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New Jersey Devils' Ryan Carter, right, fights with New York Rangers' Stu Bickel after the opening faceoff, March 19, 2012, at Madison Square Garden. (Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press/Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)
New Jersey Devils' Ryan Carter, right, fights with New York Rangers' Stu Bickel after the opening faceoff, March 19, 2012, at Madison Square Garden. (Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press/Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)

Usual Suspects

Staged fights and studio fights Add to ...

There are staged fights, and then there are staged fights. So did Monday's pre-ordained NHL line brawl between the Rangers and Devils inspire a similar staged fight between Brad May and John Shannon on the Sportsnet coverage of the Canucks/Wild game? It certainly was a verbal throw-down.

“No, no, we’re both passionate guys about the sport, that’s all it was,” Shannon told Usual Suspects on Tuesday. “There was nothing planned about it. It just happened.”

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In case you missed “it”, May, the former NHL agitator famous for announcing a bounty on the head of Steve Moore in 2004, and Shannon, a former CBC and NHL executive, got animated over the staged fights three seconds into the Rangers/Devils contest at Madison Square Garden.

May, of course, revelled in the old-time tradition, reminding Shannon that fighting is a part of “our game”. Shannon shot back that fighting is not a part of the game, it’s a penalty. May then played the time-honoured “no one is leaving their seats during a fight” card when Shannon decried how the premeditated fight might be viewed by casual sports fans. Shannon talked about how the league would be pummelled by the CNNs and other American news services who love nothing more than an ugly hockey brawl to run down the sport.

While host Louis Jean tried vainly to intervene the pair continued to raise their voices. As they went to commercial, May gloated, “I spent over 2,000 minutes in the penalty box in my career. Best seat in the house. I loved it” to which Shannon said “And that's where they should've put you too. Get guys like that off the ice.”

The segment broke for commercial and when the panel returned, the two shook hands to defuse any tension. “We’re actually good friends,” Shannon said Tuesday. “We just fundamentally disagree about the role of fighting in the sport. I’m not against it totally, but the staged stuff Monday was an embarrassment to the sport. We’ve come a long way in getting it out of the game. But as we saw Monday there’s still a ways to go.”

Make It Two: Shannon also noted that the panel format used by Sportsnet (plus TSN and some aspects of Hockey Night In Canada) allows for such debate between people with opposing viewpoints. Which leads you to wonder whether CBC should even replace Don Cherry with a single figure when the day comes for The Don to hang up his Wizard of Oz wardrobe on HNIC. (And assuming CBC keeps the HNIC franchise)

Whether Cherry or Howie Meeker, the cult of personality created by the first intermission slot breeds a monotony of opinion. It’s difficult for any single voice to keep the format fresh. Having two or three performers, as Sportsnet and TSN do, allows for more lively debate without tedious repetition of the same theme week in and week out. Having the right analysts with different backgrounds and different philosophies could avoid a lot of the problems plaguing Coach’s Corner after 30-plus years.

Of course, that would allow Cherry to say that it took two or three men to replace him. Which he will.

ESPN Hockey: As for Shannon’s concern that the great mass of American culture ignores hockey because of episodes like the Rangers/Devils brawl, Deadspin, the American website, has conducted a survey of time devoted to different sports on ESPN’s 11 o’clock sportscast, the TV journal of record in the U.S. The NHL got 2.7 per cent of the airtime from Jan. 7 to March 15. (ESPN does not carry NHL.) The NBA nipped the NFL 25.9 to 23.1 per cent for most attention in that period. But those who like it, like it a lot.

Mile High Manning: Still can’t believe our pal Bob McKenzie of TSN didn’t break the Peyton Manning to Denver story. So what if it’s not hockey! The credit for the most-anticipated scoop of the NFL year went to Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN. Although you could have seen it coming early this week as the break in the NCAA March Madness gave Manning the stage to himself in the American sports news wheel. Don’t tell Usual Suspects that he wasn’t planning for a slow media day.

Even better for ESPN is that the Manning news now allows the network to resume its regularly scheduled infatuation with everything to do with Tim Tebow, the odd-QB-out in Denver. Gentlemen, start your fawning.

Channel Chopping: You’d think that after all these years they’d get this stuff straight, but once again the people who substitute Canadian TV signals of American sports events managed to screw things up. Sunday, NBC’s coverage of the Penguins/Flyers game went past its allotted 3 p.m. ET end time. Viewers watching the NBC local signal in Buffalo were rudely jerked to Global’s feed of the PGA Tour’s Transitions event. Calm heads prevailed and, after 30 seconds or so, the hockey was restored.

But wait, with just 45 seconds left in the OT of the exciting Pens/Flyers game, the hockey signal was pulled for good - in favour of the golf coverage on NBC’s sister station, Golf Channel. Which was waiting for the end of the NHL game to move to the main network. So Canadian viewers missed the Flyers scoring with less than a second left in OT. But it sure looked pretty in Florida.

Warriors fans revolt: Maybe if this happened at a Toronto Maple Leafs game something might change. Golden State Warrior fans have suffered almost as much as Leafs fans over the years. Golden State’s management has executed a how-not-to-win seminar that rivals the MLSE brain waves of recent years. The latest outrage in Warrior land was March 13 trading of popular Monta Ellis to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut - a player who’s out for the season.

Instead of buying more merchandise and expensive hot dogs in the wake of further indignities -as the lap-dog Toronto crowd does - Warriors fans let their owner Joe Lacob have it on Monday night. Live. During Chris Mullin retirement night. This might be the single worst public ceremony ever by a pro sports team as Lacob and former Warrior star Rick Barry get testy with fans who won’t relent in their booing. It’s glorious in a horrific way. Leafs fans should take note.

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