Friday, April 7, 2017

Three HNIC Analysts Simultaneously Call Milestone Games

This round of announcer database updates involves a lot of hockey, because most of the announcer database updates I make between January and April involve hockey. So we start this post with arguably the two most iconic songs in televised hockey, one for each side of the 49th parallel.

(Standard disclaimer: These announcer totals come from the lists maintained at The 506 Forums (free registration required to view); in this post, we're working with data posted by Tim Brulia. And as always, you can see the top 16 in each category on our TV databases page.)

North of the border, CBC has not only showed more network hockey than any of its competition, but it has still aired more than half of the 9,190 games in the database. In the U.S., the network currently known as NBCSN has that lead, but Disney still comes out ahead thanks to more than 1,100 games on each of ESPN and ESPN2.

A trio of Sportsnet analysts reached career milestones last Saturday. Working Maple Leafs-Red Wings in CBC's last telecast from Joe Louis Arena, Craig Simpson became the fourth color man to work 650 network games; he trails only Dick Irvin, Harry Neale and Greg Millen.

In Tampa, Garry Galley handled color for the 350th time, becoming the 10th analyst to reach that milestone and 24th commentator across all three tracked positions.

Millen, meanwhile, was in Winnipeg handling the Senators-Jets tilt alongside R.J. Broadhead. That was Millen's 711th appearance, all on color. Seven hundred eleven is not at all a round number; it's really rather straight. Why, you ask, is this important?

Brian McFarlane is the author of more than 90 books about hockey and the honorary president of the Society for International Hockey Research. He's sort of a big deal. Over a 27-year career from 1964-91, McFarlane covered 710 games on Hockey Night in Canada (and got banned from one NHL press box in the process). Millen's 711th game moved him past McFarlane into ninth place on the all-time Canadian list.

And since I assume I'm not the only person whose mind went off on this tangent, there appear to be three 7-Elevens in Winnipeg.

Slightly farther down the list of color commentators, Pierre McGuire appeared on Canadian national television for the 517th time on Feb. 25 when Sportsnet picked up the NBC broadcast of the Flyers-Penguins Stadium Series game at Heinz Field. That slid him past Glenn Healy for the fifth-most color appearances on Canadian networks.

Finally, Jim Hughson continues his ascent up the leaderboard; with his 1,074th game on Feb. 11, he passed Harry Neale for the third-most appearances in any capacity.

With that lame 49th-parallel allusion behind us, we can move ahead to the American commentator listings. At some level, these are easier, with an eight-man Mount Rushmore (Gary Thorne and Bill Clement; Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and McGuire; Dave Strader, Brian Engblom and Darren Pang) that's head and shoulders above the field: a gap of almost 250 appearances separates eighth-place Olczyk and ninth-place Dan Kelly.

(If obvious wordplay about natural landmarks bothers you ... this is the wrong blog.)

A native of Wabash County, Indiana, Emrick is the dean of American NHL play-by-play men, at least at the national level, with a career that started in 1973 in Port Huron, Michigan. His first national work on the NHL came on March 29, 1987, a Bruins-Blackhawks tilt from Chicago Stadium.

Almost 30 years later, Emrick needs 94 more games to match his inaugural partner, Bill Clement, for the most network telecasts in U.S. TV history. Only Marv Albert and Hubie Brown have more in a single sport; more on that to come later. Emrick's 900th game was the Blackhawks-Wild game on Feb. 8; he ends play April 5 with 907 telecasts, and as NBC's lead voice will probably pick up 20 or so more during the playoffs.

Thanks to a pair of rinkside-reporter gigs for ESPN in 2002 and 2003, Olczyk's overall total runs two games ahead of his analyst figure; his 600th network game was Feb. 12 (Red Wings-Wild), 10 days before his 600th analyst appearance on Feb. 22.

McGuire, unburdened by a team contract, has widened his lead over Olczyk by 16 games this year; he'll call his 50th game of 2016-17 with the season-ending Capitals-Bruins tilt on Sunday. McGuire took the sixth overall spot from Pang on March 29, the 30th anniversary of Emrick's ESPN debut.

Sunday, April 2 marked the point at which one-third of American network NHL telecasts have come under the NBC/OLN/Versus deals inked after the lockout. This does not include 158 regular-season games on HDNet (now AXS TV) from 2005-08.

The cable end of that contract (NBC, I mean) celebrated a pair of milestones this spring as well. A pair of regional telecasts on the final day of February were the 1499th and 1500th NHL games on that channel under three different names, with a Hurricanes-Islanders game on March 13 marking the point at which NBCSN has aired one-fourth of all NHL telecasts in the log.

On March 12, the NBC Sports Group and Comcast aired their 2000th NHL game, a Wild-Blackhawks matchup from Chicago. For purposes of this calculation, games on USA since 2015 count, as do all games on NBC and NBCSN from those networks' inception; however, USA's run as the league's cable partner from 1979-85 does not count since it was not in either conglomerate's portfolio at that point.

Finally, the Feb. 6 Blues-Flyers game was the 6,000th game in the American log.

The NHL playoffs begin next week, with somewhere between 60 and 105 games all set for national telecasts on both sides of the border.

Later this week, we'll take a look at milestones in the NBA and Major League Baseball. For NFL reading, Jeff Haggar's history of #1 analyst demotions from 2013 at Classic TV Sports seems ... shall we say ... topical.

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