VERSUS Cautiously Optimistic, Then Rightfully Excited Upon Crosby’s Wonderful Return

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.

About Steve Lepore
Contact me at stevemlepore@gmail.com

3 Responses to VERSUS Cautiously Optimistic, Then Rightfully Excited Upon Crosby’s Wonderful Return

  1. Kevin says:

    Everyone was watching the game. Every hockey fans I know was watching it. Love him or hate him, hockey fans were drawn to that game last night, You had to watch it. The game didn’t disappoint. Versus did an incredible job of covering it (Living in NY, it was blacked out starting @ 8pm which was weird. I preferred the VS broadcast over MSG)

    I wonder how many viewers the Nielsen Guess-Machine will give it. I’m guessing over 1 million actually watched it. #Crosby was the #1 Trending Topic Worldwide on Twitter for almost an hour, with literally, hundreds of thousands of tweets about him and the game. And plenty of people who watched the game don’t have or use Twitter. I follow 2,000 people and all of them were talking about this game. I know some the tweets are from Canada but….. It’s just crazy if they say 200,000 or 300,000. Has to be at least 500,000. Add in the 100,000+ from Pittsburgh, and 50,000-100,000 in NY. Hopefully the Nielsen Guess-Machine doesn’t fuck this up, making the NHL look bad.

    This was big for the NHL in another way. From what I saw on Versus in the 1st period, they showed the “Thanksgiving Showdown” commercial twice during breaks. (Which I think is pretty good. They did a good job with that commercial).. They also did one of the talkover commercials (No idea what’s called) where right before they start the game back up, they talk about it. Like a short promo. That’s 3 mentions/commercials of it (Only counting the 1st hour, since I had to watch MSG after 8pm, which is right when the 2nd period starts).. They got the message about the game to thousands (possibly millions) who might not have known about the game. This was important for the NHL. It would be really big if they could get a big audience for this game on Friday (1.5 Million would be great, anything over would be extremely impressive)..

  2. kevin says:

    What are you talking about….Montreal/Boston was a hundred times better game. Why would anyone with a brain want to watch the Islanders get blown out for about the 10th game in a row. They hype Crosby like he just came out of a coma. The guy had a concussion a year ago. He’s been skatig for six months. He is fine. So he scored against the worst team in the NHL and a goalie I’ve never heard of…the Islanders sux.

  3. Jake says:

    Sid has scored goals on all kinds of goalies. He also does it more often than any other player and given enough room he is able to seemingly do it at will. THAT is why his return is a huge deal and the hype is warranted. Anyone with a brain can surely appreciate all that he brings to the game.

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