FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 20th, 2014
TRANSCRIPT: OLYMPIC ICE HOCKEY CONFERENCE CALL WITH EDDIE OLCZYK, PIERRE MCGUIRE, JEREMY ROENICK & NBC SPORTS GROUP CHAIRMAN MARK LAZARUS
Mark Lazarus: “Thanks everyone for joining. Boy do we have two great hockey tournaments that we’re following here. It’s been really, really fun. Obviously ups and downs for different teams, but the gold medal game we just witnessed was just extraordinary. I’ll give you a little detail about today’s game in minute because we have some numbers back on the digital front that are very exciting for us.
“Tomorrow at noon ET on NBC Sports Network, the semifinal game – USA vs. Canada – will air live across the country and, as originally scheduled, the gold medal game will air at 7 a.m. ET, regardless of what teams are playing, live across the country again. Two wonderful hockey tournaments that we’re excited to bring completely live to the States both on television and online. So the real question we’re asking everyone for tomorrow is ‘What are you doing for lunch on Friday?’ Tell your boss, hopefully the offices and the schools will allow America to tune in to this game. The U.S. team is hoping for everyone’s support and cheering and I think that there’s a great opportunity for us to remind the world of that. You guys are helping us by participating in this call and hopefully writing about and reminding people that the game is taking place. We’re going to roll out a quick ad campaign called ‘What are you doing for lunch on Friday?’ We’ll do a bunch of spots today, tonight and tomorrow morning that people will be able to see and we’ll continue to remind people that the game is there and we’ll also do that across all the websites.
“Today’s women’s game was quite extraordinary online. We have at least, and there’s still data coming in, this data is now about 75 minutes behind, we have at least 1.1 million unique users who streamed the game today for over 31 million minutes – both records for anything we’ve done throughout this hockey tournament or the Olympics overall. We expect tomorrow to break through that record and this bar will grow once we catch up to the last 75 minutes. We expect tomorrow will break that record digitally and in some ways we have some concerns that the infrastructure could be difficult for people to stream. We’ve had great success and really no issues with our streaming to date. But if you recall all the way back to London, we’ve had some businesses, including the LA City Council who asked their employees to stop streaming the Olympics because it was shutting down their servers, in Finland yesterday, the Finnish government asked people to stop streaming the Finland-Russia game because essentially the internet in Finland stopped. I don’t think we’ll be in that position and we are prepared for the data but we’re only part of the chain that brings streaming all the way here from the venues straight through to everyone’s either desktop, laptop, mobile device or tablet, but we’re very excited about that. The vast majority of people we know will be watching on television. And again, we think the opportunity for people – that this is a noon game – for people to spend their Friday afternoon cheering for Team USA will be quite a good opportunity for people who may be casual hockey fans, who may not watch the wonderful coverage we have – and the three experts are going to talk to you in a minute – but have casual hockey fans jump onto the bandwagon here and cheer Team USA into the finals.”
“With that, we’d like to open up to any question you may have. Again, witnessed two great hockey tournaments, these three experts can give you all the analysis and information about what they saw today and what they expect tomorrow.”
As you mentioned what a great tournament it has been, particularly on the men’s side I’m asking about, and there’s a chance that the NHL may not participate in 2018 Games, is NBC trying to do anything to get its partner, the NHL, to participate at 2018? And also, what would it mean if the NHL were not there?
Lazarus: We would prefer to have the best players in the game and in every discipline – whether it’s hockey, or skating or anything – the best players in the world participate in the Olympic Games. We have expressed that opinion to the National Hockey League and to the NHL Players Association and they will determine the outcome. We can only tell them that this is our preference that they’re there. I think it’ll really come down to a discussion between the League, the owners and the players. We are hopeful that they will be there. As to what it might mean, I can’t answer that question and I hope I won’t ever have to. I hope that they’re able to decide and the excitement of the players, which is clear to us by having some of them come to do interviews here and watching the images on the screen, that they are having a good time and maybe either JR, Pierre or Ed might want to give your opinion on what you think the players’ position on being here is.”
