Your Announcers and Open Thread For Sabres-Habs

Buffalo vs. Montreal, 7:30 PM ET, VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play:
Gord Miller
Inside the Glass: Pierre McGuire

Notes From NBC’s Conference Call: VERSUS to Send Studio Crew to Calgary For Heritage Classic

Here are some notes from the initial things I felt were interesting from the NBC/VERSUS Hockey Day in America conference call held earlier today. AWe have a bigger story on the whole day itself on Friday.

  • NBC wants this thing to be a spectacle, and will attempt to open up Hockey Day in America with the greatest one in all of sports: The Stanley Cup. NBC lead analyst Eddie Olczyk will bring the Stanley Cup onto the ice at Millenium Park in Chicago to open the days festivities at Noon ET.
  • At one time, VERSUS was barely going to do anything on the Heritage Classic in Calgary. Now they seem to be headed full speed to the event at McMahon Stadium. VERSUS will not only be sending their own broadcast team (Dave Strader, Andy Brickley and Brian Engblom), but their studio crew – which includes Bill Patrick, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick – will also be at the event, and being used for cut-ins during NBC’s Hockey Day in America coverage.
  • NBC Sports/VERSUS exec. producer Sam Flood told us yesterday that he likes the idea of using VERSUS and NBC together, and he re-iterated that a little bit today. What was more interesting, though, was the question of doubleheaders and regional coverage returning for more than one day in the future. He was more receptive to doubleheaders, potentially, but he balked at doing regional coverage other than as a potential lead-in for a doubleheader Game of the Week. He likes the Game of the Week the way it is.

The Complete Guide to Hockey Day in America

NEW YORK, N.Y. (February 15, 2011) – The NBC Sports Group will broadcast nine hours of hockey coverage this Sunday with the inaugural “Hockey Day in America” presented by McDonald’s from Noon-6 pm ET on NBC followed by the “2011 NHL Heritage Classic” at 6 pm ET on VERSUS.

Throughout the six hours of “Hockey Day” coverage, NBC Sports will celebrate the sport by telling stories that demonstrate this country’s affinity for hockey. One of the many tales that will be told is that of Neal Henderson, who founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey program in inner-city Washington, D.C. in 1978 and has helped make a difference in the lives of countless children and young adults ever since. Additional stories will include the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships that are played by amateurs amidst arctic temperatures and ‘celebrity’ hockey in Los Angeles, played by actors and producers with a passion for the game. The stories of American hockey extend beyond NBC Sports. Prior to Sunday, the TODAY Show will feature a story on ‘hockey moms’ and NBC Nightly News will share a story on the lone American team competing in a Canadian women’s professional hockey league, a version of which will also run during “Hockey Day.”

In addition to the stories, NBC Sports will broadcast four NHL games from some of the most avid U.S. hockey markets. Washington at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New York Rangers, and Detroit at Minnesota will be broadcast regionally with staggered starts. All viewers will begin the day with Capitals-Sabres before some viewers are taken to Flyers-Rangers and others to Red Wings-Wild. The staggered starts allow for live look-ins of other regionalized games during intermissions. Pittsburgh at Chicago will be broadcast nationally. All games will be streamed live on

When “Hockey Day” concludes on NBC, the “2011 NHL Heritage Classic” begins on VERSUS. The much-anticipated outdoor matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames from McMahon Stadium, the home to the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders on the University of Calgary campus, is a celebration of hockey’s rich outdoor history and proud Canadian heritage. It will be the first outdoor NHL game to air on cable in the U.S.

NBC Sports Group’s Sunday NHL schedule (all times ET):

Noon “Hockey Day in America” coverage begins on NBC

12:35 p.m. Washington at Buffalo (regional on NBC)

12:40 p.m. Philadelphia at New York Rangers (regional on NBC)

12:45 p.m. Detroit at Minnesota (regional on NBC)

3:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Chicago (national on NBC)

6:00 p.m. Montreal at Calgary (national on VERSUS)

COMMENTATORS: Liam McHugh will host “Hockey Day” from McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park. He will be joined on site by Eddie Olczyk (game analyst), Pierre McGuire (inside-the-glass analyst) and Mike Milbury (studio analyst). Olczyk and McGuire will eventually depart Millennium Park for United Center where they will call Penguins-Blackhawks with Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play). There will also be live reports from the Edge Sports Center in Boston throughout “Hockey Day” with Comcast SportsNet New England’s Carolyn Manno.

