Tuesday, December 18, 2018
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today for our NHL Winter Classic conference call. The 11th Winter Classic is two weeks away from today on New Year’s Day between the Bruins and Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium at 1:00 on NBC. Participating will be Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire, our executive producer Sam Flood, and we have a special guest, Mike Tirico, who we announced yesterday will host the Winter Classic along with the All-Star Game.
Let’s begin now with opening statements and we’ll take your questions. Up first is our executive producer, Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thanks, everyone, for joining us. The Winter Classic is a really special one for everyone at NBC Sports, going back to the very first one in Buffalo where we had that light dusting of snow as the game took place and Sidney Crosby with the game on a stick won the very first Winter Classic.
Then we look at some of the incredible venues we’ve been in since then: Wrigley; Fenway, Fenway the ultimate baseball stadium to this day; the Big House, with our largest crowd ever for an outdoor hockey game.
This next step, going to Sound Bend, a place that is also very special to NBC, having been the home of Notre Dame’s home football games since ’90. It’s very special to do the game in this building.
Two teams that play well in that space, Chicago, the backyards of Notre Dame and then Boston, it seems like all of the Boston Mafia ends up associated with Notre Dame one way or the other.
So we are thrilled to be there. We think it’s going to be a fun event. The stadium will look spectacular as Mike Tirico can tell you, it’s a pretty special place to call an event.
Best of all, we’re going to have Doc Emrick calling the game; the game he loves in those outdoor elements. When he did the very first one in Buffalo, his entire notes and all the meticulous work he had done getting ready for the game, all washed away as the snow turned his ink blot in a multi-colored mess.
So Doc, I hope you have a better plan for this one.
DOC EMRICK: Yeah, I think I will, Sam, but it really didn’t matter. The joy of these games — this will probably sound partly selfish, but as a kid in Indiana, I watched games on a snowy black-and-white set in the ’50s and it was Notre Dame every Saturday when they were at home. Paul Hornung, now in the Hall of Fame was in the Irish backfield. Occasionally he was quarterback in his senior year.
Later Monty Stickles was the guy that won games with his field goal kicking, and later went on to the pros. And in 1957, the Irish stopped Oklahoma’s record 47-game unbeaten streak, 7-0 at Oklahoma and Dick Lynch, who later became a New York Giant had the winning toyed, and to be on the same field where Knute Rockne coached for one season in 1930, and he was undefeated, and all those heroes past and present have played; and to have a hockey rink on it will be a great thrill for me.
One thing I remember about those snowy black-and-white telecasts in the ’50s, once you got to November, it didn’t matter how snowy the TV set was; there was a lot of snow because it wasn’t far away from Lake Michigan.
I have never been in the stadium in my life. I am looking forward to that. We have never had a shutout in the Winter Classic and probably won’t have one that day, either.
And a lot of people over the years have taken the plane from Chicago to go to those games, I’ll be sitting next to one — I don’t know how he’s planning to get there but he will be coming to Chicago to sit next to me, Eddie Olczyk.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Thank you very much. Probably horse and carriage would be the proper way of arrival coming into 2019, hard to believe.
But as Chris said earlier, for our team to be a part of the Winter Classic, 11th year, 11th time, last year of course, I was not able to be a part of the Winter Classic, but two Original Six teams, being at Notre Dame, I think enough said.
This is the premiere regular-season game in the entire National Hockey League. No other regular-season game is going to get the eyeballs on it like that game will on New Year’s Day at Notre Dame Stadium.
To be a part of it is a great thrill and players get really, really jacked up for this game regardless of where they need be in the standings, wherever they may be in the playoff hunt.
And right now for the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s a battle. They are on the outside looking in. It’s been a difficult season for them, but they still have incredible star power because when you think of the Blackhawks, you think of guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both guys having really, really good seasons individually for a team that has struggled pretty much all season long; on the back end, a guy like Duncan Keith, unfortunately Corey Crawford got hurt in this last game, so we don’t know what his status will be moving forward.
But you still have incredible star power and a team that has had great success over the course of the last eight or nine years, so to have them part of this certainly will be exciting. I’m sure everybody will be really jacked up to take on the Bruins.
Get a chance to pass the puck to the man who will be inside the glass for the Winter Classic at Notre Dame, Pierre McGuire.
