The NHL finally returned to arenas, networks, and RSNs across North America on Saturday, and, north of the border, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada didn’t miss a beat.
“Our team obviously had time to prepare,” says Trevor Pilling, head of sports production for CBC Television. “We certainly had a plan in place that we were able to execute once we knew [the NHL] had come to an agreement, so we had a work-back schedule that was sitting there, ready and waiting to be implemented. The whole team knew about it, so everyone was prepared, and now it’s just adjusting to the stories and making sure that all of the pieces are together.”
More than 3.3 million viewers tuned in to watch a primetime matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, the most-watched regular-season Prime East game ever on the network. Canada’s favorite sport is back, and CBC will feed the ravenous appetite of a hockey-starved country all season long.
“Hockey Night in Canada is often the number-one show produced in Canada on most weeks, and so it’s a great opportunity for CBC to do what we do, which is to bring Canadians together to have that shared experience of all watching that game at the same time,” says Pilling. “It really helps us fulfill our mandate of connecting Canadians and bringing forward important cultural things. Hockey is one of those things.”
60 Years of Hockey Night
Now celebrating its 60th season, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada will feature an entirely new animation package and second-screen experience. Hockey Night in Canada: 2nd Screen Presented by Budweiser allows fans to log in during broadcasts and interact with in-game features, connect with friends via social networking, test their knowledge, and more.
“The team producing the second screen is now working in the same control room where our studio show is being produced, so that that second-screen team can be on top of the stories and be ahead of the stories much like our production crews are,” says Pilling. “[They’ll] be able to get out questions and polls to the audience as the night progresses [and] react quickly to things that are happening in the game. It just brings fans that much closer to being a part of Hockey Night, experiencing the game itself and the broadcast and having their voices heard.”
Later this winter, fans will also be able to connect with Hockey Night in Canada through Xbox consoles. With Hockey Night in Canada on Xbox, viewers will be able to tune into live games, access special in-game features, watch near-instant three-minute highlight packages after each game, and check scores and schedules through the console.
On the Road Again
After a relatively quiet December, CBC Mobile Productions, the network’s mobile division, will hit the road for Hockey Night in Canada, working closely with Dome Productions and Mobile TV Group to cover the condensed schedule.
“We’re fortunate that [the NHL] has identified their entire schedule straight through to the playoffs, so it really allows us to go through, see where it makes sense to put our own trucks on their games, or we just simply sub out with other vendors,” explains Dale Smith, director of CBC Mobile Productions. “Same thing with Dome Productions: I know that we are going to be helping them out with some of their western-based dates out in Canada just because of their own capacity issues.”
CBC Mobile Productions plans to deploy its Premier unit on western games and Encore on eastern games, with Évolution serving as a backup (CBC’s newest mobile unit, Infinity, serves the Pac-12 Network in California). As the season sprints towards the playoffs, Smith anticipates that there will have to be additional shuffling of trucks to handle various postseason scenarios. However, simply having hockey back in the lineup is enough to offset any scheduling stress.
“It’s great to have hockey back,” says Smith. “I think it’s great that now, as vendors on both sides of the border, we certainly have some stability with all our professional teams and their labor contracts. We won’t have to worry about any labor disruptions coming forward on the professional-sports industry, and that’s great to see. Certainly, business is booming, and it’s great to sit there and see all the launch of the new digital channels coming forward. It means more work for the mobile industry.”
Celebrating Hockey Day
CBC’s lockout-shortened Hockey Night in Canada slate will include 49 regular-season games, highlighted by the network’s annual Hockey Day in Canada on Feb. 9. Hockey Day in Canada will originate from Peterborough, ON, and feature broadcasts of all seven Canadian teams, requiring five separate live-remote productions.
Smith plans to deploy Évolution to Peterborough to anchor the Hockey Day in Canada celebration. Encore will travel to Montreal for Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. ET, and Premier will cover Canucks vs. Flames at 10 p.m. ET in Vancouver. Mobile TV Group’s 26HDX will be in Detroit, covering Red Wings vs. Oilers at 2 p.m. ET, and Dome Productions will head to Ottawa for Senators vs. Jets at 2 p.m. ET.
New Faces, Returning Personalities
Host Ron MacLean returns to the host desk, joined by hockey insiders and analysts Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock, Kevin Weekes, Elliotte Friedman, and Andi Petrillo. In her role, Petrillo becomes the first full-time female Hockey Night in Canada in-studio personality. Don Cherry will once again share his thoughts alongside MacLean in Coach’s Corner during the first intermission of the Prime East game.
Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson will call Prime East games, and Rick Ball will provide the play-by-play alongside analyst Kelly Hrudey for many of the Prime West games throughout the season.
Regional broadcasts will feature Bob Cole (play-by-play) and Garry Galley (analysis), and Dean Brown (play-by-play) and either Greg Millen or Galley (analysis) in the East while West games feature Mark Lee (play-by-play) and Millen (analysis).
“When you become a part of the Hockey Night in Canada team, it’s something you’re proud of. It’s something you really want, and most people are more than happy to do what they need to do to be a part of this team, and we’re fortunate to have that,” says Pilling. “It’s certainly a nice situation for us to be back covering hockey, covering the NHL, and to be giving Canadians what they want, which is their game.”