The three regional games will employ a play-by-play commentator in the booth and an analyst located in the inside-the-glass position. Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Jim Jackson (play-by-play) joins Ray Ferraro (inside the glass analyst) to call Capitals-Sabres; Kenny Daniels (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (inside-the-glass analyst) will call Flyers-Rangers; and Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Pat Foley (play-by-play) joins Darren Pang (inside-the-glass analyst) to call Red Wings-Wild.

Dave Strader (play-by-play), Andy Brickley (game analyst) and Brian Engblom (inside-the-glass analyst) will call the Heritage Classic on VERSUS. This will be Strader’s second assignment for an outdoor NHL game. He called the 2009 NHL Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Blackhawks from Wrigley Field in Chicago for NBC Sports when Emrick was sidelined with laryngitis. VERSUS will also host its studio show on-site at McMahon Stadium in Calgary with Bill Patrick (host), Keith Jones (analyst) and Jeremy Roenick (analyst). There will be live reports from Calgary throughout the late afternoon on NBC as “Hockey Day” concludes.

CROSS-CHANNEL PRIORITY: Both “Hockey Day” and the “Heritage Classic” have been identified by NBCUniversal’s Marketing Council as cross-channel priorities. They will receive extensive promotion across NBC Universal’s 20 channels and more than 40 websites. These events for the first time leverage the newly-expanded resources of the NBC Sports Group by combining the national media assets of NBC Sports and VERSUS and the local insight from storied hockey markets like Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia served by Comcast SportsNet.

Flood on the origin of Hockey Day in America: “The genesis for this comes through Hockey Day in Canada and just watching what has been done in Canada through the years and their passion they have for that sport. I was up in Canada for the Olympics last year and saw Hockey Day in Canada on CBC and had been thinking for a while about a way to celebrate hockey in a bigger and better way in the United States…It has been a thought of mine for a couple of years now doing something bigger with hockey and celebrating it. (NBC Sports and VERSUS, president, programming) Jon Miller and I had the conversation for a couple years.”

Emrick on the state of hockey in the U.S.: “The sport is very healthy in the United States and, of course, always will be in Canada, because we have young people who are playing it and parents who are getting up at five in the morning and getting them to rinks. You see them in the stands in American rinks now, not just Canadian ones, wearing their uniform that they wore that morning. When a player signs their first contract and gets the signing bonus, when I started in the ’70s and ’80s, the one thing he would do as sort of a reward to the parents who got him to the rink in the morning is they would buy the parents a car. Now, when they have a signing bonus, they buy the parents a house.”

Flood on the spirit of Hockey Day: “These parents across the country who get in their car at 6am, pull their little tikes out of bed, throw them in the back seat and drive them to the rink so they get to be part of the greatest game in the world. And that’s what we’re going to celebrate — the hockey moms and the hockey dads who sacrifice so much to get their kids out to the rink. It’s the ritual of hockey.”

Emrick on Hockey Day: “It is a celebration of hockey…We try our best to make sure that people understand that we are passionate about the sport.”

Milbury on this point in the season: “It’s the time of year when the games are the most meaningful…and we get to see them one after the other. It’s a treat…When games are this meaningful you know you’re going to get every player’s full attention.

Flood on Millennium Park in Chicago: “It’s going to be a great scene. USA Hockey has been all over this. They have been an incredible partner. This is part of Hockey Weekend in America. USA Hockey is going to have some junior players there and some various youth groups to be a part of the spectacle that will make it feel so neat and so special. With McDonald’s having a remote coffee system in place so that all the people can stay warm and hang out and watch the people on the ice. The show opens with Eddie Olczyk skating with the Stanley Cup in the middle of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Not a bad spectacle to begin the day.”

