NEW YORK, N.Y. – 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)
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."
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."
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."