Hockey Day in America Takes the Simple Route to a Lovely Tribute to Hockey
February 21, 2011 2 Comments
NHL Executive Vice President of Events Charles Coplin pitched Hockey Day in America to this writer last week as a “love letter to hockey fans” and it is hard not to feel smitten the morning after. While there were a few things that could stand fixing, and I’ll talk about them in this space tomorrow, I found the first ever Hockey Day to be watchable (key when you’re pitching six and a half hours of hockey to a viewer), enjoyable, and a loving tribute to the game I’ve spent 15 years appreciating so much. It was also a sign that NBC, unlike any other network that has televised hockey in the past 17 years, is making an effort to show hockey fans that they “get” the sport. While nothing is perfect about The NHL On NBC (we still have to put up with 12:30 ET starts and the same teams over and over) the people at the network running the coverage seems to get what makes hockey great, and why hockey fans think hockey is great, not what the “general sports columnist” at your local paper thinks makes hockey great.
Starting at Noon, and with the hockey not ending until 6:30 PM ET (pre-empting the local news in the Eastern and Central time zones) there was very little filler to be had throughout the day. The pre-game show was well done with a solid, understated hosting job by Liam McHugh, who did what so many analysts posing as hosts on NBC have not been able to do – get us from one thing to another. If you looked hard enough, you could slowly picture him aging into Ron MacLean. Mike Milbury did a solid job of kind of toning his act down, and Eddie Olczyk was his usual enthusiastic self, and in a way kind of more perfect for this sort of thing than he is for game analysis. It might go unnoticed sometimes, but Olczyk is always a proper ambassador for USA Hockey during NHL On NBC telecasts, and on Sunday that shone through.
The features were all fairly charming in their own way. The story on Jerry Bruckheimer’s celebrity hockey game was cool if only for that picture of himself, Mike Myers, Marty McSorely and Wayne Gretzky. Neal Henderson, head of the inner-city Fort Dupont hockey program, was a fantastic voice for a program that’s doing good works beyond just teaching hockey. I was not aware of the Boston Blades at all before Hockey Day’s spotlight on the lone American team in the Canadian Women’s league, and I hope more people come to notice them. Even the McDonald’s branded features didn’t border on cheesy. I’m sure dad took me to the Golden Arches once or twice after a game.
Once we got to the actual games, there were a few issues that, again, I’ll pick up tomorrow, but it was just fun to have hockey on and available. I had the Rangers/Flyers game on my TV with the stream of Red Wings/Flyers on my laptop. I think it would serve NBC well to do two or three more of these NFL-style doubleheaders, with two or three regional games in the early slot leading into a national game of the week. Sometimes it’s great just to have hockey on for hours and hours and just enjoy this magnificent sport.
Everything seemed to click for NBC on Sunday. The 12:30 games had their low moments, but the final game to end in the slot had an exciting overtime and a shootout to lead-in to the late game, which also had an exciting overtime and shootout, between two of America’s most fervent hockey markets to boot. The interviews with players were fun and informative about the road to the NHL, even Scott Gomez’s piece from Calgary’s Heritage Classic was worth the time. Though I gotta’ imagine that when Gomer makes fun of his teammates for not being tough, they snap back by saying he’s a $7 million man with a minus-18.
In the end, Hockey Day in America (which needs to return bigger and better next year) did two things. For starters, it explained the sometimes confusing path players take to the NHL. From Mike Emrick to Olczyk, to McGuire to McHugh, not a step or league or team was skipped out on that a player would take on the road to making the National Hockey League as an American player. Most importantly, however, they made six hours of hockey (nine if you count VERSUS) seem like the only logical thing to spend your Sunday afternoon doing. It certainly seemed that way to me.