Hockey Day In America. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms.
While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S.
Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S.
Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC. Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC. The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.
NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines. From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.
But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer. NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.
While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday. For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota. Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate.
Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues. American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast.
The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.
I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base. He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick. Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow.
It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history.
Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life. If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL.
They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport. Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.
Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute. Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing). NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league.
The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home. Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year. It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop. The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball. Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start. That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America.
Russian Rhymes: NHL Star Ovechkin Raps In Music Video
As a sports-loving society, we’ve been subjected to numerous cases of horrendous musical endeavors from our favorite athletes over the years. Sure, some have been so bad that they’re good (i.e. 1985 Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle”), but most are just awful without any redeeming qualities.
While I love Alexander Ovechkin’s “Russian Spy” SportsCenter commercial, I’m not as enthusiastic about the Washington Capital winger’s latest detour into the world of fine arts.
This time, one of the NHL’s biggest stars took up rapping. Yes, rapping, as in hip hop. I tend to forget that folks from every country in the world rap so every time I hear the style performed in a different language, it makes me chuckle. Russian rapper Sasha Belyi’s song “Champion” features Ovechkin lending his vocal stylings to the track as well as his attempt at dancing and bobbing to the beat in the “special” music video above. Watching the video, I can’t decide if I’m repulsed, amused or both. Ovi is featured throughout the video, but doesn’t start rapping until the 2:50 mark.
The website RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com translated Ovechkin’s rap:
Alumni of Dynamo 8 on the back. In the All-Star game all attention is on me.
On the NatTeam since 17 . Scored 100 points in a season Gold medal in Canada in ‘08
Among the ten best players of the decade, Stick in my hands, Rap in my headphones
Saying hello from Washington,
Together with Sanya Belyi,
For every champion
[And then a bizarre sound that sounds like the English words “Look out!”]
Fantastic! Equally amusing is the behind-the-scenes feature about Ovi’s involvement with the song MTV Russia aired. In the video, the 26-year-old Moscow native is shown wearing a t-shirt reading in english “sex and love are the future.” Prophetic indeed. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=u0E2JVEicEo
With the Capitals in the midst of a rough season (at least by their lofty standards) and Ovechkin struggling to match his sky high production of previous years, it’s nice to see him smiling and enjoying himself. While I’m pretty sure Rebecca Black is slightly more talented on the mic than Ovi, I’d rather hear this Russian rap any day of the week. Fridays included.
Sports trades can get awkward, especially when they fall through. In that situation, a player already knows his team tried to get rid of him and subsequently, he feels unwanted, etc.
But how about this gem, care of the Montreal Canadiens, as one of the NHL’s Original Six teams traded its forward Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames during their game against the rival Bruins in Boston on Thursday night.
We’ll get to the details of the trade itself in a moment, but first, we must discuss the horrendous timing of the trade, why it looks like Cammalleri was sent packing and why he was actually shipped to Calgary (20-19-5, 12th in the West).
The trade was finalized during a conference call between both teams and the league while the Habs (16-20-7, 12th in the East) and Bruins (28-11-1, 2nd in the East) were playing. After the second period ended, the Habs informed Cammalleri he had been traded, put him in a taxi cab and sent him back to the team hotel to await further instructions. Very 007, right? Anyway, once play resumed in the third period (the Habs went on to lose the game 2-1), the forward was noticeably missing from the Habs bench which started a firestorm of trade rumors on twitter.
Many assumed Cammalleri in essence packed his own bags after controversial comments he made about his own team. The nine-year NHL veteran managed to piss off all of Montreal when he pulled a Reggie Bush after a practice session on Wednesday, expressing some harsh opinions about his squad.
“I can’t accept that we will display a losing attitude as we’re doing this year,” Cammalleri told NHL.com reporter Arpon Basu and François Gagnon of La Presse. “We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”
Some have claimed that Cammalleri’s words got lost in translation when they were converted from English to French for print. Regardless of whether Cammalleri was quoted accurately or not, Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said the incident had nothing to do with the trade. Surprisingly, I actually believe the guy!
