Mike Emrick is one of the better play by play announcers in the NHL. On regular Devils broadcasts, he plays the kindly, innocent Mr. Rogers to the Forrest Gumpish Chico Resch. On OLN/Versus, he’s had John Davidson (who along with Sam Rosen, perfected reverse-psychological homerism) and a few others, most recently John VanBiesbrouck, whose reputation appears to have been rehabilitated.
Emrick is well suited to the US audience because he’s good at asking questions of his sidekick that might be on the average viewer’s mind (but that you know he damn well knows the answer to) without sounding condescending. He even helps the room-temperature IQed Resch articulate the answers.
And this is the toll you pay for watching hockey in the US. You have to put up with pedantic explanations, especially on the national broadcasts. It’s almost as if Joe Buck and Tim McGarver (the Forrest Gump of baseball) spend a significant portion of their time explaining the difference between fair and foul balls, and what exactly a “fastball” was.
But the Versus coverage has gone one step further, and it’s embarrassing. Last night, during the Penguins/Devils game, there were clearly orders (for the sake of promoting the game) to make everything Sidney Crosby did–every whine, every bitch, every stupid, simian sounding utterance–and everything Evgeni Malkin did sound like Superman had laced up some skates. They didn’t even pucker up this hard for Gretzky.
My wife, who comes from US hockey royalty, the Christian family, understands the game but isn’t much of a fan anymore. She was pounding away on her laptop when Sergei Brylin scored on a pretty neat play. This followed a lame, routing shot by Evgeni Malkin that never would have scored, and was probably done just to get a face off. This heroic Malkinism earned several replays and excited VanBiesbrouck to the point that it made me wonder if he was auditioning for the role of the gorilla in a remake of 2001. So, Brylin scores, and they show one lame replay. No dancing around the monolith. I say, “What, Brylin wasn’t a high enough draft pick for you to praise his play?” All he has is three Stanley Cup rings, something neither Malkin or Crosby are likely to achieve in this climate. My wife laughed, and laughed hard.
If she noticed how hard they were fellating Malkin and Crosby, then so did everyone.
The marketing geeks at the NHL don’t get it. You don’t make every broadcast Ice Hockey 101. You make it cool to be in the know. You make it look like the in crowd knows what’s up. You make people want to be in that in crowd. It’s the same reason we aren’t told how many yards you need for a first down on Monday night, and we’re not told what an RBI is during the World Series. If you don’t know, you find out, because everyone knows that.
This is, more or less, the same mentality that brought us FoxTrax. How often do you really see the ball in baseball? After a while, you take in much more information that that. Same in hockey.
So, even while hockey’s ratings get worse, the arenas still do pretty good. It’s better live, and it’s only decent in HD. On regular TV, it’s tolerable if the camera man can get the white-point correct (something not all of them appear to know how to do). Also, at the arena, you don’t have Chode Bendanatti pretending to know where Red Deer, Alberta is.