WASHINGTON -- Bill Bell first saw hockey in grainy black and white.
"I was about 9 years old around 1969," Bell said. "I remember seeing on the back page of the Philadelphia Daily News this beautiful frozen black and white image of a sprawling goaltender and one defenseman checking his forward and the other defenseman checking his. For whatever reason, I was taken by that image and I started following hockey."
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These days, Bell helps deliver hockey in high definition color to hundreds of thousands of Washington Capitals viewers as executive producer for live events at NBC Sports Washington.
Hockey has become more diverse on the ice and on television with analysts like Kevin Weekes on NHL Network, Anson Carter on NBC and MSG Networks in New York and David Amber hosting the late game on "Hockey Night in Canada."
But Bell is a quiet pioneer, a North Philadelphian who became enthralled with hockey at a time when very few black people did. Now he helps make the Capitals broadcasts go, overseeing logistics, producers, directors, technical crews and announcers.
"Bill loves hockey," said Alan May, a Capital analyst and former NHL player who works with him. "He's not the demographic that was the NHL back then, but hockey is his sport and the Philadelphia Flyers are his team."
Bell grew up watching center Bobby Clarke and goalie Bernie Parent on TV, playing street hockey in his backyard and participating in an in-house street hockey league as a student at Benjamin Franklin High School.
His obsession with the game occasionally prompted questions from some of his family and friends, but Bell didn't care.
"Not to sound corny or cliché, but hockey is for everyone - I knew that and felt that many, many years ago," said Bell, who was in a truck outside Capital One Arena directing the Capitals' 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round on Thursday. "But now to be able to cover it and present it to others and be part of it in a quiet way, it's so rewarding."
Bell's love of hockey and fascination with television merged when he was a telecommunications major at Kutztown State College, now Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and occasionally played pickup hockey there.
He still plays, participating in pickup games with fellow NBC Sports Washington employees including May, who scored 76 points (31 goals, 45 assists) in 393 NHL games, 345 of them with the Capitals.
"He's come a long way," May said of Bell's hockey prowess. "He started the regular skating thing a lot later in life than most people. Of all the guys who do the network skate, he's in the middle group."
Bell has been a Washington area broadcast fixture for more than 30 years, helping to produce or direct some of the region's biggest sporting events.
Bell worked the 1995 game when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. eclipsed New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig's record by playing in 2,131 consecutive games. He also produced baseball games for NBC at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
"All those things are beautiful memories but the biggest thrill I probably still get is when I sit down in the director's chair and still do hockey games," he said.
It's more thrilling for Bell when the Flyers come to Washington and he's in the production truck rooting for the team he grew up with, trying to maintain allegiance to the team he's paid to cover.
"A lot of times I hear him laughing in my headset during a game. Then there are games against the Flyers," May said. "You can hear him, pretty passionate Flyers fan. He's a loud and vocal guy. When they don't do well, that hurts him."
Hockey has come full circle for Bell. He's gone from being one of the few black fans when he was growing up to enjoying the director's chair view of the game's growing diversity on the ice, in the stands and on TV.
"Getting to see and know Anson Carter, Donald Brashear, Mike Grier, Joel Ward, Devante Smith-Pelly, and getting the opportunity to interact with them, it's so rewarding and it feels so natural," he said. "I have clear images of Anson playing in the (1994) World Juniors to becoming a pro to getting to work with him as a broadcaster. That's such a cool thing."