It looks as if Bristol University has just added a College of Frozen Pond. This Sunday's ESPN2 telecast of the Colorado Avalanche- Chicago Blackhawks game (8 p.m.) will be geared toward the hockey neophyte, with somewhat less emphasis than usual on the action and much more on education. "There are still too many people," says ESPN hockey announcer Steve Levy, "who think that icing is when players stop short on the ice and their skates send up a plume of shavings."
Exactly, Steve. Everyone knows that icing is um, well, uh.... "When the puck crosses two red lines without being touched, which results in a face-off," Levy says with a smile. "People also ask me, 'Are you going to be on at halftime?' There's no halftime in hockey!"
In a sense the telecast will work shorthanded: There will be no play-by-play man. Instead, analysts Bill Clement and Darren Pang, both former NHL players, will provide running commentary, explaining to viewers simple infractions such as icing and offsides, as well as standard practices such as shift changes and beating an opponent to a bloody pulp. In a second booth Levy will be joined by Bryan Lewis, the league's director of officiating, and the two will provide rules commentary. Says Levy, who serves as the unofficial NHL players' name pronunciation guide for his SportsCenter colleagues, "This will not be your typical 'He shoots, he scores!' broadcast. We might even miss a goal."
The telecast will make use of pretaped segments on a goalie's equipment and on face-offs. Moreover, during the broadcast, viewers will be able to go on-line at ESPN.com and ask questions, with a selection answered on-air. Even the players will get in on the educational act: While toweling off between periods, some members of the Avalanche and the Blackhawks will make themselves available for on-line questioning.
"We hope to provide a service, but obviously this is in our best interest, too," says Levy, alluding to ABC/ ESPN's recent five-year, $600 million renewal of its contract with the NHL, a league that historically has been an underperformer in the Nielsens. "We hope to generate more interest in the sport and, as a consequence, more viewers."
And if as a result of the evening's education folks stop pestering Levy about his plans at halftime? Well, that will just be cake on the icing.