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VS “covers” Hockey

One of my limitations in writing these posts has always been the sports post. For the most part I never cover sports. My only attempts have been about hockey but I just can’t find the tone that I need to enthusiastically write about them. Periodically, I do try and revisit the subject but it isn’t as inspiring to me as the many other topics that I do cover. So this post is going to be one of those trying posts that sometimes work, it has to its advantage that this really isn’t about a game and more about why this was the first Sabres game this season that I skipped watching entirely.

At this point in the season the Sabres are doing extremely well, especially compared to the last two seasons. The return of Mike Grier seems to have injected something into the team that had been missing, the games have been really exciting especially the game against Calgary a couple of weeks ago. The team’s record is very good as Goaltender (and your humble writer’s doppleganger) Ryan Miller has thus far been outstanding. So it may seem odd that with all the excitement that I feel about watching the hockey season this year that I purposely missed tonight’s game.

Why did I miss it? Because it was aired on the Versus Channel. Versus, owned by NBC, has the rights to air a several games a week in a rotating fashion that seems to me to be capricious at best. I think they are trying to score the games that are big rivalries or that feature an NHL allstar that draws the viewers. While the Sabres have some really good players, they don’t possess an Ovechkin or a Crosby nor do they have a legacy star so it’s not the latter. Tonight’s game was against the Toronto Maple Leafs which gives us the rivalry motive. It is a pretty big rivalry as the teams are within easy driving distance from each other and they do promise to be a bit more physical than usual. The problem for me is that Versus seems to not know how to do two things during a hockey game.

The first is actually covering the game. One thing about Hockey is that every team has their own duo for covering the action. One is the play by play and the other commentary, Buffalo has two of the best (this is a widely objective statement, even Don Cherry* likes Rick Jeanerette) but when Versus covers a game they usurp the position for their own commentators. Normally this would be an inconvenience, like when an NFL team gets the Monday Night game and a new group of people come in, but in this case it is much worse. The Versus commentators, seem to want to talk about everything but the game. In fact, it becomes so distracting that when the game is being talked about it’s almost jarring. Previous games I have heard discussions about skates, airplanes, and new rules while the game was being played. Granted, some of those things are relevant to Hockey in general, but the game needs to be covered during its play.

Hockey isn’t football, or baseball. There aren’t regular breaks in the play that allow for idle chatter. In fact, sometimes a period lasting of 20 minutes can take 25 minutes to complete. Where as football, what is supposed to be one hour of actual game time can occupy four hours because the clock stops so frequently. The game is constant, so if the commentator really wants to discuss new skates, or who is going to be on what team for the upcoming winter olympics there isn’t space to do it until the intermission. Every other announcer duo in the league understands this but not Versus. Which is odd since Brett Hull is on their staff.

Speaking of Brett Hull we come to the second part of the equation. The announcers are also completely biased against Buffalo. A bit of backstory is in order here: a little over ten years ago, Buffalo was playing in Dallas for the Stanley Cup, and the winning goal was scored by Hull against former Sabre, current Detroit Red Wing Dominik Hasek. The trouble was that the goal was against the rules, Hull’s foot was in the goal crease, it wasn’t one of those “oh from this angle I could see how you could say that” as there are some theories on the ill-fated kick of Scott Norwood that a New York Giant was offsides. The controversy in question here is interpretation of the rule governing puck possession, which coincidentally was changed the following season. So Hull knows that he is not well liked in the city of Buffalo, somehow this poisons all of Versus against the Sabres. I’m not saying that they should root for the team but that they shouldn’t root against them as much as they do.

Earlier this year against Montreal, you would have thought the announcer had money on the Habs to win. It’s such a complete bias that I often sympathize with some people I know who claim that announcers/refs hate their favorite teams. I get it now. (Although Ryan still gets nothing because John Madden had such a man crush on Brett Favre that it got a little uncomfortable to watch) My usual solution is to open the radio station that covers the Sabres and sync that up with my DVR, but since that was impossible today I just couldn’t watch the game at all. I’m told they won 3-0, which is awesome.

If I could recommend some solutions for Versus it would be this: go to CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and hire their four best interns. They would understand how to cover the game better than anyone else they have working for them. Keep Hull, but tell him to tone down his rhetoric a bit. Or better yet go to Canada and yank five random people, this way you still get the objectivity but also you don’t need Hull to balance out the four other assholes who have never played the game. Everything else keep, especially the nice HD image that you broadcast. Do those things and I’ll watch when you cover the Sabres.

*And if you don’t know who he is you are not a hockey fan.

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