best start to the season since 2002 and the most-watched NHL regular season telecast on cable since 2004.  The game also was VERSUS’ most-watched regular season game ever, surpassing the previous high set by the Pittsburgh Penguins/Detroit Red Wings telecast on March 22, 2010 (622,000 viewers).

Locally, VERSUS earned a 13.4 HH rating in Pittsburgh, making it the highest-rated regular season game in Pittsburgh in network history.  The game also made VERSUS the number one network overall (among both broadcast and cable networks) in Pittsburgh.

VERSUS’ coverage of the Colorado Avalanche/Chicago Blackhawks game averaged 430,000 viewers, making it VERSUS’ best regular season game ever with a post -9 p.m. ET start time and the most-watched season-opening late game.  The game showed a 30 percent spike in viewership over the comparable second game of the 2009-10 season (332,000 viewers).

In Chicago VERSUS garnered a 3.4 household  rating, making it the network’s highest-rated regular season game ever in the market.  The game also made VERSUS the number one ranked cable network in Chicago.

CBC’s 58th NHL Season Debut Earns Record-Breaking Audience

CBC’s HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA attracted record audiences for its Saturday night debut this weekend.  An average audience of 2.251 million viewers tuned in to the first game of the evening featuring Toronto taking on Ottawa and Montreal taking on Pittsburgh, up 34 percent from the 2009-10  Saturday night season premiere of the program.  The evening’s second game, which pitted Vancouver against Los Angeles, ., attracted an average of 1.430 million viewers, up 26 percent from the first Saturday night broadcast last season. Both are the highest Saturday night debut audiences in the program’s history.   Scotiabank Hockey Tonight drew an average audience of 569,000.

On Thursday, an average of 1.968 million viewers tuned in to see the Toronto Maple Leafs take on long-time Original Six rivals the Montreal Canadiens while in the nightcap, 1.013 million viewers saw the hometown Oilers defeat the Flames.  The evening’s pre-game show, NHL Face-Off, drew an audience of 601,000.

NHL Merchandise in Global Demand
· Through the opening weekend of the season, in-arena per capita sales for home openers was up 18 percent compared to last season, and average sales volume was up 27 percent.

· NHL Apparel wholesales are up 22 percent year-over-year July through October.

· Total sales volume at regular season 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere games was  up 22 percent compared to last season

· The Carolina vs. Minnesota game in Helsinki on Oct. 7 set a  building merchandise sales record for hockey at Hartwall Areena

· Highlights include selling out of  toques, Premiere and team ball caps, player t-shirts, and scarves.

2009-10 NHL Business: Best Year on Record
Despite difficult global economic conditions, in 2009-10 the NHL posted its fourth-consecutive year of strong business growth, engaging with a record number of fans. The League generated record television ratings during the playoffs, saw triple digit increases across its digital platforms, added sponsors and experienced a 66 percent increase in advertising and sponsorship revenue, set merchandising sales records during the Stanley Cup Final and played to 102 percent of arena capacity for the postseason.

HBO Canada Gets the Rights to Air Pens/Caps 24/7 Up North

(October 15, 2010 – Toronto, Canada) – HBO Canada, a multiplex channel of Astral’s The Movie Network (Eastern Canada) and Corus Entertainment’s Movie Central (Western Canada), takes hockey-crazed Canadians inside one of the NHL’s great rivalries, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, for 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic, a four-episode, all-access reality series from HBO Sports’ groundbreaking, 12-time Sports Emmy® Award-winning 24/7 reality franchise.

“We’re especially excited to bring this installment of 24/7 to Canada’s rabid hockey fans through an ongoing partnership with HBO Canada that truly reflects the breadth of our innovative, engaging programming,” said Ross Greenburg, President, HBO Sports. “With their intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the game, Canadians are sure to appreciate the deep look inside hockey – and enjoy the action as we spotlight one of the NHL’s great rivalries.”

Debuting Wednesday, December 15 at 10:00 p.m. ET/MT, 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic follows the two clubs simultaneously, chronicling their highs and lows each week. The teams will meet in a December 23 regular-season matchup on the Capitals’ home ice, leading into episode three, as the build-up intensifies for the January 1 showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The series will provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access, along with in-depth interviews of coaches, players and front-office personnel, as the Caps and Pens battle through their December schedules.

Episodes air on Wednesday nights – December 15, 22 and 29 and January 5 – at 10:00 p.m. ET/MT. The first three episodes will play prior to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic; the series finale airs four days after the big match and tracks all the drama and excitement surrounding the Capitals and Penguins on game day.

24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic marks HBO Sports’ first reality series in pro hockey. The executive producers are Ross Greenburg and Rick Bernstein; senior producer, Dave Harmon; coordinating producers, Scott Boggins and Bentley Weiner; Aaron Cohen is the writer; Liev Schreiber narrates. Production assistance will be supplied by the National Hockey League.

24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic will be simulcast on HBO Canada, HD, and will be available on demand. It will also be available on HBO Canada OnLine with Rogers, Bell TV, Videotron and Shaw following its network premiere.

Brian Burke to Scream Through Your Soul on Tonight’s NHL Hour

NEW YORK (October 14, 2010) – Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke is today’s guest on NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman on NHL.com and SIRIUS XM Radio at 6 p.m. ET. Burke will join the Commissioner live from NHL Radio’s street level studio in the NHL Power by Reebok store in Manhattan along with co-host Bill Clement. By defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs have started the 2010-11 season with three straight victories — the first time since the Club won its first three matches at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season. Burke’s Leafs have the opportunity to record their fourth win against the New York Rangers on Friday night. With a win, the Leafs would register the best opening season record since the 1993-94 season when they began with 10 consecutive victories. NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman broadcasts live on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and on SIRIUS Channel 208 as part of the “Best of XM” programming package) and NHL.com. The show will re-air on SIRIUS XM Radio, with archived shows available for download via podcast on NHL.com. The show encourages fans to call in with questions for the Commissioner. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696. NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman is a production of NHL Radio.