Monday, March 1, 2010

Frozen in time

I know a lot about hockey.

I've watched and enjoyed it for a half-century. I spent more than my share of Saturday nights when I was a kid staying home to view the local games of the week on Channel 11. (This was long before hockey was all over the cable networks.) Old-timers might remember those games, with Win Elliott calling the action.

I remember when WCBS radio broadcast Rangers games, but only the last six minutes of the first two periods before doing all of Period 3.

I'd used my G.O. card in high school to buy cheap tickets in the side balcony at the old Madison Square Garden, where you'd literally have to stand the entire game because the overhang blocked half the ice if you were sitting. When I had enough spending money, I'd pay $2 a game for tickets in the end balcony, where there was a clear sightline.

I attended the first hockey game in the new Garden (an exhition game, no less).

Years later, as a professional sportswriter, my National Hockey League press card gave me access to games at the Garden and Nassau Coliseum. And when my sons started getting interested, we made a number of forays to New Jersey Devils games at the Meadowlands.

In recent years, I've been less engaged in hockey, as with other sports. But I still tune in from time to time.

Sunday was one of those times.

My distaste for the Olympics has been well-chronicled here. But yesterday's Gold Medal game between Canada and the U.S. was worth catching, less for what was at stake, and more because it promised to be a first-rate game between the best two teams in the world.

And the game didn't disappoint. It was a thriller, right to the closing seconds of regulation, when the U.S. tied the score and sent the match into overtime.

It was at that point when I got confused.

Not having seen any of the other Olympic games, I wasn't sure how the tie would be broken.

In the NHL, there's a five-minute sudden death period, each team playing with one fewer skater. If no goals are scored, they resort to a gimmicky shootout to settle the contest.

That's what I thought we were in for yesterday, because NBC's announcers didn't tell us otherwise. Instead, as we now know, it was supposed to be a 20-minute sudden death period, followed by a shootout, if necessary because no goals had been scored. We learned that only after Sidney Crosby's goal sparked a wild celebration in the Vancouver arena and across Canada.

To the best of my recollection, play-by-play man Mike Emrick never said "sudden death" and didn't explain to hockey fans (and the millions of non-hockey fans who were attracted to this match) any of the rules particular to the Olympics.

What could be more important than explaining the rules?

So count me in as one of those disappointed by the outcome - not that Canada beat the U.S., but that I didn't know it until the game-ending celebration.

As I said, I know a fair amount about hockey, and if I was in the dark, millions of others were, too.


One more note, while I'm at it:

Emrick is generally considered to be the finest hockey announcer alive. I'd agree if he did the games on radio.

The man is unbelievably good at painting the pictures, often with phrases that are uniquely descriptive.

Problem is, he's a TV announcer, and he talks too much. The pictures tell the story. The announcers shouldn't interfere.

Indeed, that makes his failure to tell us how overtime worked all the more glaring. Here was a time when I wanted him to tell me something I didn't know, and he didn't.
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