By Ryan Berenz
Taking a cue from CBC’s “Hockey Day in Canada,” NBC introduces the first “Hockey Day in America” on Sunday, Feb. 20. NBC and Versus combine to air three games on Sunday, and include features on heartwarming stories on why hockey is such a great sport in the U.S. Depending on where you live, you’ll see Washington at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New York Rangers or Detroit at Minnesota on NBC Sunday afternoon, followed by the national TV airing of Pittsburgh at Chicago. On Sunday night, Versus airs the NHL Heritage Classic, an outdoor game between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames from Calgary’s McMahon Stadium. The full release and schedule from the NBC Sports Group below:
NBC SPORTS GROUP TO BROADCAST NINE HOURS OF NHL COVERAGE THIS SUNDAY WITH “HOCKEY DAY IN AMERICA” ON NBC & “HERITAGE CLASSIC” ON VERSUS
“The show opens with Eddie Olczyk skating with the Stanley Cup in the middle of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Not a bad spectacle to begin the day.” – NBC Sports and VERSUS executive producer Sam Flood
“Hockey back at its true roots…I can’t imagine that we could have asked for more.” – Keith Jones on the 2011 NHL Heritage Classic
“We have young people who are playing it and parents who are getting up at five in the morning and getting them to rinks.” – Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick on the reason for hockey’s increasing popularity in the U.S.
NEW YORK, N.Y. (February 15, 2011) – The NBC Sports Group will broadcast nine hours of hockey coverage this Sunday with the inaugural “Hockey Day in America” presented by McDonald’s from Noon-6 pm ET on NBC followed by the “2011 NHL Heritage Classic” at 6 pm ET on VERSUS.
Throughout the six hours of “Hockey Day” coverage, NBC Sports will celebrate the sport by telling stories that demonstrate this country’s affinity for hockey. One of the many tales that will be told is that of Neal Henderson, who 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. Additional stories will include the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships that are played by amateurs amidst arctic temperatures and ‘celebrity’ hockey in Los Angeles, played by actors and producers with a passion for the game. The stories of American hockey extend beyond NBC Sports. Prior to Sunday, the TODAY Show will feature a story on ‘hockey moms’ and NBC Nightly News will share a story on the lone American team competing in a Canadian women’s professional hockey league, a version of which will also run during “Hockey Day.”
In addition to the stories, NBC Sports will broadcast four NHL games from some of the most avid U.S. hockey markets. Washington at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New York Rangers, and Detroit at Minnesota will be broadcast regionally with staggered starts. All viewers will begin the day with Capitals-Sabres before some viewers are taken to Flyers-Rangers and others to Red Wings-Wild. The staggered starts allow for live look-ins of other regionalized games during intermissions. Pittsburgh at Chicago will be broadcast nationally. All games will be streamed live on NBCSports.com.
When “Hockey Day” concludes on NBC, the “2011 NHL Heritage Classic” begins on VERSUS. The much-anticipated outdoor matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames from McMahon Stadium, the home to the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders on the University of Calgary campus, is a celebration of hockey’s rich outdoor history and proud Canadian heritage. It will be the first outdoor NHL game to air on cable in the U.S.
NBC Sports Group’s Sunday NHL schedule (all times ET):
Noon “Hockey Day in America” coverage begins on NBC
12:35 p.m. Washington at Buffalo (regional on NBC)
12:40 p.m. Philadelphia at New York Rangers (regional on NBC)
12:45 p.m. Detroit at Minnesota (regional on NBC)
3:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Chicago (national on NBC)
6:00 p.m. Montreal at Calgary (national on VERSUS)
COMMENTATORS: Liam McHugh will host “Hockey Day” from McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park. He will be joined on site by Eddie Olczyk (game analyst), Pierre McGuire (inside-the-glass analyst) and Mike Milbury (studio analyst). Olczyk and McGuire will eventually depart Millennium Park for United Center where they will call Penguins-Blackhawks with Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play). There will also be live reports from the Edge Sports Center in Boston throughout “Hockey Day” with Comcast SportsNet New England’s Carolyn Manno.
The three regional games will employ a play-by-play commentator in the booth and an analyst located in the inside-the-glass position. Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Jim Jackson (play-by-play) joins Ray Ferraro (inside the glass analyst) to call Capitals-Sabres; Kenny Daniels (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (inside-the-glass analyst) will call Flyers-Rangers; and Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Pat Foley (play-by-play) joins Darren Pang (inside-the-glass analyst) to call Red Wings-Wild.
Dave Strader (play-by-play), Andy Brickley (game analyst) and Brian Engblom (inside-the-glass analyst) will call the Heritage Classic on VERSUS. This will be Strader’s second assignment for an outdoor NHL game. He called the 2009 NHL Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Blackhawks from Wrigley Field in Chicago for NBC Sports when Emrick was sidelined with laryngitis. VERSUS will also host its studio show on-site at McMahon Stadium in Calgary with Bill Patrick (host), Keith Jones (analyst) and Jeremy Roenick (analyst). There will be live reports from Calgary throughout the late afternoon on NBC as “Hockey Day” concludes.
