I’m writing from my Air Canada flight heading to Los Angeles from Vancouver as our Versus crew has been assigned to the first two games of the Canucks-Ducks second round playoff series. The series opens at Honda Center in Anaheim for games one and two. I’ll be working in this series with Andy Brickley as the analyst and Billy Jaffe as our ice level reporter.
Monday night at GM Place in Vancouver, I had the pleasure of covering game seven of the Canucks-Stars first round series. I’ve been broadcasting NHL games since 1985 and the thrill of a game seven is unparalleled in our business. As the voice of the Red Wings for eleven seasons, I was there for the monumental disappointment of two game seven home ice losses: 1993 to arch rival Toronto in overtime and 1994 to the heavy underdog San Jose Sharks. I was also there for the elation of game seven home ice wins over the Leafs in 1987 and St. Louis in 1996. In fact, the last goal I called as the Wings’ announcer was Steve Yzerman’s blue line blast that beat Jon Casey in the second overtime of that 1996 seventh game. It’s quite a bit different as a neutral network announcer to watch and describe all that’s happening in a game seven. With the network, you don’t have the same emotional interest in the outcome of the game.
The atmosphere at GM Place on Monday was electric. We were able to do the open of our Versus show at ice level in the zamboni entrance. This gave John Vanbiesbrouck and me the chance to really feel the intensity in the building and hopefully convey that to the audience at home. We also got the last second news that Stars’ defenseman Sergei Zubov would not be able to play due to an undisclosed injury (is there any other kind in the NHL?). I think if you asked the Stars’ coaches which single player they would miss the most in a must-win game the answer would be Zubov. He had the primary assist on all three game winning goals in the series and he always makes the right decisions under pressure. When the Stars scored first, I thought Dallas still had a chance due to the way Marty Turco had been playing in goal. But once the Canucks got their legs and started applying pressure, the absence of Zubov became more of a problem. The Canucks finally got their power play going and scored four unanswered goals (the last two into an empty net) for a 4-1 victory. The win snapped a franchise two game home ice game seven losing streak (2003 vs. Minnesota & 2004 vs. Calgary). Now the Canucks get a much tougher challenge against the powerful Anaheim Ducks.
As good as Roberto Luongo was against the Stars in his playoff debut, I believe he will need to be at his best for the Canucks to win a single game in this series. The Ducks have the combination of a strong system and depth of talent that may be the best among the remaining teams (San Jose & Detroit in the West and Buffalo & Ottawa in the East are right there in those categories as well). The Ducks are a motivated group that still feels the sting of being eliminated last spring in the conference final in five games by the upstart Edmonton Oilers. My Panthers’ TV partner Denis Potvin was saying this morning that the Ducks’ big three on defense (Pronger, Niedermeyer and Beauchemin) reminds him of the great Montreal teams that had Robinson, LaPointe and Savard…..now that’s a strong comparison!
I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the text messages that I’ve received from people in the hockey world during our Versus telecasts. I’ve “heard” from friends, fellow broadcasters and even some writers like George Richards of the Miami Herald. It’s nice to know that people are watching and paying attention to what we’re doing!
After the first two games of this series in Anaheim, our crew will go to Vancouver for game three and then head to San Jose for game four of the Sharks-Red Wings series. We’re going to see some great hockey and I hope you’ll be watching as well!