What a wild ride I’ve had with my first round coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Versus. My journey started two weeks ago when I left the Phoenix area and headed out for my first assignment: Game 1 of the Nashville-Detroit series. I went from Detroit to Montreal (Game 2 of Canadiens-Bruins), back to Nashville (Game 3 of Red Wings-Predators), on to New York City (Game 4 of Rangers-Devils), back to Detroit (Game 5), down to Dallas (Game 6 of Stars-Ducks), and finally to Washington (Game 7 of Capitals-Flyers)…a total of 7 games, 6 cities, 5 series and I worked with 3 different analysts (Eddie Olczyk, Darren Eliot and Billy Jaffe)!
The common denominator in every game was the phenomenal atmosphere in each arena and city. We all know that hockey fans are among the most passionate in any sport and I saw it first hand. I can’t wait to experience the passion and excitement of a whiteout at Jobing.com Arena next spring!
Here are some observations from my first round experience:
*Detroit Going back to the Motor City and Joe Louis Arena is always special to me. I spent 11 seasons as the TV voice of the Red Wings (1985-1996) and many of the people that I worked with are still associated with the organization. “The Joe” is the most outdated facility from a broadcast standpoint, but I’ve done more telecasts from there than any other venue in the NHL. It’s also good to see my first broadcast partner, Mickey Redmond. Mick has been a part of NHL broadcasts since the late 70’s. In fact, he was hired by CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada on the same day as Don Cherrry! Mick still brings the same passion and his unique sense of humor to every show.
*Montreal The old Forum is long gone, but the Bell Centre may be the best building to call a game from of all the newer arenas in the NHL. As an announcer, you’re closer to the action and you can really “feel” the game while you’re calling it. It comes the closest to the old venues like the Forum, Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden. As I said earlier, all hockey fans are passionate but I can’t imagine this city if the Canadiens win another Stanley Cup. Following the Montreal win in game two of the opening round, the one block walk back to the hotel wasn’t easy. The streets were jammed with jubilant fans and cars were honking their horns as if the series was over! It will be quite a scene if the Canadiens continue to advance.
*Nashville Talk about going from one end of the traditional hockey spectrum to the other! Nashville certainly isn’t like the “Original Six” cities, but I have to give the franchise, the fans and the city full marks for the atmosphere they created both inside and outside Sommet Center. The streets were alive with fans proudly wearing their Predators jerseys while live music and a carnival-like setting allowed fans of all ages to enjoy the festivities before the game. *New York City Madison Square Garden is another special place for me because it brings back memories of being a 13 year old Knicks’ fan and going to see my favorite players like Walt Frazier and Willis Reed (I wasn’t a hockey fan yet!). In fact, I was there for one of the first sellouts when MSG opened in 1968…an NBA pre-season doubleheader! If you ask Wayne Gretzky what it was like to live and play in New York, he’ll say that every player should get a chance to experience it at some point in their career. There’s just something indescribable about the “city that doesn’t sleep” and the World’s Most Famous Arena.
*Dallas The American Airlines Center is a much more sterile environment to call a game than the Bell Centre or MSG. It’s probably the furthest distance from the ice to the broadcast booth unless you’re lucky enough to get the lower position near the cameras, but we weren’t able to secure that spot for this game. This was the first telecast that our crew covered the traditional hand shakes that happen after every Stanley Cup playoff series. The Stars knocked off the defending champion Ducks in six games. At the start of these playoffs, I felt that the Ducks (if healthy) were the only clear favorite among the 16 teams to win it all. But the Stars, without their top two defensemen (Sergei Zubov and Phillipe Boucher), were able to pull off the upset. *Washington Broadcasters are no different than players…we dream of being in a Game 7. This series was the “feel good story” of the first round. The Flyers were the most improved team in the NHL from the previous season. They went from dead last in the league to the number 6 seed in the Eastern Conference (a 39 point improvement). The Caps were the second most improved (+24 points) team from 06-07. Washington also had the distinction of being the first team to go from 14th in the conference during the season to winning a division title that year! Bruce Boudreau should be the winner of the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year. Of course, this game featured Alexander Ovechkin, the prohibitive favorite to win the Hart Trophy as MVP. Ovechkin was great, scoring big goal to tie the game at 2-2, but the Flyers persevered and won the game and series on a Joffery Lupul power play goal in overtime.
My conference semi-final picks? Now that the Ducks are out, it’s wide open. I think 6 of the remaining 8 teams have an equal chance of winning the Cup (I rank Montreal’s chances just below Pittsburgh, Rangers, Detroit, Colorado, San Jose and Dallas. I think the Flyers are the longshot in the field). With that said, here are my picks: Detroit over Colorado in 7…Dallas over San Jose in 6…Penguins over the Rangers in 6…Canadiens over the Flyers in 5.
Thanks to all of you that have continued to follow the playoffs on Versus. My role will be greatly reduced in the second round now that the network’s two main announcers are available: Doc Emerick (Voice of the Devils) and Joe Beninati (Voice of the Capitals). I have Game 5 of the Canadiens-Flyers series in Montreal on Versus and perhaps some work with NHL Radio. I’ll be back with more before the start of the Conference Finals!