It's a big Saturday south of the border as the United States of America embraces hockey for one entire day! While I wouldn't quite say that hockey has established itself in the lower 48 states at this point, the fact that NBC is devoting a pile of airtime for hockey and hockey-related stories is quite amazing. Combine that with the Heritage Classic from Calgary, Alberta tonight, and we've got ourselves a pretty solid hockey Sunday! I think what should be kept in mind as you read through this article is that hockey, no matter what people say, is becoming more mainstream again. With the expected lockouts/strikes coming up in both the NBA and NFL, hockey on NBC could be a regular Saturday broadcast over the next calendar year.
We'll start first with the line-up for Hockey Day In America. Thanks to NBC Sports and Versus combining their collective talents, games that NBC was once blocked from carrying thanks to Versus' buy-in for NHL rights are no longer a concern. NBC Sports can now carry those games as part of their line-up, and this will allow more games to reach more people through basic cable. Hockey can now be found on both your regular channels in the US as well as specialty cable channels. Exposure is good.
The early regional games see Washington at Buffalo, Philadelphia at the New York Rangers, and Detroit at Minnesota. The Washington-Buffalo game has Jeff Jackson doing play-by-play. Fomer NHL player Ray Ferraro will be between the benches doing analysis and color commentary. Philadelphia-New York will feature Ken Daniels and Joe Micheletti in the booth. Detroit-Minnesota sees Pat Foley and Darren Pang doing the broadcast. All six men are highly knowledgeable about the sport, and should provide great commentary throughout the early games.
The nationally televised game will be seen after the regional games, so there will be back-to-back hockey on NBC today. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be visiting the Chicago Blackhawks, and the "big guns" from NBC's hockey team will be on-hand. Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire will handle the calling of the game and the color commentary while Mike Milbury and Liam McHugh handle the in-studio responsibilities.
Once that game is done, NBC will throw the gauntlet to Versus where they will broadcast the 2011 Heritage Classic featuring the Montreal Canadiens visiting the Calgary Flames at McMahon Stadium. Bill Patrick, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick should make for an interesting studio analysis team while Dave Strader, Andy Brickley and Brian Engblom will in the booth for the play-by-play and color commentary.
I'm not going to say that this is a first on American television airwaves, but this is certainly the first time in a long time that hockey has dominated the telelvision landscape for one network. Not since the NHL playoffs on ESPN a number of years ago has hockey been featured so prominently on one network.
What may be the best part of Hockey Day In America are the features that NBC is working on as part of the broadcast. Some of the stories include:
- Neal Henderson's story. Mr. Henderson "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".
- A feature on the US Pond Hockey Championships from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was lucky enough to see this event first-hand last year, and it is an amazing time for both players and spectators.
- A feature on "celebrity hockey" played in Los Angeles where Hollywood folks such as directors, producers, and actors take to the ice to play the game that they love.
- A feature on the Boston Blades, the lone American CWHL team, that will highlight the challenges and rewards that the professional women hockey players face. For more info on the CWHL, check out this article.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!