Losing was bad enough, but NBC made it torture
NEW YORK (LGS) — Is it OK if I don't write about that stinkin' game yesterday?
If, just this once, I give the Sabres' power play a pass — or 12 passes, like they do?
If I ignore the fact that Sean Avery and Jaromir Jagr actually came to play?
If I don't go into the old "one post here, one post there" routine?
I hope so, because this bright, sunny, depressing Monday, I want to go medieval on NBC.
Allow me to pick the brutal, torturous weapon of my choice. There has to be a Wikipedia entry on this subject. Yes! How 'bout a horseman's pick? Let the mayhem commence.
And a driiiiiiiiiiive into Mike Emrick's head!
He's a terrific play-by-play man, and I like his style. A lot. But with a doctorate in communications, Doc certainly knows better than to cheat a broadcast one way or the other.
But Emrick gladly takes his marching orders to be a homer for the big-market team, be it the Rangers or the Hurricanes — you haven't forgotten the conference final broadcasts, have you? He knows it's wrong, but he probably likes his job, traveling around and watching hockey games for a living. Who can blame him?
It's so wrong on so many levels. The league's national broadcast "partners" should be split right down the middle, playing no favorites, but they're not. Why? This columnist is probably getting very close to the truth. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in conspiracy theories. If they were true, that goal on Sunday would have counted. It's not that the league is trying to rig the games, just the broadcasts, and it drives me batty.
The Sabres were the best team in the league in the regular season and play a style that should help the league sell the game. Television ratings in Buffalo, a hockey town among several that have kept this league alive, are through the roof (much higher than the ratings in NYC, by the way), and Sabres' merchandise sales are tops in the league. They're buying it in Buffalo, and it should play in Peoria, too.
And yet when it comes time to present this team, this great story, to the country, the Sabres are treated like annoying relatives you hope decide to go home early, if only you act disinterested in their vacation photos.
Here's the kicker. The Sabres not only play second fiddle to the big-market boys, they have to scrap for every ounce of respect even against their fellow small-market teams. Remember the treatment the Sabres got on Versus in that late-season matchup against the Penguins? It wasn't so much Sidney Crosby getting his tiny Titleists washed up and down, it was the Penguins as a whole getting the tongue. Of course, just to try and even things up, giant talking head Christine Simpson mentioned what a nice guy Danny Briere is, his hats and all that. Too bad he's only an average hockey player, right Versus? Otherwise you could present him as one of the game's stars.
It was the same thing to start Sunday's show.
To watch the opening of the broadcast, you would have thought it was the Rangers up 2-0 in the series, on the road in Buffalo.
"Today the New York Rangers return home to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 against the Buffalo Sabres, where Jaromir Jagr and the Rangers' scorers hope to come alive," were host Bill Clement's opening words, over a shot of Jagr tying his laces, all by himself, too.
Sure, they got to the Sabres, but only as an afterthought.
When it came time to talk about the starting goaltenders, moments before the opening faceoff, there was a lingering shot of Henrik Lundqvist, complete with the requisite stat line, but nothing of Ryan Miller. I guess time ran out.
Once play started, there were more cutaways to Tom Renney and Sean Avery than there were to Lindy Ruff or any Sabre. And the picture got more offensive once the color commentator opened his mouth.
Hand me that ear dagger, would ya?
And a poke to Eddie Olczyk!
The guy sounds very much sounds like he has some kind of grudge against Buffalo. Maybe one of his losses to the Sabres early in his second season as coach of the Penguins played a factor in his getting fired in December of that year. Second and last as a coach in the league, I might add. But I won't.
Olczyk's act got very old on the air, too, after the play where Karel Rachunek clearly kicked the puck into the net. Olczyk disagreed with the call — OK, we get it — but he just wouldn't let it go. Neither would Emrick, who several times thereafter referred sarcastically to the score as Buffalo one and the Rangers one... "that was counted."
It just went on and on.
Olczyk just about soiled himself when the Rangers touched up on an icing call with five or so seconds left in the second period. His lobbying for more time on the clock was a coach's plea, but you're not supposed to coach in the pressbox. Or cheer. But he does, and they do. Not always overtly, sometimes between the lines, in the inflection of a voice. They are fooling no one.
Emrick said Martin Straka was "wonderfully brilliant and so very amazing and, my word, I just pitched a tent," or words to that effect that I am too lazy to look up. No compliment that obscene for any Sabre left his mouth. Olczyk admitted his pulse went up when the Rangers nearly had a glorious chance to score.
And when the Rangers nearly coughed the puck up in their own zone on a very risky pass across the middle of the ice, all three announcers — Emrick, Olczyk and sideline commentator Pierre Maguire — started hooting and hollering and laughing, like you laugh after nearly crossing the center line and hitting a lumber truck head-on. They were sooooo relieved that puck didn't go the other way.
Jagr got credit for taking three penalties, evidence he was "involved" in the game.
The fans got credit for cheering during the anthem — probably another of those NY crowds that shouts profanities at such moments, even moments of silence for young massacre victims — but there was no mention of the fans booing their own player, Marek Malik, every time he touched the puck, something I've never even heard of. Or maybe I don't watch enough games coming out of God's gift to hockey, Manhattan, to know that it's the modus operandi there.
Oh yeah, there was also Maguire interviewing Avery at the end of regulation and asking how the Rangers would deal with all the penalties being called on them, the implication oh so clear.
The rump-Ranging extended into the studio, too.
Before overtime, Ray Ferraro said he thought the Rangers would win, Jagr of course getting the goal. Say what you want about the NFL, but have you ever heard such a prediction before a playoff game went to overtime?
It's bush league. It's horsecock on the Peacock Network.
And into the control room the rot spread, perhaps from whence it came. When Daniel Briere stepped out of the corner in the first overtime with a clear path to the net, only to have the play whistled dead after the net was dislodged by a Ranger, no Sabre except Briere in sight, no replay was shown.
And the announcers got very quiet.
Am I paranoid? Possibly. But did you see the promotional spots the league created for the playoff teams? Detroit talks about the old vet Hasek looking for another Cup and youngster Who Ever looking for his first, impatiently. The spot for the Rangers glorifies 1994 and makes it sound all but certain the Cup will come back to the Big Apple.
The one for the Sabres is OK at first, referencing the city's thirst for its first championship. But it ends with this: "Will the Sabres be left out in the cold?" It's a shot at the city, which isn't any colder than most other places in the North, but it also casts a doubt. None of the other spots did. Detroit's didn't end with, "Will the Dominator's fickle groin hold up?" New York's didn't end with, "But the Rangers don't have a Messier this time."
What can we do? Writing or emailing some suit at NBC or in the league office isn't going to accomplish a damned thing. But, guess what, this league needs us. They need the Buffalo market. We have to have some leverage here. Maybe someone should make a list of every advertiser on these sham broadcasts and start a campaign to let those who pay the big bucks to put their product in front of us — or, more likely, the five hundred bucks, given the league's ratings — know that we aren't buying their products until changes are made in how the games are presented.
Or we could just accept it, enjoy it the way some guys enjoy being whipped and berated and belittled. It will make the ultimate moment that much sweeter.
Another one of those weapons? The two-handed sabre.
There is no two-handed Ranger, by the way. They need no such device. NBC and Versus take care of such things for them.