VERSUS Cautiously Optimistic, Then Rightfully Excited Upon Crosby’s Wonderful Return
November 22, 2011 3 Comments
It’s a difficult juggling act in uncharted waters. I solicited the opinion of one broadcaster yesterday whom – besides the return of Mario Lemieux 11 years ago – said that the last time a hockey broadcast was so geared toward the presence of one player’s presence was when ESPN covered Wayne Gretzky breaking the NHL’s goal-scoring record, more than 17 years ago. 48 hours ago, VERSUS play-by-play man Dave Strader was preparing to go to Montreal for a Bruins-Canadiens game. CBC was going to air it’s typical Monday night lineup. That all changed when Sidney Crosby single-handedly became not merely a subplot to the NHL season, but the driving force behind nearly a full day of hockey talk. He was what so few NHL players are at any point in their careers. He was bigger than the sport.
Did he ever justify it, scoring a goal on his second shift, adding another and two assists as the Penguins thrashed the lowly Islanders, 5-0. It might be the rare example of a game that VERSUS viewers (since both NY and Pittsburgh were blacked out for local coverage) likely wanted to see a blowout instead of a hotly contested game. If the Pens were going to run away with it, you want to see Sidney Crosby put up the nutty numbers that have given him a reputation as one of the league’s best players.
As I said earlier, VERSUS had a really difficult juggling act. They had to make Crosby an immense part of the story. He was the only reason they were televising that game. Any coverage of the game had to be done with that caveat in mind. From what I saw (a miscue from somebody meant I got to see up until the end of the first period here in Jersey) the network did an okay job of handling the whole thing. The NHL Live crew – which, when they aren’t talking fighting and headshots, has developed into a pretty decent team this season – were kind of, as my headline suggests, cautiously optimistic about Crosby’s return. You could tell there was a little worry in analysts Mike Milbury in Keith Jones as to how Crosby would handle physical play. Liam McHugh did his best to work a little bit of the Islanders into the show without overtly hinting that Hey, this team sucks and Sid’s been known to put up a ton of points against them.
When we finally got to the game, Dave Strader and Pierre McGuire did a good job of not going too far with Crosby, while still emphasizing his individual importance and ability to fit into the Penguins lineup. The only portion of the telecast I saw that felt a little off was when McGuire simply rattled off silly statistical coincidences that had to do with Crosby and his team’s owner, Mario Lemieux’s number. Otherwise, Strader’s call was solid and neither of them went full-on homer mode when Crosby scored both of his goals. They just seemed dazzled, like anyone else who watched likely was.
A minor complaint: If NHL.com was so all-out last night that they were willing to have reporter Dan Rosen blog every single one of his shifts, could we not have gotten the “Star-cam” that NHL.com and NBCSports.com use for every NHL on NBC game? Seems like if any night would have called for it, this was the one.
In the end, it was a really great moment for a league that needed something buzzworthy that had nothing to do with headshots in the worst way. Some fans may never come to terms with Crosby’s cache with the media and the NHL’s television partners, with the incessant hype and 25-30 network appearances per season that any team he plays for will be granted. But hey, if you were on the fence about it before tonight, the absolutely dominant performance the league’s biggest star put out there last night certainly justified much of it.