PIERRE McGUIRE: Thanks, Edzo. Eddie talked about excitement, Doc talked about sharing at Notre Dame, Chris and Sam talked about the venues and how special they have been in the Winter Classic.
A few years ago, our cohort from NBC Sports, Cris Collinsworth’s son was playing in his senior game, Austin Collinsworth, and I had the opportunity to be on the field when Austin was announced. I was standing with Cris and his wife, and you get involved in a lot of major sporting events, especially hockey, when you have the opportunity to work at NBC, and I’ll never forget the chills I experienced when I was standing on the field and Austin Collinsworth was announced to come on the field that day. It was just unbelievable. To stand down there and see touchdown Jesus was amazing for me.
So I can’t wait to get there and have an ice cream, and I’m also looking forward to doing the Notre Dame/Michigan game a week later on that very same field and venue. It’s phenomenal.
Eddy talked about the Blackhawks. I’m going to talk about the Bruins and the job, Bruce Cassidy their coach, has done with a dilapidated lineup throughout most of this year. They have found a way to be very relevant in the Eastern Conference because of really good coaching, a tremendous story in Jaroslav Halak who had a shutout last night in Montréal, and young players that have really taken yank of opportunities; a young man like Colby Cave who got his first goal as an NHL player last night in that 4-0 win in Montréal; the way Matt Grzelcyk has handled more important responsibilities on the back end because of injury situations; to Zdeno Chara and to Charlie McAvoy, and the way Charlie McAvoy coming back from injury has really thrived as being a leader of the team.
The Bruins are coming and coming on hard and they are going to be very relevant throughout the rest of the year, and this game will be a great departure for them for the second half of the year.
Now it’s my great pleasure to hand the baton off to somebody that if there’s a relevant sporting event going on in North America or British Isles, he’s doing, it Mike Tirico.
MIKE TIRICO: Thanks, guys. It’s great to be with everyone. I’m actually truly one mile away from where one of the most-discussed Winter Classics happened, at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan where my family has lived for the last 20 years — our Christmas, truth be told, and just passed by the Big House here.
As the guys said before, I get to go to Notre Dame Stadium for Irish football games on NBC, about six or seven Saturdays in the fall; and what Doc and the Enzo and Sam and Pierre have talked about is true; it’s a special place, it has an aura, and I think it will be such a great fit for the Winter Classic.
The stadium in Ann Arbor is a little detached from the main part of Michigan’s campus. This Winter Classic is right in the middle of one of the most famous college campuses in the world. When you’re in Notre Dame Stadium, you’re right in midst of the campus, and I think that will even add to the uniqueness of this event this time around.
As somebody who has loved hockey, going back to the John Davidson and goal-led New York Rangers when I was a kid growing up in Queens, it’s been a thrill for me to spend some time during the Stanley Cup Finals with our hockey team, the best in the business; and to do this in the All-Star Game, these two signature and visibility-wise, the most-watched weekends of National Hockey League action during the regular season is a treat for me.
So I know we’ll be bundled up and ready to go, but Doc and Edzo and Pierre, I’ll be glad to give you the tour of Notre Dame Stadium on the 31st, and can’t wait to start the New Year in a terrific place for the Bruins and the Blackhawks Original Six.
Chris, I’ll throw it back to you. Thank you, guys.
Q. Sam, just a quick question for you. Obviously the Winter Classic always has some cool tech toys and production tools. Are we going to see anything new this year or anything we’ve seen in the past that you’re particularly excited about?
SAM FLOOD: The key to this one is having the aerial, as I always like to say, the first replay ever blocked by a cloud was the Winter Classic in Buffalo. Looking forward to seeing that angle again, playing around with the cable cam, and all the lenses we’re using differently down low.
Charlie Dammeyer, the director, deploys a slightly longer lenses than the handheld in the corners which we find to be a better way to catch action at the opposite end of the rink, and should be a dynamic way to showcase everything that’s happening inside that rink.
Q. And just a quick follow-up. Obviously you guys know the venue quite well, better than anybody. Any synergies there from a production perspective that will help you, or ways that you will try to tell a unique story at Notre Dame Stadium?
SAM FLOOD: We’ll definitely lean into the stadium. We’re also thrilled it’s the new rebuild where our trucks can be underground and protected from whatever elements are there.
We know the building well, but we also know it continues to evolve and it’s one of the signature statements on the Notre Dame campus and all the great work they have done to construct it, and we plan to make sure everybody gets a sense of how it all comes together.
