Thursday, December 18th, 2014


DEC. 18, 2014

4 P.M. ET

CHRIS MCCLOSKEY:  Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for joining us today for our 2015 NHL Winter Classic conference call.

We’ll be joined by NBC Sports executive producer Sam flood, and our game announce team of Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and Pierre McGuire.  Unfortunately Eddie Olczyk is a last minute scratch today.  We’re sorry about that.

All six of the previous games ranked among most watched regular season games in the last 40 years.  Last year’s game at the Big House between Toronto and Detroit tied the 2009 Classic between Washington and Pittsburgh as the highest rated regular season NHL game since 1975 with a 2.5 household rating.

This year the game moves to the nation’s capital, and features two teams playing in their second Classic as the Capitals host the Blackhawks at Nationals Park.

SAM FLOOD:  Thank you all for joining us on the call.  We are always excited this time of year because the Winter Classic is such a special event to everyone at NBC and to the NHL, and I think to anyone who has ever laced on the blades and gone out on a frozen sheet somewhere around this country knows how wonderful it is to play under the open air.

We can’t wait to get this going.  Great thing about the Winter Classic is we know we are going to bring in the new year in a different city almost every year. So it’s a lot of fun to have built this into a New Year’s Day destination for the hockey fans and also for the curious sports fan because you get to see things you never see any other time.

Being in the nation’s capital adds a whole new dimension into what we can play around with in terms of visuals and the scenics will be spectacular and again, always love doing a replay of a goal from an airplane.  That doesn’t happen in hockey on a regular basis.  Somehow the airplanes can’t see inside a normal building, but they can in an open air arena.  It creates wonderful TV and most importantly wonderful memories that help grow the game.

And the guy who makes the visuals even better with the words is the great Doc Emrick.

MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK:  Thank you very much, Sam.  It’s starting to sound like our game celebration every year.  I know we used to think it was other events, but I think it was our game celebration each year and our uncertainty:  Because we’ve had sun delays in Philly, we had snow start to finish last year in Ann Arbor, rain to sleet to snow in Buffalo, and not only have the crews adjusted, but the players have played.

I’ll never forget talking to Paul Devorski after the game in Pittsburgh which had been postponed by rain to the evening, and it rained almost during the entire game.  And he told me during one of the wildest rainiest moments of the night, he happened to be standing next to a faceoff circle next Sidney Crosby and he just said, “Kind of rough, isn’t it.”

And Sid said, “It’s fine.  We can play.”  They are not allowed to play unless it’s safe.

But there again is the greatest asset we have in the NHL, not just the players but their commitment to not only weather, the uncertainty, but with smiles on their faces, you see, and they enjoy it when they are playing in it and they sure enjoyed talking about it when it’s over.  I love working this game and being with our gang of Eddie and Pierre.

I noticed today just counting up, since our first NHL outdoor telecast at Ralph Wilson Stadium, that was seven years ago there have been 110 of these games played:  Hershey Park Stadium, Red Square, nine other countries, Mexico City, and 17 of the 110 have been at Fenway Park.  It has taken on quite a life and each one of them has its own set of memories and I know this one will, too.

PIERRE McGUIRE:  Doctor, Sam, well said.  Such a privilege to work the outdoor game.  The Winter Classic is really destination location for hockey fans and non-hockey fans.

I think the biggest thing about it are the elements, whether you’re playing at night, whether you’re playing in the daytime or whether you’re playing with snow or whether you’re playing with freezing rain or even a little bit of rain.

Or if you’re playing with a ton of wind like we experienced at Wrigley Field when Detroit and Chicago played; and there was a magnificent goal scored by Pavel Datsyuk which was wind aided as he blew through the Chicago defense.  It was phenomenal to be at ice level and actually feel the wind blow and how Datsyuk accelerated through their defense.

It’s one of those things where especially this time of year when you’re going to the nation’s capital, you’re going to have a great team like the Chicago Blackhawks.  You’ve another really good team in Washington with star players that are going to be playing.

I remember when we were doing the game at Soldier Field in Chicago between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and it was snowing, and the caliber of play and the quality of goal that was scored by the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins in that game.

And I’m thinking to myself if we have the right conditions for this game in Washington, it could be one of the more memorable games just because of the caliber of opponents playing.


