FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
TRANSCRIPT – NBC SPORTS GROUP 2016 NHL BRIDGESTONE WINTER CLASSIC CONFERENCE CALL
DEC. 15, 2015
4 P.M. ET
CHRIS MCCLOSKEY: Thank you everyone for joining us today for our 2016 NHL Winter Classic conference call.
Joining us today to talk about this year’s New Year’s Day game between Montréal and Boston, two Original Six teams that have played more games against each other than any rivalry in NHL history. It’s going to be Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, and our executive producer of NBC Sports, Sam Flood.
The Winter Classic as everybody knows was co-founded by NBC Sports and has produced some of the most watched regular season games in NHL history. A quick update, this year, viewership on NBC/NBCSN is up about 12 percent.
SAM FLOOD: We love hockey and we love nothing more than hockey on New Year’s Day outdoors in the greatest state on earth, Massachusetts, and it’s a place where a team has lived greatness on a regular basis with the New England Patriots, and now the Bruins get to skate on that surface and in the continued tradition of Boston being apparently the City of champions, because no other city in this country has had as much success across all their sports properties as Boston.
A little celebration of Boston, and who better to come in than the heated rivals from north of the border, the Canadiens. Nothing like a Wednesday Night Rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens; better yet, if not Sunday, it’s outdoors and a Friday in the cold and wind at Gillette.
With that, I hand it off to the wordsmith, the best of all time, Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick.
MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK: Thank you. I had quite a bit prepared from the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, but most of that has already been taken, so I’ll move on to the weather.
They say the average temperature on New Year’s in Foxboro, Massachusetts is 36 degrees. At night, it’s 16, so we’re hoping for afternoon, speaking for Eddie and myself who are down next to the ice, and the same for Pierre. The weather is always the thing we prepare for with rain gear and insulated clothing and all of that.
And there’s one other element of unpredictability, and of course it’s that way with any hockey game, but I was just noticing yesterday, going over the offensive heroes of these past games, and with the exception of Sidney Crosby, there’s no one on the marquee that winds up being the hero. It was Jirí Hudler at Wrigley Field; Eric Fehr in Pittsburgh; Marco Sturm at Fenway; Mike Rupp at Philadelphia; Tyler Bozak in Ann Arbor; and Troy Brouwer at Nationals Park.
So that’s another one of the unpredictable elements, but the fun thing about anticipating this, is which Bruin or Montréal Canadien is going to wind up being the hero.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Picking horses, picking players, I’m going to take Frankie Vetrano to be that hero on New Year’s Day.
Great to be talking about the Winter Classic, that means we’re getting into the heart of the National Hockey League season and to be able to start the new year in Foxboro, Original Six rivalry.
The one thing I love about the Winter Classic is the different venues that we have been able to work in and call the greatest game in the world. We’ve been to Boston before, Fenway and been to Wrigley Field in Chicago. I mean, we can go on and on.
But now to be in the home of the New England Patriots, to me, I always enjoy going to the different venues and being able to call the game and being a big sports fan, it’s a big thrill to be in these venues.
So now I will pass the – I don’t know what you would call it – a puck and a football, or a football and a puck, to Pierre McGuire.
PIERRE McGUIRE: What I’m excited about, I echo what Sam, Doc and Eddie talked about: The passion and the energy of the outdoor game and the Winter Classic, but also the excitement level for the two teams that are playing and the rivalry situation.
As a kid growing up in Montréal, watching the Bruins and the Canadiens was a must-watch night every single night, whether you had an exam the next day or a big hockey game the next day that you were a kid participating in. There was nothing like Montréal and Boston and that’s carried over to this day.
I think the biggest thing and the greatest thing about it, this year, anyway, is the Bruins are changing the way they play and that’s a positive thing. They are an aggressive offensive team and they have one of the top-rated power plays in the game. And for the Montréal Canadiens, it’s just dynamic, it’s speed, it’s skill and it’s intensity.
Last year I think we witnessed the best played outdoor game ever between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks, and I really believe this year has got a chance to rival that, only because of the depth and the quality of both teams.
Mike Milbury played in some of the most ferocious Montréal Boston games ever. Mike, you’re on.