Q. Doc, can you elaborate on being born in Indiana and what it means to have this game there?
DOC EMRICK: Yeah, I think the fact that I grew up, and our teams, the ones we would get to see on television either on Saturday afternoon or on those half-hour film shows — sorry, it’s film, not video — on Sunday in the afternoon with Jack Mullin hosting it for Purdue or whoever was the coach at Indiana, our teams were Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue. Those were the ones shown on television either on live or film review the next afternoon.
A lot of times, you wanted to know how your team was doing but you couldn’t see it on TV. It was just a question of whether it was chosen for you or not because our choices weren’t as great. But Notre Dame was on a lot, and so I became a fan of theirs just because I could see them a lot more.
Growing up, about 75 miles from South Bend and seeing it on television, yet never having walked inside, Pierre and I worked a couple of games during lockouts at the new hockey arena, the Compton Family Ice Center and it’s wonderful. But I saw the stadium from the outside and I’ve never been in.
So, for a kid that was raised in Indiana and born in the same hospital two years before Donald Fehr was born in the same hospital in Marion, Indiana, it’s a thrill to be able to walk inside that place and to get Mike Tirico’s tour.
Q. One more question for Enzo. Does this game take on a different meaning or have a greater significance than in years past, given Chicago and the struggles they have had this season?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I mean, look, I think any time regardless of the sport, I think that you’re on center stage, right. Like this is Sunday Night Football. This is the premiere game on the calendar and regardless of where you are in the standings or what has taken place, this is where everybody is watching.
So yeah, I mean, you look for rallying points and you look for something to grab on to when you are struggling, and that’s just not the Winter Classic. This could be at any time; you just look for something, and I think for a team like the Blackhawks who have had a disappointing season to say the least, you know, you look to this game on center stage and you try to use it as something that catapults you into something positive, because there have not been a lot of positives obviously this year.
Yeah, you can look at it this way and you would think that everybody watching, the intensity and the energy level is going to be through the roof for a lot of these guys, and rightfully so; and Sam has talked about this in the past.
The teams on center stage for the Winter Classic have been the marquis franchises in our sport for a long, long time, whether it’s because of how long they have been around or the success that they have had.
The Bruins getting to the finals a couple of times, winning, the Blackhawks winning Stanley Cups, you can go all and on with the teams that have played; it does mean a lot, and for them, I’m sure it will be something that they will certainly be jacked up for regardless of where they are sitting in the standings.
Q. Can you evaluate what you’ve seen from the Bruins this year, and do you think they can be a legit contender in the East?
EDDIE OLCZYK: Yeah, absolutely and Pierre touched on it. The injuries that they have had to be able to just be hanging around does speak to the coaching and speaks to the leadership that they have inside that room.
Look, if they can get that consistency in goal, regardless who is in there, absolutely they can make a run. There’s no doubt about it.
Tampa seems to be the team in the East. I think all of us on the call would agree that they are certainly one of the top two teams.
But after that, you could make a case for three, four, five teams, and let’s not forget the defending Stanley Cup champions, as well. They have depth and they have done a nice job on the so-called retool on the fly getting younger, getting quicker, but you still have — you know, you still have the big fella on the back end in Chara, you’ve got Bergeron, you know the greatness of him.
So you do have some guys that have been around and done it, and you need those guys, so yeah, absolutely you can look at the Bruins and you would not be shocked at all to see them playing in the conference final having an opportunity to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
DOC EMRICK: I’ll just jump in here — terrific shutout and it counts as a shutout-and-a-half because it was in Montréal. Now they have won four, and I was figuring out their man games — Pierre pointed out much of the injuries … Chara is at 15 now and Bergeron 14, and I think I’m close to right on this, Miller is 10 — Vaakanainen since the World Series, and they have been this good, and if the playoffs start today, they cross over to the metropolitan and they are up against Washington. Now, that’s not an easy opponent, but they don’t have Tampa to deal with right away.
I’ll let the other analysts if they are asked, deal with how they think they would match up against Washington. It’s premature at this point; we are not even at the halfway point yet, but they might not have to hit Tampa Bay in the first or second rounds, if they got that far. But I think they are legitimate.