Jeremy Roenick: “Hi this is JR. I think, from my standpoint, Edzo I think would have his opinion, but in talking to a lot of the players, this event in the Olympics is very important to them. And it’s a very exciting time for them for their families and to represent their country and you talk about the length of travel that they’ve gone through to come here, to stop a season in mid-season as they’re in a race for the playoffs, it’s very difficult, and to have to think about doing that and going all the way to South Korea…it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens after this Sochi Olympics and the travel…how guys are going to feel when they get back. I know the European players, the Russians, the Fins, the Swedes…they’re so loyal and proud of their countries, they’re brought up to want to be Olympians…I know that they would want to be in South Korea, regardless of the travel. I think it’s going to be a very interesting decision.”
Gary Bettman has spoken out about the sustainability for a women’s league isn’t there. Do you think in between now and South Korea there’s a way that we can possibly get the women’s game a bigger stage within the NHL season? Perhaps a game at the Winter Classic or the All-Star Game? What do you think as far as there being more feasibility for the women’s game to shine in the next four years?
Pierre McGuire: “[Today’s U.S.-Canada women’s gold medal game] was one of the great hockey games you’ll ever see, with two proud hockey countries. And what’s happened in this tournament is we’ve seen the development of other countries and the progression of other countries, in particular the Swiss, who won the bronze medal, the Fins, who were outstanding most of the tournament, and then had some hard luck against Sweden, and then the Swedes…I think the progression for the women’s game is right on track. It’s making significant progress, it’s an exciting time to be involved in the game, I know the NHL is paying attention to it, I know the IIHF is paying attention to it, and the best thing is that so many women and young women are playing the game. I see nothing but a bright future for the game of hockey for women.”
What’s the key for the US to win from your aspects?
Eddie Olczyk: I think the key for Team USA is they have to play a fast, transitional game against Team Canada. That’s how they’re built with speed, with their size, with their ability to go from defense to offense very quickly. I don’t know if they want to play a board game with Canada, they certainly have guys to be able to do that, but I think their transitional game is going to be a key to having success against the Canadians, especially through the middle of the ice…that will be a big key for Team USA. If they can get that transition game going, they’re going to generate some offense, I really believe that both of these teams have yet to see the type of team they’re going to face tomorrow. I don’t want to say they’re mirror images, but they have not seen a team in these Olympics that can score and generate like the other can. These games have been very low scoring…we’re averaging just over three goals a game when you take the U.S. out of this tournament…I expect tomorrow to be a high-scoring game. I expect both teams to get chances, and I could see a total of seven, eight, nine goals tomorrow.”
Pierre McGuire: “I agree with that, and that’s why David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan, who did such a good job in the game against the Czech Republic against Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanec, and Roman Cervenka…for David Backes, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Callahan, whoever they play against, if they can neutralize one of Canadian lines, that will take a lot of the duress off of the United States. To Eddie’s point, and I think it’s a really valid one, the speed through the neutral zone that the Americans have shown in this tournament is the best we’ve seen for any team here. Of the four teams in the semifinal, nobody’s been able to touch the speed of the Americans yet.
Jeremy Roenick: “For me, it’s going to come down the goaltenders. It’s going to be about how well Jonathan Quick plays, and to see if [Carey] Price can make the big saves. Both Price and Luongo have struggled this year, it will probably be Price [starting] in the game, it’s probably his biggest game of the year. It’ll be interesting to see how the goaltenders handle this situation.”
When NBC bid for the Olympics, did you do so knowing the NHL would be there, or was there uncertainty?
Mark Lazarus: “It was not part of our thought going in…[with the] Olympic Games and Olympic movement, the eyes of the world on the best athletes in their disciplines…there was nothing specific to the game of hockey as part of our bid. [We were] hopeful, as we believed it would be here, especially here in Russia, and we believe it’s in the best interest of hockey for the best players in the world to always be in the Olympics. We don’t get to make that decision, but it wasn’t part of our bid.”
Have you done any studies to put into context how using non-NHL players would affect the revenue or ratings going forward?
Mark Lazarus: “We have not.”
Do you anticipate that tomorrow in offices around the country, what you’ll get is like the first day of the NCAA tournament?