You guys all just talked about some memories that you have off the Winter Classic.  I was wondering if you could go a little further, each one of you, dishing out one or two of your favorite Winter Classic memories have been so far in the six games that have been played.

PIERRE McGUIRE:  I’ll go first because I wasn’t at the first one in Buffalo and I was watching it over in Prague in the Czech Republic, and it was late at night.

And the call that I’ll always remember:  “Here’s Crosby with the game on his stick.”  And it was my great partner for the last ten years, Doc Emrick, making the call and that’s when I knew that game had magic to it: Because of the elements; because of the great player that Crosby was.

It was one of those things, I’m 6,000 or 7,000 miles away watching it on TV and listening to Doc’s call and saying, “Darn, I wish I could be there.”  But I was at the World Junior doing that.

But that’s one of the things I really remember of Buffalo, Crosby going down and Doc with just a fantastic call.

MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK:  Thanks, Pierre, that’s very kind of you to say.

I think that game was remarkable because we had no idea what to expect.  As I recall, Michigan in better days was playing Florida in one of the major football bowl games that afternoon, and it was just one of those things that, hey, let’s give it a try.

And Sam and the people at the league had made that decision and then it evolved into something.  I think our ratings grew probably during the afternoon because of not only cell phones calling around the nation saying, this thing is getting pretty interesting, this outdoor game in Buffalo, but also the fact that Sam had a meteorologist there.

And when that blob of white showed northwest of Buffalo, and you could tell it was coming and it was already sleet, I think the phone calls around increased.  Because it’s sort of like watching past a construction site with a hole in the wall where you can peer in and see how people are dealing with the construction; and in this case with the adversity or the challenge of keeping an ice surface so that professionals can play on it; and they sure did that day, but right on schedule, there came the snow in the third and all during the overtime and into the shootout.

We’ve had six of these Winter Classics on New Year’s Day or thereabouts, and three have gone into extra time, two to shootouts, and three were settled in 60 minutes, and a couple were nail biters, at that. The caliber of player we have is immense and the kind of game they have put on is terrific, too.

Dan, at another time when I don’t take up the time that others have to ask questions, I’d be more than happy to give you four or five others because these games really register with me.  Since they are outdoors and since they are only once a year for us most times, just there’s some things that I remember: The eye black in various places and it was created in Washington years ago by one of the Redskins, and all of these things.

Sam, I’m going to get out of our way because otherwise our time is going to get taken up with one answer.

SAM FLOOD:  I’ll tell one quick story and that was Fenway Park and trying to work with the league to figure out how to start the game and start the scene, and discussing Bobby Orr leading the Bruins out and Bobby Clark leading the Flyers out.

And when that moment happened, as a child of Boston, to see the great Bobby Orr coming into Fenway Park leading on to the ice, it was one of those goosebump moments. It was really special. And then the shock that they didn’t drop the gloves and get in a fight in the old Broad Street Bullies, Big Bad Street Bruins days; that’s the subtext.  But the moment was really special as a Boston kid seeing him come into the ballpark and skate on to the ice there. Pretty neat.


When the Winter Classic first came along, we made the point that college football had a hold on New Year’s Day and hockey had an opportunity to take over because the college bowl games had gotten kind of stale.  Obviously college football has something shiny and new this year.  Does that illustrate the challenge of keeping the Winter Classic concept fresh and on people’s minds and having it not be just an old news kind of a thing?  Is that a challenge to this event?

SAM FLOOD:  I don’t think so, because I think the venues play a big part of it.  It’s the people, it’s the place, and there are hundreds of football games played in stadiums every Saturday of college football.

The new deal has the two playoff games at four o’clock.  We’ll be done with our game by then and America can enjoy an incredible hockey game and then they can have a

little after dinner drink watching football.


MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK:  I think the one thing we could do, but I wouldn’t suggest doing, was what was allegedly done a hundred years ago where one of the Washington Senators catchers went to the Washington Monument, which is only 550 some feet high.  And they dropped a baseball out of the top of it and he caught it.

He broke his shoulder, though, and I daydreamed during physics class. So I can’t imagine what a five and a half ounce puck would do if dropped from the top of it into Braden Holtby’s glove; and I don’t think we should subject him to that.

