Now that the Toronto Maple Leafs are de facto mort in the Eastern Conference race for the NHL playoffs, will the sports networks that follow them slavishly turn attention to Canadian teams with a chance to be in the playoffs?
Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk was among those who complained recently about the overwhelming focus on all things Maple Leafs, particularly on Hockey Night In Canada.
“The bigger issue is a weakness in CBC's national game selection,” Melnyk told us Tuesday. “Typically, someone thinks they are such geniuses by overweighting on Toronto national games. And if they miss the playoffs, there is not enough game and player stories on the teams that do get in to help build a national audience - then what?
“That's when the fun finger-pointing starts - only to be a fly on the wall...”
Seeing the Senators shouldn’t be a problem outside their region from here till season’s end. Of their five games remaining on CBC, four are to be televised nationally. The only question would be the March 24 game versus Pittsburgh.
“They have switched in the past,” Melnyk says. “No one has contacted us at this time. The CBC often reviews games on a regular basis and given the fact that we are fighting for a playoff spot and Sidney Crosby could be back, it may become a national game. We'll see.”
If the playoffs started today, Ottawa and Vancouver would be in the postseason. Both Winnipeg and Calgary have a shot at a spot.
Make Beliefs: Elsewhere, just in case anyone was suffering withdrawal, TSN dutifully produced a report on the Toronto goaltending on Monday for SportsCentre. Apparently Jonas Gustavsson still likes playing in Toronto! And James Reimer took a shot in the chest during practice. But James Duthie’s panel during the doubleheader restrained itself from staging a Leafapaloser episode. You may now move about the nation.
March Madness: Coming as it does in the middle of the NHL’s playoff push (outside Toronto, that is), NCAA March Madness is a somewhat foreign concept to many Canadians. Then again, the annual college basketball tournament offers multiple opportunities for betting, which is something Canadians are very partial to. So whether they know Duke from Drexel, Canadian sports types will be following their bracket bets as TSN takes over coverage of the event this year from The Score, its long-time home.
Which was music to the ears of TSN anchor Kate Beirness who played hoops in high school in Port Perry, Ont., and had hopes for more till she tore her Achilles tendon. “I modelled myself on Steve Nash, except not as fast or as talented,” she laughed Tuesday. “I tried out in my first year at Western, but I was cut. That’s when I decided to pursue journalism.”
Her reaction when she learned TSN had captured the Canadian rights for March Madness: “I was thrilled. I’ve been watching as long as I can remember. The turning point for me was probably the Gonzaga teams in the early '90s when they made their runs. I’ve been pretty addicted since then. We didn’t have a local team in Port Perry, so I’ve fallen in love with different teams over time.”
With TSN having a limited NBA exposure during the regular season, March Madness allows Beirness to fill her boots with basketball for almost a month. The round of 64 starts Thursday at 11 a.m. ET. (TSN.ca will have live streaming of the play-in game on March 14 beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.)
“The studio is all set up for some 11-hour days,” says Beirness. “As long as we get some food it’s going to be perfect.”
Hosting March Madness also allows her to work with some legendary basketball people, such as Canada’s Dan Shulman, the voice of the NCAA on ESPN. “His knowledge and experience are second to none. And our panel (Jack Armstrong, Leo Rautins, Shulman and Sherman Hamilton) is great, too.”
Like all March Madness aficionados Beirness has filled out her bracket (it can be seen online at TSN.ca) for the tournament. She's going with the favourites. “I think Kentucky has a great core of talent. Some teams complain when they lose a player after a year or two but Kentucky survives guys leaving after one year. You can’t say enough about the job coach John Calipari does.”
Bruce Dowbiggin's sports media column appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.