When asked if the left winger’s insult of the team was a factor in the trade, Gauthier said, “Not not at all and I didn’t make a big deal about that. There’s emotion around the team somebody says something, I’d rather see emotion than people that don’t care. I just spoke with Mr. Cammalleri, I mean, he understands what was happening and I explained what we were trying to do with the team… He’s part of the team and he cares a lot, that’s why he made those comments.”
I watched those words come out of Gauthier’s mouth and he seemed genuine, so I’ll buy it. In that case, why did he trade Cammalleri, goaltender Karri Ramo and a 5th-round pick of the 2012 draft to Calgary in exchange for left winger Rene Bourque, center prospect Patrick Holland and a 2nd-round draft pick in 2013?
“We’ve been trying all those weeks [since December 1] to get bigger up front, we felt as the season started, that was one of the things, one of the reasons it would improve the club is we need to score harder goals,” Gauthier told the media. “We need to score the goals that are not the fancy ones and not the outside shots [the kind that Bourque is capable of scoring].”
As far as timing is concerned, Gauthier made some valid points. He said Cammalleri had to be pulled from the ice immediately upon finalization of the trade to reduce the likelihood of the other team involved changing its mind, or risking the possibility of Cammalleri getting injured, which would void the deal. Gauthier further explained the timing of the trade in terms of Bourque’s availability. The forward is now down to the last game of a five-game suspension he is serving for an elbow shot to the head of the Capital’s Nicklas Backstrom. Better to have your new player miss one game instead of five.
After learning of the trade, Bourque said with humorous honesty, “I might be in trouble… I don’t speak French, even if I have the most French name on that team.” Good luck buddy! A few of my close friends from Toronto went to college in Montreal and were unable to work because they weren’t fluent in French. Apparently, it is nearly impossible to find employment in the city if you don’t speak French. I guess Bourque should consider himself lucky.
As for Cammalleri, we’ll hear from him soon enough, but for now all we have to go on is that he understood why he was being traded, which is what Gauthier surmised after their conversation about the move.
With nine goals and 13 assists this season, Cammalleri will re-join his former team (he wore the Flames sweater for the 2008-2009 season) and reunite with old line mate Jarome Iginla. The two had great chemistry back in the 08-09 season, which was also the last time the Flames reached the playoffs.
Two days after getting canned by the Washington Capitals, Bruce Boudreau was hired to be the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
No, there wasn’t exactly a job opening at the time, but after winning only three of their last 19 games, the Ducks created a vacancy by firing Randy Carlyle after a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, also cutting loose two assistant coaches and the video coordinator.
The video coordinator? Like he was the reason the Ducks are 7-13-4 and tied with a league-low 18 points. Harsh!
Despite Alexander Ovechkin saying otherwise, it is suspected that Boudreau and his star player weren’t seeing eye to eye (e.g. benching Ovechkin - the team’s best player, making millions of dollars - in the final minute of a game against the Ducks, of all teams, on Nov. 1) in Washington, leading up to his firing.
From ESPN.com, “Boudreau led the Capitals to four consecutive division titles but couldn’t find sustained success in the playoffs, failing to advance beyond the second round. His attempt to instill more accountability this season backfired — Washington was not only losing, the losses were becoming humiliating. Change was all but inevitable.”
Even great coaches lose their locker room sometimes, as having top talent can be both a blessing and a curse. The situation in Anaheim is somewhat similar in that the Ducks roster has plenty of skill and experience, yet a disconnect exists preventing the team from success.
ESPN.com reports, “Ducks general manager Bob Murray called it ‘an extremely difficult decision,’ but said he felt the team needed ‘a new voice.’”
From a selfish standpoint, I’ll be happy to hear Boudreau’s voice in Southern California. While Lane Kiffin certainly has the fire, Boudreau’s toughness at least comes with a humorous edge making him a perfect personality for the L.A. sports scene.
As a reporter, I fell in love with Boudreau watching HBO’s 24/7 series focusing on last year’s Winter Classic game between the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Between the yelling, cursing, joking, and eating ice cream before 10am, what’s not to love? Boudreau should be a fascinating fit for a Ducks franchise that has yet to make it past the conference semifinal round of the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup, coached by Carlyle, in the 2006-2007 season.