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Behind the Broadcast: Somewhere, Lord Stanley is smiling

Saturday, April 14, 2012
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Hockey fans must feel like they are in Stanley Cup heaven.

For the first time ever, all of the Stanley Cup playoff games are going to be nationally televised. Never before had hockey fans been able to switch from one channel to another every night for the two months of the playoffs, and see every game.

But thanks to the 10-year deal the NHL signed with the NBC Sports Group last year, every game of the playoffs will be on, whether it’s NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and the NHL Network. And New York Rangers’ and New Jersey Devils’ fans can catch their teams on MSG and MSG Plus, respectively.

I still have to pinch myself that this is really happening. I can recall years ago that you were lucky to watch the local broadcasts. If there was a game on national cable, that was a bonus.

For years, hockey fans like me wondered why the NHL never had all of its most important games on national TV. The casual hockey fan didn’t know what all the fuss that us dedicated puckheads knew, that the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most intense, most exciting postseason of all the four major sports. What other sport are you willing to stay up through multiple overtimes, waiting for that one dramatic goal to be scored to end the game?

There were some hockey fans who were wishing that NHL returned to ESPN because they believed the “Worldwide Leader In Sports” would get more exposure. In reality, there is no way ESPN could do what the NBC Sports Group has done. ESPN has too much on its plate to be able to show all of the playoff games.

A friend of mine bemoaned that the playoff coverage was overlapping on TV, and he’d rather see just a couple of games a night, just like the NBA does in its playoffs. I replied that I like how the NHL does it and doesn’t drag out the first round of the playoffs like the NBA does. If the NHL did that, the playoffs would be done in early July. And I will also point out that the NCAA men’s basketball tourn­ament is spread out over four networks during the opening weekend, and they overlap, as well. I don’t hear anybody complaining about that.

The NHL has finally gotten it right. All Stanley Cup playoff games are on TV. It is, indeed, heaven.

College hockey

Let’s shift the focus from how to handle covering hockey to how not to handle covering the sport.

Many college hockey fans weren’t pleased with the way ESPN handled its coverage of the NCAA hockey tournament. Not all of the regional games were on TV. ESPNU, which isn’t a basic channel, had most of the games. The others were relegated to ESPN3.com.

And even when ESPNU was supposed to show a game, it didn’t make the start. The Northeast

Regional semifinal between Air Force and Boston College didn’t get on the air until midway through the first period because ESPNU was showing a men’s lacrosse game that had gone into overtime. That has seemed to happen a lot the last few years.

This year’s Frozen Four didn’t even get the championship game on the main channel. It was relegated to ESPN2. The Union-Ferris State semifinal was on ESPNU, while the Boston College-Minnesota semi­final was on ESPN2.

To make matters worse, you know how many regular-season college hockey games the family of ESPN networks did this season? None. How shameful is that?

Unfortunately, college hockey fans are stuck with ESPN having the NCAA hockey tournament. The network recently signed a deal with the NCAA to televise most of the Division I championships through 2023-24.

The NCAA hockey tournament would be better suited for networks that carry college hockey, like NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network. If ESPN wants to televise the NCAA hockey tourn­ament, it should televise regular-season games on ESPNU. It devotes plenty of coverage to college baseball, softball and lacrosse. College hockey deserves just as much attention.

mlb network strike zone

On Tuesday, MLB Network launched “MLB Network Strike Zone,” a new channel that will take viewers on a high-speed trip around Major League Baseball on Tuesday and Friday nights during the regular season.

When live game telecasts air on MLB Network, “MLB Network Strike Zone” will bring fans to every game across the league, with up-to-the-minute highlights, live look-ins and updates, all commercial-free.

“MLB Network Strike Zone” is on channel 1541 on Time Warner Cable, channel 719 on DirecTV and channel 153 on Dish Network.

parting shots

After rotating sideline reporters the last couple of seasons, ESPN named Lisa Salters as the new sideline reporter for “Monday Night Football.” . . .

FOX Sports (FOX23 and FOX23 HD) has the Los Angeles Angels-New York Yankees today at 1 p.m. Those two teams will on “Sunday Night Baseball” at 8 on ESPN and ESPN HD. . . .

Time Warner Cable Sports-3 and TWCS-3 HD televises today’s men’s lacrosse game between Canisius and Siena at 3 p.m. . . .

ABC Sports (ABC10 and ABC10 HD) has the NBA contest between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks at 1 p.m. Sunday. . . .

Finally, it’s good to be back writing this column again after a five-week hiatus. I was a tad busy with Union hockey’s run to the NCAA Frozen Four. I hadn’t gone this long without writing a column since my little heart episode 10 years ago in Lake Placid during the ECAC Hockey tournament championship round.

 
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