-- VERSUS, the exclusive cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), kicks off its fifth year of NHL coverage on Thurs., Oct. 1, with a must-see night of hockey featuring three of the best teams during last year's regular season. Opening night will also showcase NHL superstar Alexander Ovechkin's season debut and the Colorado Avalanche
honoring 20-year NHL veteran Joe Sakic
by retiring his jersey. The double-header begins with a clash between Eastern Conference titans when the Washington Capitals
visit the Boston Bruins
at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the Avalanche hosting the San Jose Sharks
at 10 p.m. ET.
As the fastest growing cable sports network in the country and on the heels of the most-watched September in network history, VERSUS continues its first week of NHL coverage on Friday, Oct. 2, with an overseas double-header featuring the Florida Panthers
and Chicago Blackhawks
at 12 p.m. ET from Helsinki, Finland, followed by a Central Division battle between the St. Louis Blues
and Detroit Red Wings
at 3 p.m. ET from Stockholm, Sweden.
Joe Beninati, Andy Brickley
and new rinkside reporter Charissa Thompson will serve as the in-arena team in Boston, while Mike "Doc" Emrick, Eddie Olczyk
and Bob Harwood will be on-site in Colorado for opening night. On Oct. 2, Dave Strader and Billy Jaffe will call the action for the Helsinki game and Rick Peckham and Darren Eliot
will provide commentary for the contest in Stockholm.
VERSUS.com, which saw video views grow more than 140 percent during the 2008-09 NHL season, has been revamped to increase its comprehensive offerings to viewers. This season, team pages will include up-to-date statistical information for all NHL teams, a blog called "The Daily Drop" which will provide a daily update on what is happening in and around the NHL, interactive games and a new video feature titled "Rookie Diaries" which will spotlight the league's top draft picks for this year's regular season. The site will continue to include editorial coverage from some of the most knowledgeable hockey sources in the industry, exclusive videos and interviews as well as game highlights.
This season, VERSUS' dedicated studio show Hockey Central, hosted by Bill Patrick with analysts Brian Engblom
and Keith Jones
, will feature high-profile guest analysts on select game telecasts for the first time. Details about guests will be announced when information becomes available, but may include former players and/or coaches. Hockey Central provides extensive insight and commentary of the sport and features regular segments, including highlights from games around the league; Plays of the Week; a telestrator segment in which Engblom breaks down and discusses the night's top plays; Parting Shots, where Engblom and Jones debate hockey's hottest topics in rapid fire fashion; Live-Look-Ins wherever possible, bringing viewers live action from games being played concurrently during VERSUS' telecast; and features on NHL players away from the ice.
In addition to the VERSUS.com and Hockey Central enhancements, the network has added Charissa Thompson to the NHL on VERSUS talent roster. Thompson will serve as a rinkside reporter, providing in-game updates and on-the-bench interviews. Most recently, Thompson was a correspondent for the Best Damn Sport Show Period and served as the sideline reporter for the Big Ten Network's Saturday game of the week.
Coming off the highest-rated regular season in network history and the most-watched playoffs on cable since 2002, VERSUS is heading into its coverage of 2009/10 NHL regular season with tremendous momentum. Last year VERSUS saw regular season viewership jump more than 20 percent and viewership for the playoffs increase 27 percent as compared to the year prior. Games 3 and 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final were the most-watched Final round on cable since 2002 and VERSUS' coverage of the Conference Semifinal and Conference Final rounds were the highest-rated on cable in more than a decade.
VERSUS' regular season schedule highlights some of the most exciting games this year with the Chicago Blackhawks
and Detroit Red Wings
appearing nine times on VERSUS and the New York Rangers
, Philadelphia Flyers
and Pittsburgh Penguins
all making eight appearances. The Washington Capitals
, Boston Bruins
, Buffalo Sabres
and Minnesota Wild
will each appear seven times this season. In total VERSUS will televise 54 regular season games, wall-to-wall Stanley Cup Playoff action and Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. All of the network's regular-season games are exclusive and VERSUS' regular-season schedule features a Game of the Week wherein VERSUS will be the only place on television to watch an NHL game in the U.S. at that time. Due to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, an All-Star Game will not take place this season. Every NHL game on VERSUS is available in HD and the network's complete schedule is available at VERSUS.com.