If it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, then hockey should be bigger than ever as a television attraction when it returns Wednesday.
Just what effect the NHL’s 310-day lockout will have remains to be seen, but curiosity alone should attract viewers.
Will the new rules that open up the passing game really create more scoring? Will smaller goaltender gear and the restricted area where goaltenders can play the puck also create more scoring?
And how will the telecasts look on OLN, the NHL’s new national television carrier?
It’s the dawn of a new era for hockey, as well as one for OLN, formerly the Outdoor Life Network. The name was officially changed to OLN in July, which is a good thing. Putting an indoor sport such as hockey on an outdoor network might be a little confusing.
Just finding OLN might be confusing enough for some viewers. A hockey fan who isn’t into outdoor sports, skiing or cycling may have never watched the network.
“There’s a big buzz going around about the NHL’s return, and ticket sales around the league are up,” Marc Fein, OLN’s senior vice president of programming and production, said on a conference call Thursday. “But the reality is, people need to find OLN. We realize that. So out of the gate we’re being pretty conservative about the ratings we expect to draw.”
OLN opens Wednesday with the New York Rangers at Philadelphia, with a special pregame show at 4 p.m. Normally, OLN will do only a postgame show.
OLN is in 64 million of the nation’s 90 million cable and satellite households. But OLN will make the Ranger-Flyer game available to any cable or satellite system willing to carry it.
After next week, OLN will settle into a Monday-Tuesday schedule for its national NHL telecasts. That means the NHL will be competing against NFL telecasts on Monday nights through the rest of the football season.
This situation arose because the league wanted OLN to have one exclusive night a week, meaning no competition from local NHL telecasts, and Monday nights made the most sense. Generally, there aren’t many NHL games on Monday nights. And after this season, there will only be the one televised by OLN.
This season, however, there will be local telecasts going up against OLN’s national telecasts because the TV deal was done after the schedule was completed.
OLN’s main game announcing team consists of Mike “Doc” Emrick and John Davidson. The studio coverage, which will include highlights of games going on around the league, will feature Bill Clement and Keith Jones.
The announcers all formerly did hockey for ESPN. Now it’s up to OLN to make the telecasts different and distinctive, draw more viewers and do what no other network has been able to do -- make hockey a decent television draw.
FSN West Gears Up Too
The Kings and Mighty Ducks open their seasons on the road Wednesday, the Kings at Dallas, the Ducks at Chicago. Those games will be televised at 5:30 p.m. by FSN West and West 2, respectively.
Bob Miller begins his 33rd season with the Kings, and it will be commentator Jim Fox’s 16th season. The Ducks’ TV announcers are John Ahlers and Brian Hayward.
FSN West, in its 20th season of televising the Kings, has 65 games on its 2005-06 schedule, and FSN West 2 will televise 60 Duck games.
The regional sports network will kick off the season with a special one-hour preview edition of “Hockey Night in L.A.,” to be televised Tuesday at 9 p.m. on West 2. There will be half-hour “Hockey Night in L.A.” pregame shows before the openers on Wednesday. The Kings’ pregame shows will feature Patrick O’Neal as the host, with Bill Macdonald serving as host of the Ducks’ pregame shows.
The Kings’ home opener on Thursday night against Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes is one of 10 games FSN West will televise in high definition this season.
If hockey fans can’t wait until next week, NBC, which begins televising games Jan. 14, offers a half-hour preview show, “NHL Fresh Ice,” Saturday at 11 a.m. Emrick, Davidson, Clement and reporter Pierre McGuire will be featured. A highlight is Clement, with help from Flyer goalie Robert Esche, showing off a “goalie cam,” a tiny camera that NBC will use on its coverage.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” Saturday will originate from Tempe, Ariz., site of USC’s game against Arizona State. ... Recommended viewing: A special airing on ESPN2 tonight at 8, “Views From the Backfield,” features former NFL running backs Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Eric Dickerson and Herschel Walker in a round-table discussion with host Jim Gray.
Two Breeders’ Cup prep races, the Lady’s Secret Handicap and the Norfolk Stakes Sunday at Santa Anita, will be televised by ESPN, with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. The races will also be part of TVG’s “Trackside Live From Oak Tree” show, also carried by FSN West 2. ... NBA TV will offer all-access training camp coverage of all 30 teams daily at 4 p.m. on “Real Training Camp,” beginning Tuesday and continuing through Oct. 28. The Clippers will be featured Thursday.
Marcus Allen has been hired as a studio commentator by NFL Network, where he will join Terrell Davis and Emmitt Smith. The addition of Allen appears to give NFL Network the best backfield lineup in television.