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NBC Sports excited that NHL is back

by Adam Kimelman

NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said he and his group always are looking for innovations and ways to upgrade their presentation of the NHL, which he called the company's "No. 1 product."

Rather than bells and whistles, Flood and the NBC Sports Group team have kept firm to their commitment to honor the game and what Flood believes makes it special.

One of those innovations that will debut for the 2012-13 season is "Rivalry Wednesday," which will show traditional rivals facing off. It starts with the Boston Bruins playing at the New York Rangers on Jan. 23 and will include the renewal of rivalries Boston-Montreal and Philadelphia-Pittsburgh.

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"Hatred in hockey is a good thing," Flood said. "So every Wednesday night we're going to have teams that don't love each playing. … It's an exciting new twist to it."

Flood said he's also proud of the building his hosting team of Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones will be working out of at NBC's new international broadcasting center in Connecticut. The studio was supposed to open in February, but Flood said his group pushed hard to be ready to showcase it in time for Saturday's season-opening telecasts.

"This was supposed to launch in February, but when the lockout ended in the middle of the month, I decided to challenge the team to get us ready in time," he said. "So they're working around the clock to make sure our new studios are ready to go. They look great; everyone's very excited to get launched in the new building."

Flood said fans should expect the same high-quality broadcast levels they've come to expect from NBC and the NBC Sports Network, including the "Inside the Glass" features.

"Our job is to honor the game of hockey," Flood said. "Glowing blue pucks and pink pucks and green pucks and red pucks -- that's not what we're about. We're about covering the game of hockey, honoring the game of hockey. Our biggest impact on the game was creating the 'Inside the Glass' position. When we started doing hockey out of the last lockout, the 'Inside the Glass' was our innovation and we think it's only gotten better.

"That's the focus of our hockey coverage: to treat the game first. We're not going to put shiny things on the ice. We're going to cover the game, highlight the game and tell the story of the players that make this game great."

The belief among Flood and his top broadcast team -- Mike "Doc" Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire -- is that because of the lockout-shortened season, the games will be that much more important and that much more entertaining.

"The sense of urgency right off is to win games, because in a 48-game season, if you lose three [in a row] or only get a point out of your first six [points] possible out of the block, that's the equivalent of getting two points out of the first 12," he said. "It's almost double. If you lose three you lose six, really. That's the urgency these teams have."

Olczyk played in the last season affected by a lockout, 1994-95, when the NHL also played a 48-game schedule. However, he said the 2012-13 season will be different.

"This is unchartered territory for the National Hockey League, contrary to what people are talking about," Olczyk said. "This is the second time we're going to have a 48-game schedule. This is the first time we're coming out of a work stoppage, practicing for five days and going and playing. Back in 1994-95 let's not forget that NHL teams had a training camp for 3-1/2 weeks, including nine to 10 exhibition games. The unknowns for where we're going is going to make for dramatic hockey each and every game. …Somebody is gaining on you every night, no questions asked. That will make this 48-game schedule very unique. It's going to be terrific hockey. You've got to be able to have a little luck, stay healthy and endure the schedule."

The broadcasters never addressed who they believe the Stanley Cup favorites could be in this shortened season, but all mentioned the Washington Capitals and expect them to be rejuvenated by new coach Adam Oates.

"Coaching is a huge part of what's going to be right for the Washington Capitals," McGuire said. "If you look at their special teams last year, they were 18th on the power play and 20th on the penalty kill. With Adam Oates they're going to be a lot better in both of those things -- especially with a healthy Mike Green on the back end, who was just hobbled by a terrible sports hernia injury last year. I would expect Mike Green is going to be a huge impact player on the power play for them, just as [Alex] Ovechkin should be better on the power play."

Emrick agreed, and said Ovechkin should have extra motivation after what was a down season in 2011-12 by his lofty standards and skill level -- 38 goals and 65 points in 78 games.

"Hatred in hockey is a good thing. So every Wednesday night we're going to have teams that don't love each playing. … It's an exciting new twist to it."
-- NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood

"The motivation of Alexander Ovechkin is going to be in working for a new coach in Adam Oates," Emrick said. "He's coming back having played a season when he didn't average a point per game, so that's a down season for him. One of the rankings of the top 50 players in the NHL didn't have him in the top 10. He's used to being there. I think that probably won't escape him. It'll be intriguing to see how everything shakes down with a brand new coach and a new system."

McGuire also mentioned the Buffalo Sabres as a team to watch based on the performances of three players, none of whom is named Ryan Miller.

"It's going to come down to this: Can Cody Hodgson deliver as a No. 1 center? Can Tyler Ennis step up and be the dynamic smaller player that he has to be for this team? Can Tyler Myers have a bit of a bounce back to where he was as a rookie?" McGuire said. "If those three things are all check marked saying 'Yes, yes and yes,' then I think Buffalo has a real chance to make it in the playoffs and do some damage because I think that's where Ryan Miller is the most comfortable. But if you don't have three solid check marks by Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers, I don't think you're going to make the playoffs. Those three players are critical to that team."

The Sabres will highlight NBC's coverage Sunday, when they play host to the Philadelphia Flyers. Emrick will broadcast that game along with McGuire, one day after starting the season in Philadelphia where the Flyers open the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Emrick and McGuire are in Philadelphia on Saturday, Olczyk will be in Los Angeles, broadcasting NBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup champion Kings opening their season against the Chicago Blackhawks.

It's all part of a wild opening weekend that should be part of a wild season.

"We are so excited to get back to doing the sport we love so much," Flood said. "This group is a bunch of total hockey fans. This is this group's life. They've been frustrated they couldn’t be covering hockey and now we get to do what we love."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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