Other than the Stanley Cup Final, it's hard to think any hockey broadcast means as much to NBC as the annual Winter Classic. Despite a year in which there will be Olympics and a Stadium Series, the New Year's Day tradition that the network invented out of thin, snowy air is a point of pride for NBC Sports. So you can be sure they're thrilled it's back after a one-year, lockout-induced hiatus.
This year's game will have a naturally added wrinkle to it in that it'll be the most attended hockey game of all time, taking place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The game is sold out, so there should be approximately 109,000 people packed into the home of the Wolverines, nearly 40,000 more than the previous NHL record. Hopefully NBC gets to count them in the ratings.
In past years, NBC's broadcast team of Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk have broadcast the Winter Classic from a structure built for them at one of the blue lines either just outside the rink (at football stadiums) or in short center field (in baseball stadiums) to have as good a view as possible of the game. This year, they're taking a little bit of a riskier view.
Emrick, Olczyk and "inside the glass" reporter Pierre McGuire will call the game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at ice level, on the benches in an area that Emrick, who makes his home in Michigan, describes as just inside one of the bluelines, on "the side where [former Wolverine coaches] Fritz Crisler and Bo Schembechler paced the sidelines."
The idea was the result of "a combination of things," according to NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood. "The seating there, if we'd set up a structure for [Doc and Eddie] to call it, like in the baseball stadiums, would've blocked a ton of seats and would have changed the viewing pleasure for a ton of viewers. So instead, we decided to get Doc down inside the action with Eddie, and we think it should work out pretty well.
Will the angles make it for a difficult call? "We'll be able to see very clearly from the red line in, except when people are going around us, like linesmen, and they pull up right near the blueline to make offside calls," said Emrick, who compared this to working Ranger radio broadcasts in the 1980s, where he would work just a couple of rows above the Rangers entrances at Madison Square Garden. "I think it's gonna be fascinating because the speed of the game is going to be very quick at that level. To be that close to the action is gonna be really thrilling."
"Doc might need a little help occasionaly when the guys are at the far end of the ice with the near boards," Flood added, "but that's why God created monitors and HD is a nice gift."
NBC will also present the announcement of the Olympic rosters for Team USA men's and women's hockey after the game. Flood noted that, while there will be "some new wrinkles" in the men's roster announcement, most will likely not be there in person, and NBC will broadcast the announcement similar to what was done in 2010, when young children in jerseys represented the players chosen to the squad. The women's team, however, will be at Michigan Stadium for the announcement.