Milbury on the Blackhawks: “You can’t re-do a roster by 50 percent and not expect to have some issues. And the Hawks already had some issues. They’ve lost a lot of grit. They lost some toughness. They’ve lost what arguably was as valuable a player they had in the playoffs in (Dustin) Byfuglien last year. So there was bound to me some bumps along the road…throw in some goaltending issues and you got a recipe for an uneven season.”

Jones on the Sabres: “If you look at the Buffalo Sabres and the players that they have lost, Chris Drury leaving in his prime, they’ve had a tremendous head coach in Lindy Ruff that has gotten a maximum amount of his players…I’d be pretty enthused if I was a Buffalo Sabres fan that they’re going to have the ability to keep their star players, Derek Roy being one of those guys when he gets back healthy…It’s going to be tremendous and nothing but good things are going to start to happen for the Buffalo Sabres…I’m looking forward to watching the Buffalo Sabres continue to grow.”

Jones on Heritage Classic: “Hockey back at its true roots. Playing on the pond is something we all did as kids. To be there and celebrate hockey with two teams that are fighting for playoff spots, one in the East and one in the West in Montreal and Calgary, I can’t imagine that we could have asked for more.”

Flood on both events working together: “It all builds to the Pittsburgh-Chicago game which has the cool advantage of leading into the Calgary game. And for the first time, we can take advantage of the NBCU synergies with this new company and tell the audience that there is a big outdoor hockey game north of the border that takes place as soon as Pittsburgh-Chicago ends. So again, we’ve got this hockey crazed audience celebrating the game for the day and ending up in Calgary for the hockey under the lights in the open air. And nothing could be more fun than that.”

Flood on VERSUS hockey coverage: “I will say that last Monday and Tuesday, when we rolled out the inside-the-glass theory, that was the start. We changed the studio show and the way it flowed into the game both Monday and Tuesday and we continued on…taking that theory of covering hockey and crossing it over onto the VERSUS platform. And I think the promotion we’ve done the last couple of weekends within the NBC Sports Sunday telecast is all part of the idea of showing hockey across the two platforms and pushing audiences across and letting them know the opportunity to watch more hockey on VERSUS. That’s…how we’re trying to work as one and that’s the goal.”

Flood on production elements: “CBC is using a helicopter and we’ll take a split off of that…There is a big jumbo crane that’s for the play-by-play camera, various elements like that. There’s a lodge which will be our studio where the talent will be for the intermissions.”

NBC Reveals Regional Announcers for Hockey Day in America

Here are the broadcast teams for Hockey Day in America. Not sure yet if there will be a third man on each team, but here’s what we have so far.

12:35 PM ET, Washington vs. Buffalo – Jim Jackson and Ray Ferraro
12:40 PM ET, Philadelphia vs. NY Rangers –
Ken Daniels and Joe Micheletti
12:45 PM ET, Detroit vs. Minnesota – Pat Foley and Darren Pang
3:30 PM ET, Pittsburgh vs. Chicago – Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire
6:00 PM ET, Montreal vs. Calgary (VERSUS) – Dave Strader, Andy Brickley and Brian Engblom

Hockey Day in Canada Draws Record Numbers

Canadians continued to show evidence of their unyielding passion for the game of hockey on Saturday, as CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada scored among viewers in terrific numbers.

The Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens game at 7:00 PM ET drew an 11-year Hockey Day high with 2.3 million viewers. The same feat was achieved by the 10:00 PM ET game between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, which saw 1.4 million viewers tune in. The rest of the day was no slouch, as the 12-2PM ET timeslot drew 315,000 viewers, the best since 2007-08. The Ottawa-Edmonton game at 2:00 PM ET hit 845,000 viewers, while the 4:30-6:30 PM ET slot held on with 647,000 viewers. Hockey Tonight at 6:30 PM ET was seen by 778,000 viewers. The CBC hosted over 12 hours of hockey coverage on Hockey Day in Canada from Whitehorse, Yukon.

Detroit Draws Well, Boston Audience Split on NBC Sunday

While Hockeytown tuned in en masse for the NBC telecast of Bruins-Red Wings on Sunday afternoon, the Boston market was more split up by another marquee game.

