Posted: Wednesday May 17, 2006 1:22PM; Updated: Wednesday May 17, 2006 3:42PM
OLN's often overly polite coverage could use an opinionated cuss or a Barry Melrose to stir the pot and raise your blood pressure.
Courtesy of ESPN
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I'll admit it. Sometimes I just like to be contrary. But this isn't going to be one of those times. I come not to bury OLN and its hockey coverage, but to praise it.
For the most part, anyway.
I understand that's not a very popular position. The approval ratings of the NHL's much-maligned rookie broadcaster are about as high as PresidentBush's. I'd venture that a sizable majority of American hockey viewers wish they could return to the halcyon days of 2003-04, when ESPN brought the game into homes across the land. But after seeing the commitment demonstrated thus far by OLN, it seems to me that any thoughts of what might have been should be chalked up to good-old-days syndrome. OLN may not offer the household coverage of ESPN (I feel your pain, Anaheim and Buffalo), but it gives the game better exposure than anyone could have imagined.
I'll grant that the Worldwide Leader in Sports did a nice job with the NHL for a few years there, but it was obvious from the start that hockey was overchicked in that relationship. And, as anyone who remembers their time together can attest, it became clear after a couple of years that while hockey still loved ESPN, ESPN's ardor had cooled considerably. The lockout expedited matters, but with all that cheerleading and paintball to cover, the breakup was pretty much inevitable.
To keep working the metaphor, OLN may not be the prettiest girl at the dance, but at least with her, hockey comes first.
"We Believe in Hockey" has been more than a catchy ad slogan for the channel. It's been a programming mantra. With no need to cut away to SportsCenter or switch over to some poker tournament, OLN has given its heart and soul to the game and laid a foundation for future growth.
There are fair complaints to be made about the broadcasts (more on that later), but the quality of the calls has been as good as any ever offered in the States. Doc Emrick -- does anyone rattle off player names faster or with more accuracy? -- and John Davidson rank among the best in the business on either side of the border. Among the others, John Kelly and Joe Beninati in particular have been up to the task, as have color men Andy Brickley and Darren Eliot. These guys all are worthy of the national stage.
But what really impresses is that OLN's commitment hasn't been limited to wall-to-wall coverage of the playoffs. The value of the hours of bumper programming designed to sell the game itself can't be underestimated.