Stationed between the benches, I experience the Stanley Cup playoffs—the speed, the intensity, the strategy, the gamesmanship—from a perspective that no other vantage point allows. In my days as an NHL head coach (with the Hartford Whalers in 1993--94), I was invested in the outcome. Now, in my role as an analyst for NBC, I'm a sponge, soaking up everything and trying to convey hockey's crazy tempo to viewers at home. There's not another seat like it in any other sport.
From where I watch, I see all the details. I winced every time Rangers captain Ryan Callahan sacrificed his body to block a shot—something he did several times every game. I saw the focus and the intensity in the eyes of forwards such as the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa and the Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk when they committed to defense away from the puck, or how Chicago's stretch passing ruined opponents' defensive schemes.
When Sam Flood, an executive producer at NBC Sports, floated the idea of putting me at ice level eight years ago, I thought he would never get the NHL's consent. But hockey people are not afraid to think outside the box in order to grow the game. I don't think it's any accident that ratings are up. (Game 7 of the series between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings got a 2.07 rating, the best ever on the NBC Sports Network for an NHL game.)
Just as I can overhear players and coaches, they can overhear me, especially when I'm critical. When the Flyers played the Rangers during the regular season six years ago, I could hear one of the coaches—I'm not naming names—telling his players about their coverage in the defensive zone: "See what I've been telling you for the past two weeks. McGuire just said it on TV."
I've missed things, too. In 2008 Rangers center Scott Gomez got his stick up in Sidney Crosby's face, which prompted the Penguins' center to snap his head back and draw a penalty. When he overheard me say that he had sold the call, Crosby skated over and said, "You think that didn't hit me?" Then he showed me the tape from Gomez's stick that was stuck to his teeth. Oops.
I can see and hear not only the verbal jousting but also the way players process it. During one game of the 2011 Cup finals, the Bruins' Brad Marchand and the Canucks' Max Lapierre were yapping at each other. The camera didn't catch it, but I saw Mark Recchi, Boston's sage 22-year veteran, tell Marchand to put a lid on it. That was leadership. Marchand scored five goals in that finals, and the Bruins won their first title in 39 years.
There are awkward moments. I was able to hit the mute button when Devils coach Peter DeBoer and his Rangers counterpart, John Tortorella, fired verbal shots over my head at one another, but I should have looked out for my own head when an errant stick cut me open six years ago. I was fine once the doc closed me up with some surgical glue. It's hockey.