College hockey’s biggest weekend kicked off last night in Chicago as the Frozen Four, college hockey’s version of the Final Four, featured a pair of games, one of which was a thriller settled in the final seconds and then…well a blowout, but we’re not here to talk about the games.
We’re here to talk about ESPN’s coverage of the event. In a word, it’s bad.
Which is a real shame for the players who have made it to this point, and for the people watching at home.
The problem with their coverage starts at the top in having John Buccigross and Barry Melrose calling the games.
John Buccigross, whether you love him or hate him (personal I’m in the latter category), he loves college hockey, so it makes sense to have him there at the sport’s showcase event.
But he’s TERRIBLE at play-by-play. To the point where it is legitimately hard to watch/listen to a game that he’s calling.
He has no flow, no rhythm, and half the time is distracted by telling you facts or little interesting tidbits about the teams rather than calling the action.
It’s like watching the dog from ‘Up’ calling the games. He is calm, rational, telling you some story or stat and then, instead of yelling, “SQUIRREL!” he yells something like, “IT’S A SHOT!” out of nowhere. It’s distracting, and sounds like he’s trying to do a (very) poor man’s Mike Emerick.
Prior to a couple of years ago, he had never done play-by-play for ESPN, and for some reason they gave him a chance, mainly because he’s the only one at ESPN who gives half a rat’s ass about college hockey. But that doesn’t make him qualified to call games.
Again, have him there, but make it as an analyst, or anything other than play-by-play, because he’s awful.
Now, Melrose isn’t as bad, but he’s not exactly a hard-hitting analyst who offers up great insight, and most of his knowledge is from the NHL, not college. He again is fine to have there, but he should be your main guy in the studio. He loses something when he makes the transition from the studio to the booth.
And then there’s just the coverage in general, which can at best be described as, uhhh, we’ll go with cheap.
The field reporter at the games has been Quint Kessenich, who is basically the guy they give all the games and events that are big in the niche sports world.
So far at the Frozen Four he has interviewed a clarinet player for the Minnesota-Duluth band, and made her play the entire fight song on her clarinet, maybe the most awkward 30 seconds in TV history. Later that night he interviewed a cheerleader from the University of Denver and basically asked her what cheerleaders do. Great stuff.
And then there’s the studio show before the game and between period. Which is three guys you’ve never heard of talking, it’s fine, but it’s back at ESPN headquarters and just feels very removed from the game and the atmosphere that should come with having 22,000 people inside the United Center in Chicago.
Again, I get that college hockey isn’t exactly a huge TV draw so they aren’t exactly going to spend a ton of money and talent on these games, but ESPN’s effort looks like it cares almost zero outside of doing Buccigross a favor and letting him call games.
You watch the Final Four for basketball, both men’s and women’s and they get the (supposed) best announcers that the channels have to offer. Meanwhile, hockey gets whatever guys are just readily available, and that’s not fair.
Oh and the title game is Saturday night featuring Denver and Minnesota-Duluth at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Denver has been dominant all season long and should win.