"The show opens with Eddie Olczyk skating with the Stanley Cup in the middle of Chicago's Millennium Park," NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood told the media Tuesday. "Not a bad spectacle to begin the day."
The image of hockey's Holy Grail being lifted in front of the skyline of the city it currently calls home will kick off six hours of regional and national coverage for U.S. audiences on NBC that will bring viewers to five different games, all of which will have major playoff implications as the season enters its final eight weeks.
NBC will open its coverage with a live pre-game show from Chicago's Millennium Park at noon ET, which will be followed by three regional games, starting with Washington's visit to Buffalo at 12:35 p.m. ET. At 12:40 p.m. ET the puck will drop at Madison Square Garden between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia, and Detroit and Minnesota will get underway five minutes later at 12:45 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center. The deliberately staggered start times gives NBC the ability to bring viewers to all three sites during intermissions, as well as bring each game's conclusion to fans across the country.
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The early regional coverage will culminate in NBC's national broadcast of the last two Stanley Cup champions facing off in Chicago, when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Blackhawks at 3:30 p.m. ET.
"They're all meaningful games," said NBC analyst Mike Milbury. "To get to see them one after the other, it's a treat."
While the NHL games will take center stage throughout the day, according to Flood the games aren't so much the purpose of the afternoon as the game of hockey itself. In addition to a large group of U.S. junior players and a number of youth hockey groups joining what is expected to be a vibrant crowd at Millennium Park, the six hours of NBC's coverage will be dotted with features on various hockey organizations at the sport's grassroots level throughout the U.S. -- what Flood called an attempt to "weave this thread throughout the day of a celebration of hockey."
In fact, Hockey Day in America is part of an even bigger inititiative by USA Hockey, called Hockey Weekend Across America. Beginning Friday, and running through Sunday, USA Hockey has several initiatives to celebrate the game of hockey and expose it to as many people as possible.
Some stories expected to be highlighted by NBC include pieces on the Fort Dupont hockey program in Washington, D.C., which is the oldest minority youth hockey program in the U.S., the Boston Blades, a professional team in its first season in the Canadian Women's Hockey League, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and celebrity hockey in Los Angeles.
"We try our best to make sure people understand that we're passionate about the sport," lead play-by-play announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick said. "I think that the notion of seeing outdoor pond hockey championships going on in Minnesota as well as inner-city hockey in Washington cuts quite a cross section."
Flood, himself a former captain of the hockey team at Williams College, hopes the day will shine a spotlight not just on the professionals, but on the game at every level. On multiple occasions Tuesday, Flood made reference to the stereotypical hockey mom or hockey dad making numerous sacrifices so their children can gain exposure to and experience playing the sport.
"I think that the notion of seeing outdoor pond hockey championships going on in Minnesota as well as inner-city hockey in Washington cuts quite a cross section."
-- Mike 'Doc' Emrick
"The genesis for this comes through Hockey Day in Canada," Flood said, referring to CBC's annual celebration of hockey's heritage in which all six Canadian NHL franchises play in a tripleheader broadcast by the network. "It had been a thought of mine for a couple of years now -- doing something bigger with hockey and celebrating it. (NBC Sports Executive Vice President) Jon Miller and I had conversations for a couple of years, and then finally when I was sitting in that bar watching the Hockey Day in Canada and having a nice, cold Canadian ale, I thought it was worthwhile to study it for a little bit and at that point I realized it was something that we could translate over."
With those years of planning finally coming to fruition, there is a palpable excitement, and Flood was willing to entertain the notion that Sunday's Hockey Day in America could be the first of many annual celebrations.