With She Who Endures My Myriad Eccentricities © off galivanting around Cozumel, I’ve had a long weekend to do with as I’ve seen fit. By design, this hasn’t been an overly productive weekend (but the good news is that I don’t have to be at work until Tuesday), but neither have I spent it on the couch in my underwear. The weather’s been far too nice for that.
What I have been able to do is watch hockey- a LOT of hockey. I’ve watched (and I’m almost embarrassed to admit to this) eight games in four days. Yeah, I’m a BIG fan of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the second round, most of the pretenders have been weeded out, but there are still enough games to feed the beast. Ah, it’s good to be King…. :O)
I will have to say that watching the playoffs this year has been much more enjoyable than last. I still miss ESPN; they put together by far the best hockey telecast, including pre- and post-game shows, and they’d been doing it year in and year out. Last year, when OLN (now Versus) took over the NHL television contract, watching games was often an excruciating experience. OLN’s production values were horrible, only a few announcers even know how to call a game, and the poor saps doing interviews were clueless. Even Bill Clement, one of the best in the business, looked horribly uncomfortable and out of place.
This year, thankfully, Versus has really picked things up. I’m not altogether sure what the difference is, but the improvement is both pronounced and noticeable. Somehow, the play-by-play announcers and the studio talent has discovered how to convey the speed and excitment of the NHL game. With NBC in the picture, now I can also watch games in HD…and let me tell you, hockey in HD is a phenomenal game to watch. No, it’s not the same as actually being in the arena, but it’s much closer to that feeling than any other sport.
OLN still has some work to do before they’re on par with ESPN, but at least they’re making progress. Some of those who call the games haven’t figured out that they’re broadcasting to an American audience that’s still largely ignorant about the sport. How to explain the game without being insulting? Well, it’s a fine line, but ESPN talent managed to do it consistently and well for years. Some of Versus’ best play-by-play folks were also on ESPN- Dave Strader, for instance, is still one of the best in the business. And I’m sorry; I know some of y’all will disagree with me here, but listening to Mike Emrick is the aural equivalent of listening to fingernails being scraped down a chalkboard. His voice and his sing-song delivery and inflection grates on me…though I do have to give Emrick props for knowing his stuff.
I do have one BIG pet peeve, though. What is it about some hockey announcers that renders them incapable of using the complete names of teams? “Senators and Devils” becomes “Sens and Devs”. “Canucks and Ducks” becomes “‘Nucks and Ducks”. “Avalanche and Hurricanes” becomes “Avs and ‘Canes”. WTF? Perhaps it’s just some wierd Canadian thing that I don’t get, but can you at least use the actual names of the teams you’re talking about? Otherwise, it just sounds silly- like being on a first-name basis with your mother-in-law. It’s a degree of familiarity that just sounds forced and artificial.
It’s nice to see the NHL on it’s way to once again becoming a major sport. After the 2004-05 lockout, I was willing to leave the league for dead. After all, sacrificing an entire season on the altar of greed, avarice, and pride can only charitably and honestly be called a self-inflicted would. If not for the passion and willingness to (eventually) forgive of Canadian fans and fans in the Original Six cities, the NHL might well be history…not that it wouldn’t have richly deserved it.
Last year, the NHL had to make do with a third-tier cable network…probably because VH1 and the Food Network turned them down cold. OLN didn’t have a clue, but given the pittance they paid for the contract, management probably figured that they could learn on the fly. After all, it wasn’t as if networks were beating a path to Gary Bettman’s office. This year, as Versus, at least the playoffs aren’t fill-in progamming between reruns of Professional Bull Riding rodeos.
She Who Endures My Myriad Eccentricities © gets back today, and I’ll probably spend the day catching up with here. That’s a good thing, because I probably don’t need to be watching two hockey games a day. It sure has been fun, though.