The NHL's 56th All-Star game and all the events surrounding it this past weekend in Atlanta were a success. I had the pleasure of not only covering several of the events for NHL Network, and NHL International, but I was also part of a Phoenix Coyotes' contingent that played several different roles. Here's my recap of the weekend:
I arrived in Atlanta late in the afternoon on Friday. NHL Network was on the air all day Friday with media availability of the All-Stars and YoungStars alike. If you are a hockey fan at all, or if you want to learn more about the NHL, PLEASE contact your local cable or satellite provider and ask for the NHL Network to be added to your programming list. This network is now available in the United States, but it's going to take time and pressure from viewers to grow its audience reach. NHL Network does a terrific job of taking you behind the scenes and keeping you up to date on all things NHL.
My first assignment wasn't until Saturday morning at the open practices. A crowd of over 10,000 showed up at Phillips Arena for the open practices of the Eastern and Western Conference All Stars. I was positioned between the benches for interviews while former NHL coach Gary Green was on skates to do more interviews during the practices. Joe Micheletti, color analyst for the NY Rangers on MSG Network, and one of my NHL on NBC partners, was back by the locker rooms. We were on the air from 9:30am to noon. I talked to several players and coaches including the Coyotes' own Peter Mueller. At age 19, what an honor and thrill for him to experience that environment. Ed Jovanovski was also there with the Western Conference and skated by to say hello.
The best nugget I got was from San Jose coach Ron Wilson who was there as an assistant coach for the Western Conference. Thursday night in New York, Brian Leetch had his number retired by the NY Rangers. Wilson, who played college hockey at Providence College and made it to the NHL, told me a story that he was Leetch's partner on the power play for Team USA at the 1987 World Championships. Wilson was already in the NHL at the time, but even at that early stage of Leetch's career Wilson could tell Brian would be something special. I'm always amazed at how often the lives and careers of people in hockey intertwine at various moments and places.
Later that afternoon, the NHL staged a Red Carpet entrance for all the players on their way into the arena for the Skills Competition. The carpet was about 50 yards long and an enthusiastic crowd of well over a thousand fans of all ages lined the way. There was a stage set up at the far end for interviews to the live audience while I worked the carpet with Gary Green for the NHL Network audience. Part of the pomp and circumstance were the NHL mascots. The kids really got a kick out of all the characters, but I must say that Howler was clearly a fan favorite. He was the only mascot dressed for the occasion by wearing a sequined vest with the Coyotes logo, way to show some style Howler!!
I also ran into the Coyotes' Director of Security Jim O'Neal who was hired by the NHL for security in Atlanta. Jim is a real pro and has been hired by the NHL for special events like the All Star game and Stanley Cup Finals for many years. The Coyotes were also represented by Sergey Kocharov, the team's manager of media relations. Sergey was there with Mueller and Jovanovski and seemed to enjoy his first All Star experience. Among the many interviews I did on the carpet was Ed Jovanovski. Jovo said that the Coyotes were a real topic of conversation among the players and fans. Many fans that I spoke to are really excited about the last 30 games of this season as Wayne Gretzky's club makes a push for a playoff berth. I was amazed at how many Coyotes' fans I ran into in Atlanta.
I was not involved in any of the coverage of the Skills Competition although I watched the coverage on Versus. I liked the Breakaway Challenge that was judged by a celebrity panel. Once the players realized that style was more important than scoring in this event, we saw more creativity from the likes of Ovechkin and Kovolchuk.
Sunday was the day of the All Star game and I've had the privilege of calling this event and every Stanley Cup Finals for NHL International since 1997. I've worked with some great analysts over the years, but my International partner since 2000 has been Joe Micheletti. My producer for these events since 1997 has been Lisa Seltzer. Lisa has been one of the top producer/directors in the NHL for over 20 years. She was Panger's first producer with the Blackhawks (another example of hockey careers intertwining) back in the mid-80's! The game itself was one of the better contests in recent years as the East prevailed on a Marc Savard goal with just under 21 seconds remaining.
Well, that wraps up my recap of the All-Star Weekend in Atlanta. I am now in Tampa to call the Lightning-Sabres game on Tuesday night for Versus. I'll fly to Detroit on Wednesday morning to rejoin the Coyotes for our FSN Arizona telecast of the Coyotes-Red Wings. Don't forget to tune into Bob Heethuis and Louis DeBrusk on the Coyotes' radio network for Tuesday's game in Columbus!!!