Mark Lazarus: “I think we will have a very broad audience, and I think for two-and-a-half hours, the best players in all of North America will be playing against each other. It will be bigger than anything that’s happened at lunch time, and it should be a two-and-a-half hour national holiday. Most of the players on these teams are recognizable to U.S. hockey fans, and cheering for Team USA is a wonderful opportunity for and cheering for Team USA and Team Canada is something that both of these teams deserve. They deserve the attention of American fans.”
Pierre, Jeremy and Eddie, you talked about the keys for the United States to win, how about Canada? They haven’t played their best yet, but is this a game where the Canadians are really going to bust out?
Pierre McGuire: “Nobody can predict that but I’ll tell you one thing that that’s going to hurt the Canadians is paralysis from analysis. They’ve been tinkering, fixing and trying to re-fix – they just haven’t been able to get anything steady going. They haven’t played a very difficult schedule to date they were life and death to beat the Fins, they were life and death to beat Latvia even though they had almost 60 shots on goal. I think if the Canadians are going to win, the one way they can win is what Eddie was talking about, making a smash mouth board game like they do in the National Hockey League. The problem is with 15 extra feet of ice in terms of the width of the rink, it’s really difficult to play that style and so it will be interesting to see what they do. If they can’t get a more of consistent offensive thrust from Sidney Crosby or Ryan Getzlaf, their two top centers after the injuries with John Tavares, they’re going to have a tough time matching the speed of USA.”
Jeremy Roenick: “I agree with Pierre whole heartedly, I think that the Canadian team is built of all first line National Hockey League players, that unfortunately it seems to me that they’ve been trying to take care of Sidney Crosby a little too much in the first four games of the tournament. I think chemistry wise they’ve been struggling, offensively they’ve been struggling. Most of their goals have been coming from their defense pairings, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty, MVP style type tournaments. For me, it’s still the U.S. verses Canada. And whenever you have the U.S. verses Canada, you’re going to get the best from both teams in my opinion. This is a flip of the coin, a toss-up for me. I would not be surprised if this game goes to overtime. I’m going to stress it again, boy, this is the U.S. verses Canada and it doesn’t get any bigger for the United States.”
Eddie Olczyk: “I would say this about Canada, and seeing the Latvian game on tape delay earlier this morning on television, but they kind of just breezed through the two hour twenty minute game in about an hour which was good enough for me considering we were doing the American game. I really believe that Canada played better as this tournament has gone on. Pierre makes a good point about the tinkering of the lines. It looked like Mike Babcock shortened the bench for the first time in this tournament against Latvia, yes it was an elimination game, and it’s so easy to second guess, that’s what we do. I’m surprised that he didn’t shorten it up a little bit earlier in the tournament, but when you have the success that Canada has had and of course Mike Babcock has had, it’s tough to doubt or second the decisions.
“I think that Canada is coming into this game, even though they haven’t been able to score, JR touched on the dynamic duo of Weber and Doughty scoring seven of Canada’s thirteen goals, and you do the math Jeff Carter had a hat trick, so ten of the thirteen goals have come from three guys. They need to find a way to finish off the opportunities. I think the shortening of the bench and allowing the guys to get into their normal rotation. JR touched on it, these are all guys that are elite players. These guys are used to going out on the ice every third shift. Some of these guys aren’t used to healthy scratches; a lot of these guys aren’t used to sitting there for seven or eight minutes. Well, welcome to the world that I sat in for the last five years of my career. It’s not easy, but in this tournament, you check your name at the front of the door and do whatever you are asked to do.”
“I look at a guy like Blake Wheeler, excuse me I can’t remember the game, maybe it was the Russian game, he had one or two shifts in the game and didn’t play a shift the rest of the game. He’s a pretty good player, Blake Wheeler for Team USA and the Winnipeg Jets. The next game, he gets out there and he has an assist and play twelve, thirteen minutes so you just never know.”
“A long winded way of saying I think the Canadians are playing better as this tournament goes on and usually, that’s a pretty good sign when you go into a tournament like this in the Olympics.”
I saw Gary Bettman this morning talking to Al Michaels about the importance of promoting hockey. Can any of you give an example of how not having NHL players at the Olympics would help the sport?
