Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Steve on 01/02/08 at 02:41 PM ET
Images, if they resonate with you enough, can stick in your brain for quite some time. They stop being just vivid clips running through your brainwaves and become an indelible imprint on your memory. Folks, that image of the 20-year old “Hockey Savior” beating the Michigan State-trained goaltender in a skills competition, sarcasm aside, will be in my brain for many days and months, perhaps years, to come.
Often, when my mind is so aware something is coming, it becomes my mere focus, and I can do little but ponder it. It makes it very difficult to sleep. Perhaps you know the feeling, hockey fans. It’s the first or last day of school. For puckheads, opening night of the playoffs, or perhaps game one or two or three or six or seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.
I’ll tell you something, as an American who missed a chance to watch more than highlights of the first time they did this both professionally (In Edmonton in 2003) and at the collegiate level, (The Michigan-Michigan St. “Cold War” in 2001) this game between two teams in seventh and eighth positions in the Eastern Conference had that significance to me. I was so excited, I got little sleep the night before. Call it silly, but at least I remember what I did on New Year’s Eve. How many of you reading can say you did, hmm?
Anyway, enough instant nostalgia…let’s talk about the broadcast.
I want to start off with, and commend, both Bob Costas and Mike Milbury. Costas did what Costas usually does, he sets a stage and identifies for the casual viewer what they should be watching. And in a rare show of personality (An appearence on a 1997 episode of NBC sitcom “NewsRadio” is the only evidence I know of one existing in him) told a fantastic story about Bill “Harpo” Goldthorpe threatening to do harm to him when he was a play-by-play man for the Syracuse Blazers. Most of the first intermission was spent talking about “Slap Shot”, considered unanimously the greatest hockey movie, and by many the best sports movie of all time.
Wait, what? They reminisced about a movie from 30 years ago while they were playing an outdoor hockey game? How does that make any sense? Well, as William Houston pointed out, it was about making a connection with people. Everyone I’ve ever known through high school, and now college, has seen at least portions of “Slap Shot”. It is their lone connection to a game in which they would probably not know Sidney Crosby’s, or any player’s, names. Clips of that movie, mixed in with reactions from both NHL players participating in the game, and analyst Mike Milbury, is a great way for a league searching for a connection with the average American to hand it to them on a silver platter.
Speaking of Milbury, I will say that I liked him. He was what Brett Hull wasn’t during his one season at NBC: He managed to say something that got my attention (comparing Sid the Kid to Bobby Orr is quite a statement, no?) and yet, he was surprisingly likeable. He looked like the kinda guy you wanna have a beer with and talk about the game. Whereas Hull came off as pompus and talked out of his you-know-what - which only Don Cherry can get away with - Milbury sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but didn’t seem to be talking down to the viewer. He had an easy chemistry with Bob Costas, and we can only hope he does the same with Pierre McGuire when they join forces as the “Game of the Week” studio team.
On to the main broadcast team. Mike “Doc” Emrick sets the stage like no other, and he had some marvelous quoteables during this one. One that I enjoyed was, as they were headed to a break in the action, Emrick said something akin to “We’ll be back in a moment to a backyard rink, in the middle of a football stadium”. For some reason, there’s just something great about that quote. Emrick did a great job mixing in his usual instantaneous backstories on players with following the action, which I’m sure was difficult during the snow, as both Emrick and Eddie Olczyk were calling the game out in a small lift slightly above the surface.
Now onto Eddie O. himself. I like Olczyk a lot, and I know there are some that do not. But he by no means got in the way of the broadcast, didn’t speak in terms that would be above the casual viewer, and even got in a little bit of personal info, as he pointed out the weather at one point was the falling of “Snow Grains”. It’s great when you take a little bit of random personal knowledge and make it useful, and “Edzo” did a good job of that.
Inside the glass was Darren Pang. I am not a fan of “Panger”. He, unlike Olczyk, did get in the way of the telecast, and - in my opinion - overstepped the bounds at times of the inside the glass reporter’s duty, which is to merely provide insights from ice level, not regurgitate what the color analyst could’ve told you. The shootout in particularly, when he waxed poetic about Buffalo fans, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Why are you telling me this now?”. That said, he did provide great insight when he was talking about what was going on at ice level, particularly profiling the various foibles of the ice surface.
Overall, NBC did a good job of capturing whatever it is this was. I garantee you now, whether you liked the “Amp Energy NHL Winter Classic” or not, if it gets a better rating than Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals did (not a difficult task, but who knows), I’ll bet you the backup goaltender on my fantasy team that it sticks around. In fact, and this is for another day, I’d love to see it replace the All-Star Game, but that’s another soapbox to hop on for another day.
It was a great day for hockey. It was many, many things. But in short, that was pretty cool, eh?
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