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Behind the Broadcast: Versus shouldn’t be outsourcing NHL coverage

Saturday, May 10, 2008
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Like the dedicated hockey fan that I am, I stayed up until almost 2:30 a.m. Monday watching the four-overtime thriller between the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal. I thought about going to bed after the third overtime, but decided to give it one more overtime.

It was a great game to watch. The Stars won, 2-1, to advance to the Western final against the Detroit Red Wings.

I watched the game on Versus, but there was something strange about the broadcast. The game graphics weren’t from Versus, and the announcers had Canadian accents.

My first thought was, did Time Warner Cable add a channel that I didn’t know about? I could have sworn Versus was on cable channel 75.

It turns out that Time Warner didn’t add a channel. Instead, Versus, based in Stamford, Conn., used the broadcast feed from The Sports Network, Canada’s version of ESPN.

Now, in the three years it has televised the NHL, Versus has used feeds from TSN and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s fine during the first round, when Versus may not have enough announcers and technical crew available to

produce the games, especially if they are in Canada, and they are the second game of a double-header.

But I do object to doing it in the second round, when it is the only game Versus had to televise. There had been the potential for a double-header on Sunday, with Versus scheduled to show Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between Montreal and Philadelphia at 7 p.m., and then join the San Jose-Dallas game in progress around 9:30. But the Flyers ousted the Canadians in Game 5 the prev­ious night, meaning Versus would show the San Jose-Dallas game in its entirety.

Even if Versus was going to join that game in progress, it should have had its own announcers and technical crew there. It had play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati and analyst Neil Smith in San Jose two nights earlier. Was their flight to Dallas delayed? Versus’ only contribution to Game 6 was having its between-periods studio show.

And before anyone thinks this is a pro-American, anti-Canadian rant, I liked the job TSN did. I have always enjoyed play-by-play announcer Chris Cuthbert’s call.

Having said that, if Versus wants to be taken seriously as the NHL’s cable home, it needs to make sure it has its own crew covering the playoffs, especially after the first round.

CHERRY JOINS ESPN

Maybe ESPN does care about the NHL.

Legendary CBC hockey analyst Don Cherry has joined ESPN to analyze the Stanley Cup conference finals and championship round, the cable sports network announced Tuesday. Cherry, who made his first appearance Friday, will team with ESPN analyst Barry Melrose to discuss the playoffs during the next few weeks.

“Pairing Don Cherry and Barry Melrose will provide NHL fans with two of the most respected and opinionated voices in hockey today,” ESPN executive vice president of production Norby Williamson said in a statement. “ ‘SportsCenter’ will be the place to turn for Stanley Cup analysis, debate and highlights.”

It makes me wonder if ESPN will go crawling back to the NHL, wanting to be telecast its games again. ESPN declined its option to televise the games in 2005-06, when the league returned after the previous season was canceled by the lockout.

Tiger-less tourney

NBC will televise the final two rounds of the PGA Players Champ­ionship at 2 p.m. today and Sunday from the TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Verda Beach, Fla. But the star attraction won’t be there.

Tiger Woods is recovering from knee surgery, but NBC

analyst Johnny Miller doesn’t believe Woods’ absence is a big deal.

“The bottom line is, Tiger Woods hasn’t exactly lit it up here,” Miller said during a Wednesday conference call. “He’s had five rounds of 75 in the last four years here. There’s no other championship I know that he’s shot five 75s. I’m not saying he’s totally disliked this course, but this course is the perfect course if you were betting against Tiger, because it’s a precision

course. This is the one course the whole year that I really believe you have to be lucky. You got to be lucky and good, not just good.”

NBC will use 15 “Splash Mics” at the infamous No. 17 Island Green to better capture the sound of balls splashing into the lake that surrounds the green.

parting shots

ESPN2 and ABC will have the Indianapolis 500 pole day today. ESPN2 has coverage at noon and 6 p.m.. ABC will be on at 3. . . .

Thoroughbred racing, which is still reeling over the death of filly Eight Belles in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, may be in for a bigger controversy. HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” investigates underperforming thoroughbreds who are auctioned off and sent to the slaughterhouses outside of the United States. The show is on at

10 p.m. Monday. . . .

The Dallas Cowboys will be the subject of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” all-access look at training camp. The show debuts Aug. 6. I wonder if there will be a special segment on quarterback Tony Romo and his girlfriend, singer Jessica Simpson. Anything goes on HBO, right?

 
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