But we don’t have to go to things like that to try to glorify the sport or turn it into a high wire act, because I think the game is going to take very good position in the daily schedule on its own.

With the Stadium Series, you guys obviously are doing these kind of shows a lot more often.  Has that made it easier or different?  How has that impacted the work flow now that you produce these games?

SAM FLOOD:  The Winter Classic stands on its own because it’s the centerpiece game of the outdoor circuit.  And we have every bell and every whistle for that game, from airplanes to cable cams, you name it, we flow everything at it.

The Stadium Series games are special but they are different.  This year being in San Jose, it’s a very high tech stadium.  So we’ll treat it differently than we do a game in the nation’s capital.  No different than a year ago; the game at Dodger Stadium was very different than Yankee Stadium.

I think your venue is a big part of it, but New Year’s Day, in the daytime, creates an incredible spectacle.


You talked about the plane and the aerial shots and cable cam of course.  How do you guys try to use technology and some of the fun production tools to cover this in a way you just couldn’t do in indoor venue?

SAM FLOOD:  I think the airplane says it all.  But the message I give our director, Jeff Simon, every year is:  You’re not covering a hockey game.  You’re covering an event.  And the job is to cover the event and make it feel bigger and make sure you understand that there are last year there were a hundred plus thousand viewers in that building, spectators sitting around the ice surface.

This year, make sure you capture the fact that we’re in the middle of our nation’s capital and that there’s a relationship shot.  In a normal hockey game, the handheld cameras in the corner, you get off of them as soon as the players start heading off the ice away from you.

In this game, I ask the director to stay on that for an extra couple of seconds so you can see the scope of where you are and if a player goes away, you’ve got the background of much more of the stadium and the open air.

Just different directing techniques that Jeff Simon does an incredible good job of to treat it differently and not just be looked in on a hockey game but on an event that is the Winter Classic.


Pierre and Mike, we have seen, from being a franchise that struggled to have fans to one that’s selling out every night.  Curious to know what you’re thinking about the development of hockey in Washington and to how Alex Ovechkin has played a role in the popularity of that sport in D.C.?

PIERRE McGUIRE:  Well, I can tell you, it’s phenomenal.  Not only do I watch a lot of NHL games and work in the NHL, but I watch a lot of Minor League Hockey, as well, and youth hockey, as well.  And one thing that blows me away is the amount of youth hockey that’s being played in Virginia, in Washington, D.C., in the Baltimore area.  It’s mind boggling.

And the caliber of player that’s coming out of there is really high end and I think the reason why is grass roots development of hockey that was forged by the Washington Capitals and their commitment to the area.

I think obviously the Capitals are a huge part of what the Washington sports fabric is, and it’s not just at the professional level.  It’s at all levels, including women’s hockey.  I really think the Capitals have played a huge role.  We’ve talked about it; Washington is a phenomenal city.  It’s a great venue that we’re going to be able to participate in on January 1, and I think the Capitals deserve a lot of credit.

Does Ovechkin get some of that credit?  Absolutely.  He’s a stand-alone star worldwide.  It’s not just in Washington:  It’s in Canada; it’s in Russia; it’s in Sweden; it’s in Finland; I’ve been with him in some of these countries.  It’s phenomenal the drawing power he has in more than just one city but around the world.


MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK:  I think the heartening thing is, too, is this is a second surge.  After Washington came in ’74 where they were terribly out of the playoffs.  They had one year, the very first year, they only won one road game, and Ron Low was one of the goalies, and he told me:  “We grabbed a trash basket in Oakland and held it above our heads like it was our Stanley Cup and we took it back on the plane with us.”

Then they eventually got better in the 80s thanks to David Poile coming in and getting Rob Langley out of Montréal, and pretty soon Washington became a power and got to the conference final against Boston in 1990.  And if I remember my history correctly, they remained a power for a while.

But having a star to build around is an enormous thing and you can have a pretty solid team around him, too, but people like somebody that’s going to bring you out of their seats.  I don’t know since Gordie Howe if we had anyone that was a big scorer and also was a hammer shot type of guy when it came to hitting other opponents like we have with this guy.  And not to mention the Chicago Blackhawks.