CROSS-CHANNEL PRIORITY: Both “Hockey Day” and the “Heritage Classic” have been identified by NBCUniversal’s Marketing Council as cross-channel priorities. They will receive extensive promotion across NBC Universal’s 20 channels and more than 40 websites. These events for the first time leverage the newly-expanded resources of the NBC Sports Group by combining the national media assets of NBC Sports and VERSUS and the local insight from storied hockey markets like Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia served by Comcast SportsNet.
Following are highlights of a conference call with reporters:
Flood on the origin of Hockey Day in America: “The genesis for this comes through Hockey Day in Canada and just watching what has been done in Canada through the years and their passion they have for that sport. I was up in Canada for the Olympics last year and saw Hockey Day in Canada on CBC and had been thinking for a while about a way to celebrate hockey in a bigger and better way in the United States…It has been a thought of mine for a couple of years now doing something bigger with hockey and celebrating it. (NBC Sports and VERSUS, president, programming) Jon Miller and I had the conversation for a couple years.”
Emrick on the state of hockey in the U.S.: “The sport is very healthy in the United States and, of course, always will be in Canada, because we have young people who are playing it and parents who are getting up at five in the morning and getting them to rinks. You see them in the stands in American rinks now, not just Canadian ones, wearing their uniform that they wore that morning. When a player signs their first contract and gets the signing bonus, when I started in the ’70s and ’80s, the one thing he would do as sort of a reward to the parents who got him to the rink in the morning is they would buy the parents a car. Now, when they have a signing bonus, they buy the parents a house.”
Flood on the spirit of Hockey Day: “These parents across the country who get in their car at 6am, pull their little tikes out of bed, throw them in the back seat and drive them to the rink so they get to be part of the greatest game in the world. And that’s what we’re going to celebrate — the hockey moms and the hockey dads who sacrifice so much to get their kids out to the rink. It’s the ritual of hockey.”
Emrick on Hockey Day: “It is a celebration of hockey…We try our best to make sure that people understand that we are passionate about the sport.”
Milbury on this point in the season: “It’s the time of year when the games are the most meaningful…and we get to see them one after the other. It’s a treat…When games are this meaningful you know you’re going to get every player’s full attention.
Flood on Millennium Park in Chicago: “It’s going to be a great scene. USA Hockey has been all over this. They have been an incredible partner. This is part of Hockey Weekend in America. USA Hockey is going to have some junior players there and some various youth groups to be a part of the spectacle that will make it feel so neat and so special. With McDonald’s having a remote coffee system in place so that all the people can stay warm and hang out and watch the people on the ice. The show opens with Eddie Olczyk skating with the Stanley Cup in the middle of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Not a bad spectacle to begin the day.”
Milbury on the Blackhawks: “You can’t re-do a roster by 50 percent and not expect to have some issues. And the Hawks already had some issues. They’ve lost a lot of grit. They lost some toughness. They’ve lost what arguably was as valuable a player they had in the playoffs in (Dustin) Byfuglien last year. So there was bound to me some bumps along the road…throw in some goaltending issues and you got a recipe for an uneven season.”
Jones on the Sabres: “If you look at the Buffalo Sabres and the players that they have lost, Chris Drury leaving in his prime, they’ve had a tremendous head coach in Lindy Ruff that has gotten a maximum amount of his players…I’d be pretty enthused if I was a Buffalo Sabres fan that they’re going to have the ability to keep their star players, Derek Roy being one of those guys when he gets back healthy…It’s going to be tremendous and nothing but good things are going to start to happen for the Buffalo Sabres…I’m looking forward to watching the Buffalo Sabres continue to grow.”
Jones on Heritage Classic: “Hockey back at its true roots. Playing on the pond is something we all did as kids. To be there and celebrate hockey with two teams that are fighting for playoff spots, one in the East and one in the West in Montreal and Calgary, I can’t imagine that we could have asked for more.”
Flood on both events working together: “It all builds to the Pittsburgh-Chicago game which has the cool advantage of leading into the Calgary game. And for the first time, we can take advantage of the NBCU synergies with this new company and tell the audience that there is a big outdoor hockey game north of the border that takes place as soon as Pittsburgh-Chicago ends. So again, we’ve got this hockey crazed audience celebrating the game for the day and ending up in Calgary for the hockey under the lights in the open air. And nothing could be more fun than that.”
Flood on VERSUS hockey coverage: “I will say that last Monday and Tuesday, when we rolled out the inside-the-glass theory, that was the start. We changed the studio show and the way it flowed into the game both Monday and Tuesday and we continued on…taking that theory of covering hockey and crossing it over onto the VERSUS platform. And I think the promotion we’ve done the last couple of weekends within the NBC Sports Sunday telecast is all part of the idea of showing hockey across the two platforms and pushing audiences across and letting them know the opportunity to watch more hockey on VERSUS. That’s…how we’re trying to work as one and that’s the goal.”
Flood on production elements: “CBC is using a helicopter and we’ll take a split off of that…There is a big jumbo crane that’s for the play-by-play camera, various elements like that. There’s a lodge which will be our studio where the talent will be for the intermissions.”