PIERRE McGUIRE: Probably licking their lips saying, maybe, they get a chance to play Montréal again. Eddie talked about Tampa and I would agree with them wholeheartedly, they are the top end team in the Eastern Conference, but you look at Toronto and Boston potentially setting up for a first-round match up like we had last year on NBC Sports Network, and it was just a phenomenal seven-game series. There was a lot of room for either team, but there was so much skill and tenacity and intensity, and that’s what the Bruins force you to do.
And I think that’s one thing that’s going to be very apparent at this Winter Classic with the Boston Bruins is they are not only a good team, they are an industrious team that knows how to play physical without taking penalties, and they have added some guys to their roster that maybe are not big names but man oh man they can cause a problem. I think they are really built for a playoff run, I really believe that.
DOC EMRICK: If we had our druthers and we could have everybody healthy, that’s the one thing that we like most of all. We don’t necessarily cheer for a horse in the race, at least most of us don’t; the ones on the air do not. We would love to have Bergeron and Crawford having celebrated a birthday the day before, roughing up the crease at one end. We always like to see the best guys available to play.
Q. Just a general question for the group. Taking a look back at previous Winter Classics, where do you think Notre Dame Stadium will rank? Obviously it’s one of the more historical sites that Winter Classics have been played. What unique elements of Notre Dame can we expect to see?
MIKE TIRICO: Happy to chime in. I think about watching the guys do the outdoor game last year in an nap list and obviously in Ann Arbor. So we have had games in a college setting before, but the uniqueness of Notre Dame Stadium and I think there’s a familiarity, especially on your end with as the stadium has been redone with that crossroads project ending a couple years ago, you can sit there and see the old bowl of the stadium, the quote, house that Rockne built and see how the building could have gone up on either of the four sides around it has made it an even more intimate setting because it’s closed in a little bit. I think that will add to the aura and experience of this game being played there, as well.
You know, when you walk in that stadium past those statues, whether it’s Holtz or Parseghian or Rockne or the Four Horsemen, you’re reminded at a time when college football, when Doc was saying so eloquently before, was seen — or not nearly as much as it is now, around the country, Notre Dame Stadium became this familiar venue for people around the country.
This is before the day where we had 20, 25 games available and network TV on a Saturday in college football. So that familiarity of the venue really kind of touches a little bit of a history point within everyone who grew up watching sports. To see it modernized and to see two Original Six teams come there and play, I think if you take the combination of the opponents plus the setting, it gives you as unique a Winter Classic as perhaps has ever been played of the first ten plus.
The combination of the two, I think is going to really elevate the interest level for folks as they look around New Year’s Day for something to watch in the afternoon before those bowl games later on at night.
Q. Mike, sticking with that theme, this event is so unique and you’ve called so many different events throughout your career; where does the Winter Classic rank in that pantheon of events and how do you prepare for an event such as this?
MIKE TIRICO: Well, for me, it’s cool. As I said before, I’m a big fan of the sport and love hockey. I was like a kid watching the Stanley Cup Finals in the building in Las Vegas and in Washington last year. It was such an exciting thrill for me and I love being around our guys to talk the sport and understand it a little bit more.
Edzo can tell you during the horse racing when we’re all together on the Triple Crown Tour, I’m asking Eddie about the playoff series and all that stuff staying up late to watch games.
For me, the Winter Classic just caught my eye the very first day. I’ll tell you a quick anecdote. We had a New Year’s Eve party at my brother-in-law’s house, only about ten minutes from where I am in Ann Arbor and we had a foot of snow. Everybody stayed over and Michigan was playing a bowl game that afternoon, so there are a couple TVs on and people watching the bowl game.
All of a sudden you look over and see Buffalo and see the snowstorm and you see what was then Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park and you see this incredible site of hockey in a football stadium and the place full. I just remember vividly the first moment seeing it on TV going, oh my goodness, this is awesome.
And what it’s become, I think as the bowl games have moved out of that New Year’s Day lock and spread them out with the playoffs and you’re waiting for that Rose Bowl at 5:00 in the afternoon, this has become the best way to start the New Year.
So for that, to know the first huge sporting event of 2019 is the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium with two Original Six teams for us as people who do this, it’s a great way to know that people will start their sports year with us as their first major event. Personally for me, as you can tell from my voice I hope, I’m so excited to get there. I’ve never been more excited to be freezing cold and standing outside but it’s a great way to start the year and we cannot wait to get there, I promise you.
THE MODERATOR: Well, I think that wraps it up for us here today. Thank you, everyone, for participating.