MIKE MILBURY: Okay, Pierre, thanks. I think these teams measure each other by how they play against one another. And I refer most recently to the Bruins who sort of stumbled out of the gate, couldn’t find their way. But they go to Montréal and looks like they are going to get blown out of the barn; and somehow find a way to hang around for two periods while their offense finally got on track in the most unlikely scenario with a shorthanded goal and Chara knocks a puck out of midair. That keeps the ball rolling for the Bruins and leaves Montréal sort of floundering a little bit, and that’s the way it’s gone over the year.
I think people get up for these games, not that they don’t for other games. I think this rivalry is enhanced by two good teams. Boston is better than expected after going through many, many changes; and Montréal, even without Carey Price, still a very quick team and a team that’s going to give Boston all it can handle and hope to do a little bit of payback for that most recent loss in Montréal in front of their fans, which never sits well when the Bruins come in and beat you in Montréal.
It’s a chance for a little bit of revenge, and I think that sets the table for a pretty interesting game with two pretty darned good teams, and obviously the rivalry that stretches back for as long as this league’s been around.
Sam, you have both Notre Dame and Michigan playing college football games up against the Classic this year. I was wondering if it helps ratings to have markets that are probably going to be into watching those college football games engaged with their televisions during the time the Classic is on.
SAM FLOOD: I think you’ll find live television, the more people watching, the more they jump around and watch different things, and we do know that when people see the spectacle of hockey outdoors, they tend to consume it for a long period of time.
So we are cautiously optimistic that it will work out quite well, but there are four great football teams playing in the same window, which makes it a pretty exciting time to be a sports fan and line up some adult beverages and sit back and enjoy the games.
Eddie, your thoughts on playing so much of the season without Carey Price, what that shows, not just the play of Condon, in the overall depth in the way their lineup was able to persevere. And on another note, how about a quick thought on Patrick Kane since you see him every day and how impressive this streak is going.
EDDIE OLCZYK: I think with the Canadiens, I think it speaks to system. I think it speaks to coaching, and I think it speaks to the leadership inside that room to be able to do what they have been able to do now, like mentioned a little bit earlier, they kind of stubbed their toe here a little bit over the last little while. But I mean, it was an incredible run the first time that Carey Price was banged up.
But their defensive core is pretty solid, and I think when you can defend, you’re going to be in a lot of hockey games. And you’re right, Condon has come in and played very well. So for me, it’s all about being on the right side of the puck defending, getting that consistent goaltending, and once you get the reigning MVP of the National Hockey League back, the Canadiens become a real dangerous team.
And look, I’m not sure of the numbers of how long Brendan Gallagher has been out, but a lot of people feel, and I’m very close to that camp, of saying that, you know, he might be kind of that glue guy because he gives them a little bit of everything inside that lineup, even though he’s not a real big guy. So for me, what the Canadiens have been able to do without the reigning MVP has been pretty solid.
Right now, Patrick Kane, considering the way that the season started, for him coming in to training camp, he didn’t skate for almost six weeks during his off-ice issues, and rightfully so. But to see what he has done here has really been an incredible run. I mean, he has carried the Blackhawks for a long, long stretch of the season.
The focus has been there, and I think the one thing that I’ve seen changing over the last couple years has been maybe three years ago, he was probably a 65/35 pass first in the offensive zone. Now he’s become pretty close to 50/50 guy.
And when you have the skill level that Patrick Kane has and you become unpredictable in the offensive zone, you know, you’re going to go on runs and you’re going to be one of the top scorers in the National Hockey League.
So for me, it’s just been incredible to watch each and every night. He got a lot of help with his linemates, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, have been a really good line for the Blackhawks. They are starting to get some contributions for some other guys.
But anybody that can go on a long streak, let alone 26 games, it’s been an amazing run. So for me, he’s the Most Valuable Player without question to this point. A lot of hockey to go, but it will be really interesting to see what takes place here the next couple of games for Patrick Kane before he goes home to Buffalo to see, can the streak still be intact when Patrick Kane goes back home for a Saturday afternoon in Buffalo.
Sam, if you can explain perhaps the progression of the outdoor game from Buffalo to where you project it in Foxboro. Why has this become an important property for NBC?
SAM FLOOD: Well, it’s become a New Year’s tradition, and people now expect it on New Year’s Day to be able to sit and watch what is a true spectacle in hockey.
And it started and it caught on so quickly because of what Buffalo was. It was the perfect storm. A storm came in, there’s the snowglobe effect as the guys are skating around the ice. The game is won at that time by the rising star of the game in Sidney Crosby. It all created the perfect backdrop to make people fall in love with it.