NBC Sports told Puck the Media that the 12:30 PM ET game scored a 7.3/16 in the Detroit market, leading all markets easily. This is nearly double the team’s mid-season average of 4.0 on FS Detroit, and the best rating the Detroit market has done on NBC since last year’s Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Penguins, which drew a 7.8 on January 31, 2010. It’s better than every other NBC game featuring the Red Wings last season, including a 5.6 for the April 7th game against Philadelphia, and a 5.9 for the March 7th game against Chicago.

Meanwhile, on a busy sports day in Beantown that featured the Celtics hosting the Miami Heat in NBA action on ABC in the city, the Boston market drew a 2.1/6. This is down from the team’s 2.7 season-to-date average on NESN. I don’t have any ratings from the Boston market from last season, but safe to say you can throw that 2.1 out the window due to the Celtics game.

Most of the Country to See Rangers/Flyers Early Sunday

NBC Sports revealed to Puck the Media yesterday (much of which you’ll hear about on Friday, stay tuned) that the Hockey Day in America early split will be heavy on an Atlantic Division rivalry and a battle between Hockeytown and The State of Hockey.

In the 12:30 PM ET window, the 12:40 PM ET start between the Rangers and Flyers will be seen in 54% of the country, likely taking a large chunk of the east coast and the south, along with those two massive markets. Meanwhile, the 12:45 PM ET Minnesota/Detroit tilt will be seen in 40% of the country, likely carrying much of the west coast of the United States, along with the two teams home, midwestern markets. The other 6% of the country will see the 12:35 PM ET battle between the Sabres and Capitals, likely drawing much of the northeast along with the Washington/Baltimore/Virginia area.

We’ll hope to have regional maps guiding you to which game you’ll see in your market closer to the weekend. There’ll also be more Hockey Day in America coverage as both this day and week roll on.

Why is the NHL Still Scheduling Other Games on VERSUS Exclusive Nights?

I often get tweets on the nights of VERSUS games from fans, but very rarely do they come from fans playing in the VERSUS game that night. They’ll often come from a fan who wanted to watch another game that night that is being blacked out due to the VERSUS exclusive window. While I never quite understand what nights VERSUS has the exclusive on, these dates are typically made public to the teams in a way that they know which nights will be blacked out by the time their local TV schedules come out in August and September?

So this brings us to the question that the title suggests? Why do we still have teams scheduling games on these nights?

Isn’t it time we took some of the blame off VERSUS? I mean, why are we blaming VERSUS for getting the NHL to agree to this arrangement? It’s something that helps them, a timeslot in which hockey fans’ viewing attentions aren’t divided up between their local team and, say, a Penguins/Rangers or Stars/Kings game. The “game of the week” is there so that the average fan can get a chance to see the best in the game without having to flip around. It helps the network ratings-wise, and it gets teams that maybe won’t get a shot at NBC a chance to be on the “big game” of the week on national television.

At this point, the blame has to fall entirely on the teams that schedule it. For example: VERSUS was airing Washington-Phoenix last night at 8:00 PM ET. Because they have the exclusive window for tonight, a Vancouver-St. Louis game is going untelevised in the St. Louis market. Now, VERSUS blackouts – for obvious reasons – do not extend to Canadian teams, so fans in British Columbia got to see the Canucks in action. The Blues, however, tweeted the following:

Tonight’s game will not be televised to comply with Versus’ exclusive NHL national TV window. Come to the game or listen on KMOX 1120.

Now, the NHL is the one that decides on each team’s schedule when all is said and done. But shouldn’t we really have the networks, the league and the individual teams working together to make sure that this sort of thing isn’t happening by now? I mean, it has been five years. I understand that each team and each arena have a limited number of dates to fit games into. That all said, there must be some way to give VERSUS a night that they can have to themselves without making fans in markets feel short-shifted. Is it that hard to keep, say, Monday nights free of games throughout the season?

Either that, or the NHL really needs to reconsider the “Game of the Week” format for VERSUS in the next television contract, because in the end, you’re just angering and annoying potential fans that could be watching the game you want them to watch. They’re going to be annoyed and finding ways to seek out the game they wanted to watch instead of tuning into VERSUS, which they might have done had their own game not been blacked out and instead on another day. It’s a complicated issue, and a lot of blame falls on everyone, but something must be done to prevent this sort of thing from happening again next year.