I think the Blackhawks and the Capitals are probably both hopeful that the President comes to the game that day.  I don’t know what other things he’s got going on, certainly the country is a very busy one for him.  The last sitting president to attend a Capitals game was Bill Clinton. But what I think they would like is for him to come to the game and then maybe come to his house in June or July or sometime after one of them wins the Stanley Cup.


I guess this will be the seventh Winter Classic.  Do you have a pregame routine down or routine for the game or is it just a new experience every time in new buildings and new places?

MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK:  I think the thing that I noticed that’s difference, it’s just I feel like I need to be there sooner.  The first one in Buffalo, I arrived the morning the day before the game so I could go to both teams’ practices at Ralph Wilson.  And then I realized after that first game that this had taken on a gravity that really required more time.  So I started going in three days early.

Now in the role Pierre has or Eddie has, it may not be necessary to go in that early.  But I find that I need to be in just to circulate around the stadium and listen to people talk about not only their city, but also about their sports history.  And it’s amazing the things that you can write down that you later ask one of the players about that might wind up being a part of what you can use that day.

I just think it’s a lot more comfortable to be there in advance, and I’m going in on the evening of the 29th just so I can go to the rink and be there on the 30th and 31st.

Dan Craig and I spend a lot of time together, basically, because I force myself to be down there asking him questions all the time.  I learn an awful lot from Dan.  I know that our average temperature on January 1 in Washington is 44 and Dan likes the ice at 22.  He was involved with Dodger Stadium last year where the starting faceoff temperature was 62 and the ice was reported to be the best of any of them that occurred outdoors last year.

These are things that are just fascinating to me, so I guess the good thing is, NBC let’s me off all of that time just to go in and hang out for a few days.

PIERRE McGUIRE:  I think the big routine for all of us is to have enough story lines that we’ve learned overtime that we can bring them to the audience.

Sam made a great point:  It’s not just about a great point.  It’s more than a hockey game.  So you need to know more than just hockey when you go into a game like this.  So you can’t have enough information in terms of what Doc was just talking about, the ice, the sure surroundings, the stadium, the sports history of the city, the sports history of the two teams that are involved, the coaches that are involved, the trainers that are involved because the trainers play a significant role in this game because it is a lot different in terms of what happens with the sticks, what happens with the skates, do they need extra sharpening, what do they have in preparation for cold, things like that, and it changes from venue to venue.

So there’s just a lot of preparation that goes into it.  The biggest thing I do individually that’s a little different than Doc and Eddie, I skate, so I’m in my skates the whole time.  I try to prepare my feet properly because sometimes if I haven’t done that, it’s been very painful the next day.

MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK:  That’s the thing, too, is that this year we do have    maybe I shouldn’t speak out loud, Pierre, I trust that you have one, too.  We were accorded a space heater for ourselves in Washington.  We are going to be    similar to Pierre’s position, only we are on the penalty box side.

Pierre is between the players’ benches, and we are watching it from ice level just behind the glass.  It is a fascinating place to watch a game.  We discovered last year it can also be wet and cold, and we don’t want to be necessarily shielded from that.  But you get cold from the feet up, and last year, I guess it got to my shoulders of cold.  So we’ve decided from the feet up, we’re going to be warm this year, which is nice.


Do you think the Islanders can sustain what they have done so far this year?

PIERRE McGUIRE:  I really do, big reason why they are getting a lot of this done    it’s a well balanced attack.  I just love how aggressive they have been.  The biggest thing to me is the come from behind wins, not being intimidated by the opposition.

The development of some of their depth players like Matt Martin, I think Brock Nelson has been a huge stand alone story in terms of what the Islanders are doing with their young players.  Ryan Strome has really started to evolve.

One of the things that deserves a lot of credit, Garth Snow, the Saturday before the season when he acquired Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk without giving up a roster player.  This is a really difficult team to play against.  Every coach I’ve talked to in the league, most of the players that I’ve talked to in the league, really respect what the Islanders are about right now.  And it’s been phenomenal to watch them transition from being a real poor team to being a very, very good team.

SAM FLOOD:  We’ve already put one Islanders game on the schedule this year that aired earlier and the NFL is going to go a whole season without flexing on Sunday night football.  There’s a good chance they will flex into an Islanders game between now and the end of the season.  We are plotting as we speak.