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Strong network presence marks 2009-10 NHL season

Wednesday, 08.19.2009 / 2:00 PM / Schedule

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"Just starting this off, because it's an Olympic year and maybe only a handful of players on each team are a lock to be on their respective country's teams -- be it U.S. Canada, Russia, Sweden, etc. -- I think it's going to be pedal to the metal right from the beginning of the season and that's great for the fans."
-- Versus analyst Brian Engblom

Make sure you're not only free the night of Oct. 1, but that your television works properly. That night, the NHL returns in style to kick off the 2009-10 season, with four nationally televised games on two networks.

The NHL released its national television schedule Wednesday, and it begins with doubleheaders on Versus and CBC featuring Alex Ovechkin, Joe Sakic's jersey retirement ceremony, Jay Bouwmeester's first game as a Flame and the new-look Montreal Canadiens.

"Just starting this off, because it's an Olympic year and maybe only a handful of players on each team are a lock to be on their respective country's teams -- be it U.S. Canada, Russia, Sweden, etc. -- I think it's going to be pedal to the metal right from the beginning of the season, and that's great for the fans," Versus analyst Brian Engblom told NHL.com. "It's that extra kick factor that will work well for the fans."

Versus begins its NHL coverage with Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals heading to Boston. Following that game, emotions will run high in Denver as Sakic's No. 19 goes up to the Pepsi Center rafters prior to the Avalanche's game against San Jose.

"I hope people tune in to watch that ceremony," Engblom said. "He's one of the greatest players to ever play. I went to the press conference here in Denver when he retired and the outpouring from the fans in Colorado was terrific. Joe has had a great impact in Denver and around the League. I think it's great that we have that on our air."

Versus has exclusive rights in the United States for a Game of the Week, meaning there can be no other game being broadcast in the country at that time. The network will air 54 games in total.

Pittsburgh and Detroit will appear eight times on Versus, including their March 22 rematch of the last two Stanley Cup Finals. The New York Rangers, Chicago and Philadelphia will also appear eight times on the network.

Versus will air the first two games of the Compuware NHL Premiere. It will televise a doubleheader Friday afternoon, Oct. 2, starting with Chicago and Florida from Helsinki, Finland, and closing with Detroit and St. Louis from Stockholm, Sweden.

"I think it's important that we're picking up those telecasts like we did before to show the NHL has been going over there for years and what the environment is like to play over there," Engblom said. "These points are important and these teams get to go over there and experience this, which is terrific. Yeah, it's stress and strain on the players because of the travel, but they all are very enthusiastic about it and it's great for our game."

CBC opens its Hockey Night in Canada schedule with an all-Canadian doubleheader that has Original Six flair.

Montreal visits Toronto to kick off CBC's annual coverage on HNIC. It'll be the first official game for Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Paul Mara and Jaroslav Spacek in Montreal's famous blue, white and red. It'll also mark the first time Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek will play against his former team -- he signed with Toronto this summer.

Vancouver visits Calgary in the nightcap as Bouwmeester makes his debut on the Flames' back end at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

CBC executive producer Sherali Najak told NHL.com the network is especially excited about the schedule this season because it includes seven all-Canadian east vs. west games on HNIC. The schedule is highlighted by four particular dates.

The Hall of Fame Game on Nov. 7 between Detroit and Toronto at the Air Canada Centre is a major night for HNIC. Former Red Wings Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille will be in attendance, along with Brian Leetch and Lou Lamoriello, as they prepare for induction.

"Saturday nights are always special and they seem to have a buzz at the ACC around that night at the Hall of Fame Game," Najak said. "There is an aura in the air where it's filled with tradition and class and that is what Hockey Night in Canada is all about."

CBC will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens with a special Friday night edition of HNIC on Dec. 4, when the Bruins come to the Bell Centre. The network has been with the Habs every step of the way in their historic centennial celebration, and Najak called that game "closure to the celebration and we're looking forward to being a part of that."

The network will televise the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, but the marquee event on CBC's calendar is Jan. 30, which is Tim Horton's Hockey Day in Canada featuring Montreal at Ottawa, Vancouver at Toronto and Edmonton at Calgary. This year marks the 10th anniversary of HDIC, and this year it will be live from Stratford, Ont.

