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Bluelines: How the ESPN NHL Folks Are Doing

This week on Bluelines, Stan Fischler tackles topics such as ESPN's NHL broadcasts, Brian Burke, Evander Kane, Tuukka Rask, Josh Ho-Sang and continues his ongoing chat with legendary broadcast Doc Emrick.
John Tortorella

Our TV critic Jack Eyeon offers the following, insightful review of ESPN's top hockey commentators. This is another Fischler exclusive:

1. John Buccigross: "J.B. is the most diverse talent on staff. He's incredibly quick and witty on the studio side and has a deep knowledge of The Game. He's improved in the play-by-play area. He's much more measured than his college screaming of the past; got a good niche. John's combo of smarts and wit makes him the most identifiable of ESPN talent."

2. Kevin Weekes: "The former goalie is highly enthusiastic and extremely connected league-wide. Count on Kevin for important commentary on league and player issues. Comes up with mostly good scoops on occasion."

3. John Tortorella: "The Big Noise has come a long way. He's genuine and can vary from very sympathetic to incisive and contrary without being phony. His magnetism as coach has carried over to the new segments."

4. Mark Messier: "His opinions are as strong as his presence was on the ice. So far, so good."

5. Ryan Callahan: "His upside is terrific, along with his enthusiasm and savvy. He puts viewers on the ice, behind the bench and in the room. As he was as a player, he is in his new gig – a winner!"

I'M JUST SAYIN' –

BURKE'S BOAST: From Pittsburgh we hear Pens exec Brian Burke telling us that his Funny-Walking Birds can fly to a Cup. My knee-jerk reaction is to write this off as a jerky oration. Then, I look at what Mike Sullivan has done with this wonderful team and come up with it could happen!

HEXY'S HERO: Burkie's sidekick, Ron (No Hex Here) Hextall shares kudos for signing Brian Boyle. Quietly, this sage vet presence has been one of the best sidebar stories of the season.

SLAPSHOT MUSIC: The Kraken marketeers continue to amaze. They imported Rod Masters, who played the organ in Paul Newman's cult classic, "Slapshot," as Seattle's man at the console. It was 44 years ago that Masters played "Lady of Spain" as the Charlestown Chiefs theme song. Newman, as playing-coach, hated it, by the way. I'm told they loved it at Climate Pledge Arena when the Canucks visited.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Author Zack Weinstock, alias, "The Thinking Man's Hockey Man," has an idea; eliminate blue lines during 3-on-3 overtime. No tag-ups would be necessary. (I like that.)

YOU TELL ME: Has there been a better "Comeback Story" so far this year than Tristan Jarry transforming from last year's super-sieve to this season's super-goalie?

HO-H0 OR NOT? I'm still waiting for Josh Ho-Sang's return to the NHL. Yes or no; will it happen?

GOOD GENES DEPARTMENT: Jeremy Brodeur, son of the legendary Marty, was named ECHL Goalie Of The Week. The 25-year-old plays for the Maine Mariners and is under contract to AHL Providence. His dad should be – and most certainly is – proud. (Hey, not an easy burden for Jeremy to bear.)

ANOTHER STEVIE WONDER: The Yzerman Touch is Detroit's version of the Midas Touch. Sir Yzerman has done it again, naming the Nik Lindstrom the Red Wings V.P. Hockey Operations. (Who could possibly be better? Dunno.)

MISC:

* If New York State's governor Kathy Huchul's current plans for a new Madison Square Garden jell, it will likely happen about the same time Auston Matthews signs with the Coyotes.

* The Blues have joined the long line of teams eyeing Kraken captain Mark Giordano. Granted he's on the last year of his contract but has anyone stopped to think that the defenseman would prefer staying in Seattle?

* I got a kick out of the Edmonton media giving Dave Tippett and Connor McDavid the "Third-Degree" RE: Evander Kane. Tipp tipped his hand this way: "I'm not going to coach a guy not on my team." As for McD: "Kane can help us on the ice." But The Conn Man said zero about helping the tight-knit Oil off the ice.

* Tuukka Rask says he's back for "another chance to win the Cup." Oh, really? Well, it certainly won't happen if he plays goal the way he did last spring.

EXCLUSIVE: MIKE EMRICK AND THOSE WHO INFLUENCED HIM, ADVICE TO NEW BROADCASTERS

"When it comes to those who've had an influence on my career, I start with Bob Chase, the legendary Fort Wayne Komets play-by-play man, who I began listening to as a youth. I continued doing so for another 60 years plus. Among other things, I respected Bob for his good use of the language.

