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THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Heritage Classic a help or hindrance in playoff drive? Add to ...

Is the Heritage Classic on Sunday a distraction or a caffeine jolt for the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames as they claw for playoff spots? Depends on which CBC broadcaster working the game that you talk to. Glenn Healy, who's working the ice-level position Sunday, sees the pomp and circumstance as positive.

"I don't buy the idea the game might upset the players as they go down the stretch," Healy told Usual Suspects Thursday. "It's intoxicating for players at a tough time of the season. Coming out in front of that many people is phenomenal. I remember for the Winter Classic this year, you had players lined up just to get on the ice for practice. Usually you have to push guys to get out there. So I think it's a positive for them."

Craig Simpson, who'll work upstairs as an analyst beside Jim Hughson, is excited for the game and the players. But Simpson told The Fan 960 in Calgary that the Oilers slumped badly following the inaugural Heritage Classic in Edmonton in November of 2003. Simpson's squad had won five of six entering the game but then lost five of six in the aftermath of the emotional contest.

Healy said the forecasted temperature of 2 C is good news. "I worked the 2003 game [in Edmonton]with Chris Cuthbert, and he kept the [broadcast booth]window open so he could call the play. It was probably the coldest I've ever been. I celebrated when that game ended."

Border Skirmish

If you're attending the game Sunday, don't ask commissioner Gary Bettman whether the NHL is treating this game as a Canadian appeasement for the NHL's other outdoors game, the Winter Classic, which is held in the United States annually.

"That's absurd. It's baseless," Bettman told George Johnson of the Calgary Herald. "It's someone looking for something on a slow news day, looking for something to write or say, to be critical for no reason." We think the gentleman doth protest too much.

Despite Bettman's bluster, there is a tension over the two games. For U.S. hockey, which struggles eternally in the shadow of its Canadian brother, the Winter Classic has become a proprietary franchise, a bragging point, a rallying cry to sell the sport in the United States. When the greatest moments in U.S. hockey history are the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. (1980), the World Cup (1996), the Detroit octopus and Jeremy Roenick being traded to the Phoenix Coyotes from the Chicago Blackhawks, you hold on to what you've got.

That's understandable. So when the NHL awards a second outdoors game to Calgary, it seems like a case of watering down the franchise. The rich get richer. Don't mess with success. We get it. The question now is will Canada get behind the Heritage branding the way the United States has supported its outdoors games? With just six possible venues for the game (versus a potential 24 in the United States), the format could get old very quickly.

"It's going to be hard to go back to fewer than two games," said former Hockey Night in Canada producer John Shannon, now with Rogers Sportsnet. "I think some people in the head office might want maybe four, five or six outdoor games. But they need partners for the game who can generate revenue. With Montreal you get the Quebec market plus English Canada. But outside of that matchup, can you get the corporate support the game in Calgary is attracting?"

On The Radio

Michael Landsberg of TSN was the guest host this week on Montreal's Team 990, owned by TSN's sister company CHUM Radio. So is this a dry-run for Landsberg, host of Off the Record on television, to have a role on the new TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto? "We've had a few casual chats," Landsberg told Usual Suspects Thursday. "I'm not opposed to doing radio so long as it doesn't impact my preparation for OTR."

With TSN planning to fill its midday radio lineup with Jim Rome and Dan Patrick, does this mean he's going against Bob McCown on The Fan 590?

"I have great respect for Bob. Listen to him all the time. I would not be one of those who'd take the job saying, 'I'm going to blow him out of the water.' I'd only do it because it's afternoon drive and we've got great resources here."

TSN announced an April 13 startup date for its radio project. Gee, what else happens that day? Rhymes with day-offs. In addition to Mike Richards in the Morning, the station will have Toronto Argonauts broadcasts and has taken over ESPN radio content, which previously was on The Fan.

 

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