A lot of people were chattering about it and talking about it, and we moved it to some of these iconic buildings and the NHL had the foresight to put it in Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Got people talking a great deal.
And then you go to the big house in Michigan and you have the largest audience possible crammed around that rink to watch them play, and that was another snowy day creating a fascinating surface to play on and fun hockey and passionate fans create more energy.
So we think it continues to grow that way. Obviously Gillette is going to be a wonderful place to play. The Kraft family has done such a great job creating one of the great football experiences in all of the NFL to go there and anything they do in that building is done first class, so you know it’s going to be a first class event with the NHL executing with perfect ice, and I’m sure perfect weather with a few dusting of snow during the game and a couple other things; I know Gary Bettman is dialing up the weather to make sure there’s just a little bit of snow to make it perfect.
We think all the ingredients are there to have another home run game.
Pierre, I believe you’re from Montréal, and Mike, you’ve spent a great deal of time in Boston. Can you guys each weigh in on how big this game is in each city and how it plays into the culture of both big sports towns and how much of an important event this is in each city?
PIERRE McGUIRE: Any time Montréal and Boston play, it’s a huge event. As a kid growing up, there were long, long lines just for standing room only tickets just to watch Bobby Orr play. That’s how far back I go. But you think about the iconic picture of “Sugar” Jim Henry and “Rocket” Richard, both of them bleeding profusely in the handshake line; it goes back that far.
When I was a kid growing up and going to school, everybody loved to hate the Bruins. I kind of was in between, because my favorite player was Bobby Orr. And then all of a sudden Larry Robinson came along from Montréal, and I kind of went towards the Canadiens.
But it’s a huge, huge thing whenever Boston and Montréal play, doesn’t matter where they are in the standings. What matters the most is you know it’s going to be intense and you know it’s going to be full of passion and you know both teams are going to give everything they have. I think that’s one of the things that makes it great.
I’m speaking of it from a fan’s point of view. Mike can speak from having actually been in the cauldron of Boston and Montreal, what it’s like.
MIKE MILBURY: Yeah, it’s really about the fans. They make the rivalry. They are the ones that get juiced up, and these two towns, we all know groups of fans travel to certain events.
But when they travel from Montréal to Boston and vice versa, it’s usually in a large group and even when the odds seem stacked against you, you get that jolt of adrenaline because you know your fans are watching. You don’t want to let them down when you’re playing against Montréal how much emotion and rivalry, and if they want to find a way to cheer for their home team with a win.
It elevates your, I think commitment to play, and that probably isn’t the right thing to say. You should be able to play every game with the same intensity, but it just isn’t that way. And it’s really a tribute to the fans and how much they invest in it and how much they require the players to invest, and it’s a lot every time these two teams square up.
Pierre, is it a different sound or different vibe for an outdoor game than when you’re inside an arena?
PIERRE McGUIRE: It really is. When the pucks hit the boards, it’s kind of an echoing sound rather than a hard bullet like sound. The skates on the ice, there’s a little bit of a different sounds from the skates on the ice. The hits still rattle… I love when Doc talks about it’s a glass-rattling hit because it really is.
Now last year, I thought, again, Washington and Chicago played probably the best of all the outdoor games in terms of caliber of play. It was fast, it was furious and it was skillful, and I think the weather conditions were a big reason why. Yeah, the sounds are a little bit different. The only thing that probably stays the same is the noise from when guys collide. Those noises never change.
How about the crowd noises? Obviously more fans but they are so far away.
PIERRE McGUIRE: You know what, it depends on the building. I remember skating off with Sidney Crosby. We were standing on center ice and we were both on skates and the noise was so loud that you could actually feel the ice quaking a little bit. And at the end of it, Crosby and I have done a lot of interviews together, and he went, “That may have been the coolest thing we have ever done. I mean, that was unbelievable.”
I said, “Yeah, it was pretty crazy to feel the ice shaking underneath us.”
The noise in the football stadiums I think is a little bit louder than the noise in the baseball stadiums, just because the football stadium, it seems like everybody envelopes you; whereas in baseball, it’s a little bit different.
But there’s a deafening, deafening noise, and Sam talked about I thought perfectly in Ann Arbor, and Eddie and Doc were down there, too. The noise level of the fan base in Michigan and Ann Arbor was off the charts I thought.