"It's the stories of the people in places that love the game," Najak said. "It's not only about the NHL; it's about the game at every level. That's what makes it real. Part of our brand is authenticity and Hockey Day helps us celebrate that brand."

TSN begins its enhanced coverage -- it will broadcast a network-record 122 games, all in high-definition, between TSN and TSN2 -- with the same European doubleheader that Versus will air on Oct. 2.

In total, 70 of the 87 games that will be on TSN will include at least one Canadian team. TSN2 will air 35 games from non-Canadian markets. The network has a total of 16 doubleheaders, six Original Six games and three all-Canadian games.
"When we went into last year we were thrilled about what we considered an increase in the quality of our games and that was because of our focus on the Canadian clubs. That quality is maintained and now we have quantity on top of that. Usually you have to choose between those two things, but we're thrilled to offer both." - Stewart Johnston, TSN's V.P. of Programming
"When we went into last year we were thrilled about what we considered an increase in the quality of our games and that was because of our focus on the Canadian clubs," Stewart Johnston, TSN's V.P. of Programming, told NHL.com. "That quality is maintained and now we have quantity on top of that. Usually you have to choose between those two things, but we're thrilled to offer both."

TSN's exclusive Wednesday Night Hockey -- a time when there are no other national or local NHL broadcasts -- debuts Oct. 7, when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Phoenix Coyotes. It will be the first of 12 Penguins games on either TSN or TSN2.

"Crosby has become one of the faces of the League over the last three years and we think that's outstanding, but he has also been in the Canadian consciousness for many years prior to that," Johnston said. "He has been quite a story, and he certainly moves the needle. We certainly love to see Sidney Crosby on the air."

NBC won't debut its NHL on NBC "Game of the Week" until the calendar flips to 2010, but it will again jump into the mix in style. The 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins at Fenway Park is the first of 10 regular-season games NBC will air this coming season.

"It's probably the two most historic venues in all of sport when you think about Wrigley Field and then going to Fenway, so it's a lateral move when it comes to history and a special venue," NBC broadcaster Ed Olczyk told NHL.com. "I think it's an unbelievable opportunity and what an unbelievable relationship that has gone on between Major League Baseball and the NHL. I'm just happy to be a small part of it and to bring it to millions of viewers."

The Peacock Network will once again have its flex scheduling in place, meaning producers can wait until 13 days prior to the game to choose between at least two pre-selected games. Teams can appear on NBC a maximum of four times during the regular season.

"It comes with seeing who is healthy, who is playing well, what games are appealing, is there a big star out," Olczyk said. "(NBC Coordinator Producer) Sam (Flood) doesn't get enough credit, but he has done a good job of picking those games that have the stars and markets that are relevant at that particular time."

RDS, the League's all-French speaking rights holder, again will air all 82 Montreal Canadiens game, including four preseason games, which is a first in the Province of Quebec, according to the network's VP of Production, Domenic Vannelli.

The preseason games include Alex Kovalev's return to Montreal with Ottawa on Sept. 18, the Habs. vs. Boston at Le Colisee in Quebec City on Sept. 20, Crosby and the Penguins at the Bell Centre on the 21st and Boston at the Habs on the 24th.

"Our bread and butter and our reason to be are the 82 Montreal Canadiens games," Vannelli told NHL.com. "It's a religion here, moreso this year than any other, quite honestly. That's the vibe we get in the city. The reason for four preseason games is the public demands it, they want it."

Outside of the Habs, RDS will also air 15 selected Ottawa Senators games and 24 other games, including the Winter Classic, which Vannelli called the highlight of the schedule. RIS will have another 42 nationally-televised games.

"The Winter Classic has become must-see TV, if I can steal that catch phrase from NBC, for people up here in Montreal," Vannelli said. "Contrary to viewing habits in the States with the bowl games, there isn't that tradition here so bringing a game on Jan. 1 has brought the ratings through the roof."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

I just think about how much it hurts. The feelings aren't going to go away, probably never. It's just something that sticks with you for a long time.

— San Jose forward Logan Couture to The Canadian Press on the Sharks' first-round loss to the Kings after taking a 3-0 series lead