Ah, the law of unintended (hockey) consequences.
The position of reporter between the NHL benches has largely been a success since it first was introduced in 2006. But the clandestine perch now is becoming a victim of its own success as some critics demand the filters be taken off the hot audio.
Pioneered by Pierre McGuire at NBC and now used by others (including Hockey Night in Canada), the fly-on-the-wall perch can take the temperature of a game from ice level. Nothing speaks to that proximity better than the image of New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella and New Jersey Devils counterpart Peter DeBoer jawing at each other late in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, with McGuire (NBC) and Glenn Healy (CBC) caught in between like flies in amber.
(For the record, the feisty McGuire is the one standing up front in the photographers’ booth while Healy is standing back from the fray.)
Neither coach wanted to elaborate on what was said. Neither would McGuire or Healy.
“Working inside the glass is a privileged position,” McGuire told Usual Suspects via e-mail. “I respect the spirit of co-operation between the coaches, players, and the league. I would never want to compromise that relationship. Over the last seven years, I believe we have been allowed to grow the position due to a trust that has been created.”
McGuire says he has a straightforward policy: “The standard is simple. I will report that a player is hurt, but I will not say what body part is injured. With the coaches verbal jousting, whether it be Pitt and Philly or NYR and NJD, I will say there is a confrontation but not say what they are saying towards one another.”
“I am still a player,” said Healy, who muted his microphone during Wednesday’s confrontation, too. “What’s said there, stays there. That stuff has no bearing on the game. I can promise you there were no complete sentences in there. We don’t need to turn hockey into [celebrity gossip website]TMZ or whatever.”
The two reporters are backed up by the people in the production truck.
“We are guests at the dinner table,” TSN vice-president and executive producer of live events Paul Graham said. “We are granted permission to access between the benches by the NHL and the teams, so we go in there knowing we have to respect certain situations we are privy to based on our location. We leave it to our analysts to judge what pertinent information goes to air.
“As you know, the majority of heated conversations between players and coaches contains too much profanity.”
Rogers Sportsnet producer Larry Isaac has been doing NHL games for three decades, and while his network does not employ a between-the-benches reporter, he sees both sides of the argument.
“The announcers, who usually are ex-players or ex-coaches, who now are privy to these conversations, have to weigh whether it’s journalistically prudent to repeat ‘word for word’ the heated conversations, or any other teammate-to-teammate conversation, or time-out strategy discussion,” he said.
“Because they feel, and sometimes justifiably, that if they do this, it will hamper getting some inside information from their key player/coach contacts when TV announcers get their 1-on-1 private meetings with coaches on the game-day mornings.”
If this sounds a little “inside baseball,” then you’re not alone.
Should reporters owe their loyalty to the audience, not their ex-colleagues?
The DeBoer-Tortorella spat was a top story after the game and featured on the HNIC highlights and promos. Does the public deserve to know more?
Healy believes he’s a fair arbiter of what gets on. “Almost all of it is putdowns and insults and swearing that has no impact on the game whatsoever,” he said. “They’re not missing anything important.”
Perhaps not. But the DeBoer-Tortorella confrontation, while profane, had news value. Conveying that in some fashion surely should not break the covenant between reporter and league.
Maybe the solution in the future is to allow a special all-access audio version of games as a premium package for viewers. Pay extra, hear Peter DeBoer tell John Tortorella that he’s vertically challenged.
The collective hockey culture is having a cow over HNIC doing an alternative commentary for the Stanley Cup final, with a blog titled “While the men Watch” (sample: Making love like Lundqvist). The two women behind the project, Julie Mancuso and Lena Sutherland, made the rounds this week to promote the concept.
Creating new audiences is not a bad thing for the stodgy hockey crowd, but it seems Mancuso and Sutherland will have to be very clever to make this work. But Usual Suspects was once trapped in a locker by the Hanson Brothers on live TV, so we’ll wait to judge this concept when it debuts next Wednesday.