From beginning to end, it was hailed as the start of the NHL's new era; the dawning of something bold, something never seen before. Like a high-resolution TV monitor that stands 3.3 metres high and goes 11.5 metres in length.
Call it the Zdeno Chara of TV monitors.
And cameras? Rogers Sportsnet's first offering of its all-in, all-the-time hockey coverage came with 14 cameras to show all the action in its 11,000-square foot studio. That's right – its 11,000-square foot studio.
Of course, why go small when you've spent $5.2-billion for the NHL's Canadian broadcast and multi-media rights from now until 2027? For Sportsnet and the NHL, their new era motto isn't less is more; it's more is more and plenty of it.
More talking heads, more camera angles, more ways to watch NHL games on your TV, your computer, your smart phone and tablet. Hockey morning, noon and night, to be available on multiple networks in more than 20 languages, which should make Don Cherry's Saturday night rants must-hear television.
It was all there Wednesday evening.
The pre-game show for the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens featured an outdoor mini-concert by The Tragically Hip and a mixed bag of familiar faces in different places – CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos chatting with Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean along with former TSN analyst Darren Pang.
Stroumboulopoulos interviewed Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf. Not much there. Later, there was a video of Stroumboulopoulos conducting a round table with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Now this was a fun format.
Freed from the inner sanctum of their dressing rooms, where saying anything interesting is strictly prohibited, Crosby, Toews and Lundqvist shared some laughs and acknowledged they weren't wild about their nicknames – the Kid, Captain Serious and King Henrik.
It was easy to envision future round tables involving other players, coaches, general managers, NHL officials yakking on all kinds of subjects.
And what about cameras to broadcast the game? Sportsnet had a whole bunch of those, too. There was the sky cam, which goes from one end of the rink to the other at breakaway speed, and then there was the ref cam.
Okay, the ref cam looked goofy the first time you saw it – a small contraption crazy glued to the top of a helmet. And when the ref camera was used for the opening face-off in Toronto, the view was so distorted it made you dizzy.
But as the game went along, the ref cam provided a unique perspective. In the Calgary Flames-Vancouver Canucks encounter, the ref cam offered its view of a Vancouver goal that was waved off then allowed to stand. That the camera was involved in a critical situation had Sportsnet's big thinkers doing the dance of joy.
Sportsnet has banked a number of hockey features the way the CBC did. The one shown last night was about the first female hockey academy in Canada. The school, located in Warner, Alta., has a hockey program coached and run by former NHLer Mikko Makela. Stories like that help underline what the game means to Canadians and how it flourishes outside the NHL's sphere of influence.
So, what didn't work for Sportsnet's big-time debut? The Mark Messier commercials got old in a hurry. The pre-game bit where Pang took a plastic disk with the Canucks logo on it and plunked it into a computer that displayed numbers and graphics was too hokey.
As for the hockey itself, the Leafs and Habs put on an entertaining show as only long-time rivals can. Toronto was unable to hold the lead and wound up losing by a late goal. [Yes, you've heard that before.] In the late game, Vancouver beat the Flames, and yes, you've heard that one before, too.
Overall, Sportsnet got to show off its bells and whistles then settle into what was a solid night of broadcasting. It wasn't all on the mark, but it will get there one day.
As new eras go, the NHL and its Canadian TV partner are one with a shared belief: less is bad; more is good and never go small.