As the first play-by-play man ever to sit at ice level for an NHL broadcast, he knows there could be some instant feedback. “If I get a high stick in the second period, I may have to tone it down a bit,” Cuthbert says with a laugh.
The veteran announcer and analyst Glenn Healy will make history at HSBC Arena on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET), when they call the Sabres-Rangers game while sitting in an area between the team benches.
TSN has previously used an analyst at ice level, but never before has he been joined by the play-by-play man.
It’s a unique chance for Cuthbert, who called his first NHL game for CBC during the 1988 playoffs and has since worked more games than he can count.
“I hope I don’t spoil the opportunity,” he said Thursday from his home in Brampton, Ont. “I’m hoping it’s not the only time we do it, but I may have a completely different perspective after it’s over.”
NHL officials were extremely receptive to the idea when it was first brought to them by TSN.
John Shannon, the league’s senior vice-president of broadcasting, thinks the changes made to the rules of the game last year have opened the door to changes in the way it is broadcast.
“We think that everything now has an opportunity to change,” said Shannon. “The environment in the game of hockey overall is one of: ‘Let’s try things. Let’s experiment. Let’s be open to making this a more fan friendly game.”‘
Healy doesn’t think anything negative can come from having his partner call a game only a few feet from the ice.
The former NHL goaltender couldn’t believe how different the game seemed after he retired and started watching from high above the playing surface in the press box.
“It’s so hard sometimes to call a game and get a real feel when you’re so far away,” said Healy. “This will bring the fans to the game.
“Chris will be able to feel the emotion between the benches. He’ll be able to see what a real bodycheck is and feel that animosity and hatred between teams. All those emotions will translate into his call.”
Calling a game from rinkside is something that has been in the back of Cuthbert’s mind for some time. He remembers how exciting it was to broadcast an indoor soccer game at field level more than 20 years ago.
While working for CBC in 2003, he tried to do the outdoor Heritage Classic game at ice level because he couldn’t get a decent vantage point from the football press box at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. The organizers wouldn’t allow it.
When the NHL returned from the lockout last season, having analysts occasionally work rinkside was one new wrinkle added to TSN broadcasts. It was something that piqued Cuthbert’s interest.
“As we gained access to the rink area, it kind of got back in my mind,” he said. “I thought it was an interesting experiment.”
Buffalo was picked as the site to try it because HSBC Arena is one of the few around the league that has enough room to accommodate two broadcasters at ice level.
Cuthbert thinks Boston and Tampa also have the space while TSN’s executive producer of hockey, Mark Milliere, believes Toronto might be the only one in Canada that could work.
“In Detroit, he’d have to sit on my shoulders,” joked Healy. “That might get a little bit tiring.”
The NHL is currently doing a study of arenas around the league to see which ones could accommodate a broadcast from ice level.
To prepare for Friday’s game, Cuthbert has attended a few Sabres practices and stood in the same spot he’ll be on Friday. It’s made him very excited about the possibilities the unique broadcast position offers.
“The last time I stood there and watched practice I thought, for me, it’s going to be just a spine-tingling experience,” he said. “The challenge is to give the viewer some of that added excitement.”
The most obvious challenge Cuthbert will face in calling the game is keeping up with the quicker pace and identifying players.
He thinks it’s an advantage that he has already worked games involving both teams this season. Cuthbert knows every player’s face on the Sabres and Rangers and plans to use that, rather than the number on their jersey, to identify them while calling the play.
“There might be times when he’s blocked out,” said Healy. “So what? Missing a name here or there is not that big of a deal.”
It will be a totally different experience than watching the game from six storeys up in the press box.
Nobody knows exactly what to expect.
“We don’t know at the end of the day what we’re going to get,” said Milliere. “But we’re very curious to find out.”