On Sunday evening, and in honor of International Women's Day, NBC Sports is utilizing an all-female crew to broadcast and produce the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks game. It's a historic moment, as it'll be the first NHL game produced and broadcast solely by women.
While the Blues and Blackhawks face off, the game will have a decidedly Islander flavor, as two of the five women broadcasting the game are current MSG Network analysts AJ Mleczko and Jennifer Botterill. Mleczko will provide color commentary in the booth, while Botterill will serve as an in-studio analyst.
"I was so excited because I just thought this was a really cool out of the box idea especially celebrating International Women's Day," Mleczko said. "The fact that NBC is willing and fully, enthusiastically excited to embrace that they have these women on staff and they are willing to put a lot into it."
Both Botterill and Mleczko are excited about being a part of the broadcast. In addition to their personal involvement, they're excited to be a part of a moment that celebrates women in sports broadcasting and the increased visibility that comes with women fully producing the broadcast.
"It's just a great showcase for women in different roles, whether you're the producer, the director, the on-air talent, between the benches, doing the color, the play by play, the analyst role," Botterill said. "I often compare it to even females playing hockey. Not every girl has to play hockey, but it's nice that it's become a choice, certainly in North America. I'm hopeful with this game. Not every woman has to get involved in sports or broadcasting, but it's a nice to demonstrate that it is a choice in a variety of roles. I think everyone is just excited to be involved."
Mleczko and Botterill are no strangers to working on a predominantly female broadcast team as three of the five on-air talents during Islanders broadcasts are women. They still see Sunday as an important step to having women call/produce a broadcast just become a regular occurrence. They want young women to see and fully realize the opportunities that are out there for them.
"The fact that we are going to do this broadcast provides visibility for young kids, girls and boys that are watching," Mleczko said. "It normalizes the fact that they are hearing sports come out of female voices and a lot of female voices, not just every once in a while. Young women that are coming out of high school and college that maybe gives them something they can dream about and shoot for."
The visibility matters. Mleczko, a two-time Olympian and gold medalist with Team USA in 1998, said she had never thought about becoming a broadcaster during her playing days because she didn't see any female hockey analysts on TV. It was more present for Botterill, a three-time gold medalist with Team Canada and that's what prompted her to seek it out.
"They are just more and more visible and I think that gives opportunities to other people who are very qualified with hockey knowledge to step into those roles, but maybe didn't know they were available to them after they finished playing," Hogan said. "A lot of it is the opportunity. You can have the skill, the knowledge, but someone has to hire you and give you a chance."
Perhaps the next opportunity for advancement is play-by-play. There are currently no female play-by-play voices in the NHL and the opportunities for women to call games in any of the four major North American sports have been few and far between. Kate Scott, anchor, reporter, host and play-by-play voice for the Pac-12 Network, will be on the call on Sunday.
"Right now little boys can look at a Brendan Burke or a Doc Emrick or whomever it may be they are seeing and say, oh that's so cool, I want to do that job," Mleczko said. "Now there can be little girls or young women that look up and say, oh that's what I want to do that's pretty cool. That's one of the biggest takeaways for Sunday for me, is the visibility it gives women in the media."
Both Mleczko and Hogan pointed out that all the broadcasters for Sunday's game are regulars in the industry. Kathryn Tappen has been a host on the NHL on NBC since 2014 and hosted NHL Network prior to that, Mleczko and Botterill both work regularly for MSG Networks while Mleczko additionally works as an analyst for NBC. Kendall Coyne-Schofield, who will be featured "inside the glass" at Sunday's game has spent part of the past year as an NHL Network analyst.
That doesn't include the inclusion of director Lisa Seltzer and producer Rene Hatlelid or all the technical staff in the truck - another field predominantly staffed by men.
"The bigger thing is that all of these women are working in our industry on a regular basis," Hogan said. "It's not like this is a stretch, they are just putting them all together on the exact same show. It'll just be a really awesome experience for them and for the viewers and I think on a national level, they'll get to see how talented these women are collectively and individually."
"They aren't going out and picking people based on the fact that they are women, they are picking people that are really good at their job," Mleczko said.
That's why Mleczko doesn't plan to prepare for Sunday's game any differently than she would an Islanders game, or an NHL playoff game.
"We have all this attention and I think it's great and I'm thrilled that International Women's Day is being celebrated this way, but there's also part of me that is like this is just a normal broadcast," she said. "Am I supposed to be doing something different, because I'm treating it like it's any game I would call on another day with other professional broadcasting people."
Still, there's some excitement to be a part of a historical moment when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
"It'll be a game to celebrate talented women in these variety of roles," Botterill said. "We're all excited about it. It's not putting together a show, it's putting together a great show."