Jeremy Roenick: “That’s a tough question.”
Pierre McGuire: “I’ll tell you one thing, the T.J. Oshie moment is all you need to know about what the NHL players being at the Olympics is all about. That is one of the most magical moments you’ll ever see. What T.J. Oshie was able to do put the game of hockey right at the front of the entire Olympic spectrum. Without National Hockey League players at the Olympics I don’t know if you can have those moments, I really don’t. So it speaks to the overall appeal of the best players in the world being part of the Olympics. I have not talked to one player that says they do not want to be a part of the Olympics. I have not talked to one. Of all the players I have talked to in the National Hockey League over the last fifteen years, I have not talked to one that doesn’t want to be an Olympian.”
Eddie Olczyk: “I think when you look at the possibilities or the scenarios, you have to look at the business of the game. This is what it comes down to right, it comes down to the business. You shut down your business, being the National Hockey League, for three weeks, or three and a half weeks if you have to travel another five or six hours to get to South Korea. When you have the best sporting event every four years, I was lucky enough to play as an amateur, back in 1984, thirty years ago for Team USA over in the Olympics in Sarajevo, when you have the opportunity to have the best athletes at these games it takes it to another level it takes our sport to another level. Maybe we’re getting to the point where you might have to get creative where everyone is happy, ownership is happy in the National Hockey League, the Players Association is happy, most importantly the Olympians and the fans of the sport.”
“Maybe we are getting to the point where the game of Hockey has to be played in August in the Summer Olympics. Maybe we are getting to that stage where you don’t have to shut down the National Hockey League for three weeks and slow down your business. Canadian markets, Chicago, Detroit, New York, you can go on and on and on. Those aren’t going to take a hit so to speak, when your business or your team goes away for three weeks. But you have a lot of franchises that are treading water, are having momentum and then all of the sudden you go away for a while. But the selling of the game on NBC, having the best athletes play is something I don’t think you can put a price tag on. Maybe, to make everybody happy, maybe somebody needs to say, you know what maybe we can do this, maybe we can have the game of hockey played in the Summer Olympics.”
Hey JR, quick follow-up on Olympic stuff. You said earlier that obviously all of the players want to play in the Olympics and it matters for some players in some countries more than others. If the NHL does decide that they are not going to go to the 2018 Olympics, what do you think will be the reaction from players? Do you think players might be looking for clauses in their contracts that let them individually go? Do you think they will go as far as to seek out contracts in 2018 from other leagues?
Jeremy Roenick: “I think you will have a lot of NHL guys, especially the European guys, do their best to go. I think on this that is really important going into South Korea. You hear a lot of talk about Alex Ovechkin and [Yevgeni] Malkin and all the guys say that if the National Hockey League decided not to come to Sochi that they would come anyway because it is on their home soil. There is no body in the National Hockey League from South Korea, so we don’t have any controversy in terms of playing at home. That’s one thing in the NHL’s best interest. If there ever was a time not to bring NHL players because of distance and because having any kind of over-lapping countries with their players, South Korea would be that Olympics. But I still think that you are still going to get a lot of flak from guys like Alex Ovechkin, who and I am sure are embarrassed and hated what happened here with their national team not even making the medal rounds, to at least want to have another shot at it. I don’t know what is going to happen, but there will defiantly be some backlash from a lot of the European players, not so much the Northern Americans, but more the Europeans in my opinion.”
Mark Lazarus: “I think you know we are going to have four years to talk about the next Olympics. The focus that we would like to keep on this game tomorrow is that it is a huge game for this tournament and for Team USA and for Team Canada. Again, the best players in North America, and we hope there is a two and a half hour national holiday for people to watch on NBC Sports Network or on NBC Sports Live Extra. There’s a great tournament going on, and we hope that you guys will help us get the word out and ask people what they are doing for lunch tomorrow and we hope that will be watching hockey.”
Chris Mccloskey: “All right, thank you everyone for joining us. Again tomorrow coverage begins at 11:30am on NBC Sport Network, NBC Olympic.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. Thank you for joining us.”