"Then there was Gene Hart who did the Flyers games. I admired Gene for his joy of being in a rink – and showing it. Danny Gallivan, who did so many Canadiens games, among others, both for his excellent use of the language and apparent love of doing the job.

"My advice to aspiring hockey broadcasters is this: get in reps even if they are in the corner of the arena. Do it on a recording device to yourself. Do that 100 times. Then, you'll have 100 games of experience, even to yourself. And don't quit.

"If you believe in yourself and your skills and this is what you love doing, don't let the turndowns on jobs you really want get to you. All of us fail in getting jobs. So, stay with it and keep doing games. You will get better and be better as time passes. Someone will finally say, 'Yes.''

(NEXT WEEK, DOC DISCUSSES THE NHL'S EVOLUTION FROM A VIRTUALLY ALL-CANADIAN STOCKED CIRCUIT TO ITS CURRENT INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR.)

RAISING KANE: My buddy, Gus Vic suggests that Evander Kane's middle name should be ":High Risk, High Reward." Matter of fact, one of the kinder Kane comments is that "he's a solid teammate within the game although the Sharks will demur on that one."

Considering Ev's continent-long list of issues, you have to wonder whether he'd be best in a small-city setting like Calgary or under the lights of Broadway. Among teams who could use Kane's collective talents, start with Toronto and then New York, as in Rangers.

"If I'm a g.m.," Pal Gus tells me, "I'd offer a prorated contract based on $5 million for the balance of the season and see where it takes me."

A LITERARY COMMENTARY: As times change so do styles in hockey reporting. One long-time journalism critic offers me this: "The real problem these days is about 'Getting the story first' while it's still forming and, so often, doesn't happen.

"I want to know how and why something happened, when it happens." (Good thought, I say.)

EXPANDING HORIZONS: Finding new audiences is a worthwhile, ongoing NHL quest. We're now seeing it in L.A. where the Kings will welcome fans of Indian origin to Crypto.com Arena on March 13. It will be Indian Cultural Night in conjunction with the match against Florida.

The night will include festivities including a pre-game reception featuring Amrit Gill from Hockey Night In Canada: Punjabi Edition. South Asians – of which Indians are the largest contingent – have become one of the wealthiest communities in America and are increasingly prominent in American culture.

They've also become increasingly prominent in Canadian hockey. Punjabi-Canadian Junior star Jujhar Khaira is in his seventh NHL season currently in Chicago. Hockey Night In Canada added Punjabi to its broadcasts in 2008in addition to English and French.

The Kings' inaugural Indian Culture Night will help the club plug into Southern California's robust Indian population. Kudos to L.A. and also to my pal, Sreesha Vaman, for the heads-up on this fascinating development.

WHO SAID IT? "I'd get a penalty every so often so my mother would know I was still playing." (Answer below.)

FANTASY HOCKEY BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE: Reader Ken White of Sylvan Lake, Alberta has a fine memory and a visual tape recording to back it up. It's all about a Can-Am Fantasy Hockey Tournament that took place in Lake Placid in November 1984, The four "NHL" teams involved were the Red Wings, Bruins, Leafs and Blackhawks.

Each team had featured two retired NHLers: Gordie Howe, Bill Gadsby; Detroit; John McKenzie and Wayne Cashman, Boston; Stan Mikita, Pat Stapleton, Chicago: and Eddie Shack, Johnny Bower – JB just coached – Toronto.

The remainder of rosters were filled with Fantasy beer-leaguers and their ilk. For example, jazz author-historian, Ira Gitler – player-coach of Gitler's Gorillas – played defense alongside Gadsby.

Along with legendary play-by-play man Danny Gallivan, I worked the tv side of the tourney and loved every second of it. And that included one of the Chicago players actually taking on Mister Hockey, Howe. Ken White remembers how Chuck Randazzo tried intimidating Gordie; not to mention Howe's indelicate response.

If memory serves me, Chuck hit Howe at least twice or three times without retaliation. Meanwhile, his Chicago teammates kept screaming at him to "Cut it out!"

Randazzo either didn't get the warning or didn't hear it, or didn't care.

White: "Not only did Randazzo think he should hit Howe, but he called him 'Old Man.' Howe eventually got him by the players' bench and then drilled him with an elbow, knocking him over the boards into the bench!"

P.S. The Gordie-Gadsby Wings beat the Shack-Bower Leafs in the final game with Gordie scoring the tourney-winner. White and L.A. stand-up comic Harris Peet were among the MVPs. Gitler won the "Strong On Spirit" prize from White.

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Pat Hughes, Edmonton Oilers winger during the Gretzky days, on going two months without scoring a goal.

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