Despite New NHL All-Star Format, It’s Business as Usual for Versus

Although the NHL’s decision to once again revamp its All-Star Game format has made for plenty of debate among NHL fans, the new Fantasy Draft format will do little to disrupt Versus’s production of the game.

“Honestly, it really doesn’t affect what we do very much,” says Mike Baker, coordinating producer for the network’s NHL coverage.

All-Star Weekend will kick off Friday evening when team captains Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom select their respective teams from a pool of 36 All-Stars during a live telecast from Raleigh, NC, produced by TSN. Versus will air the TSN feed of the NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft and assist in the production, as well as loaning out analyst Keith Jones.

“The [Draft] is TSN’s show, but it will be a collaborative effort,” says Baker. “We’re hoping that all the players will be there. Literally, the captains will do it just like pond hockey: you choose this guy, then I choose this guy. They will check in with players who were expected to go higher. It should make for an interesting broadcast and one that’s never been done before.”

The Slowest of the Slo-Mo in Hockey
For the Skills Competition and the game itself, Versus will deploy more than 25 cameras at the RBC Center in Raleigh, including an I-MOVIX ultra-slo-mo system. During last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, the network used a slo-mo system capable of delivering replays at 300 frames per second. However, the system at the All-Star Game is capable of 500 fps, a level not yet achieved during a nationally broadcast hockey game.

“You’re going to see the slightest ripple in jerseys and the slightest rotation of the puck in remarkably clear definition for such a slow speed,” says Baker. “To be able to slow down slap shots and big hits is huge. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’m as excited about this as anything I’ve ever seen.”

The ultra-slo-mo will be located at one of Versus’s handheld positions near the ice for both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game.

Live Mics, IFBs To Take Fans Inside the Game
Versus will once again attempt to provide a sense of intimacy to the telecast by deploying mics and IFBs on players during the Skills Competition and All-Star Game. However, this year’s Fantasy Draft format changes the typical player-selection process and which players will have microphones.

“We’ve got some players that we’ve already approached the NHL about, but Friday’s draft creates a unique situation,” says Baker. “We want to make sure we have at least one member of each team. So we haven’t officially decided who we’re going to mike because we don’t know who’s going to be on what team.”

Ideally, two players from each team will be outfitted with microphones and two players from each side with IFB systems. Versus will play back the audio from player mics during replays and coming out of commercials, and players with IFBs will be able to talk to commentators Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk live during the Skills Competition and All-Star Game.

In the past, many of the most compelling moments during an All-Star telecast have come when the goaltender was outfitted with an IFB and literally called the game from between the posts.

“We really hope that two of the goalies agree to let us mike and IFB them so we can talk to them during the game,” says Baker. “That’s something you never get anywhere else. They’re actually doing play-by-play and talking to us during the game. In the past, guys like Marty Turco and Manny Legacy have made it into a real ritual. It has made for some of the more memorable moments we’ve ever had.”

Although Versus will not be able to select the players to mike until Friday night, Baker and company know what they’re looking for in a miked player and already have a few specific personalities in mind.

“We’re looking for the characters in the game, the guys that are going to bring some life to it,” says Baker. “This year, there is a good group of goaltenders that will be fun – especially Marc Andre Fleury. I’m certainly hoping that he’ll agree to it because he is a very funny young man. We will definitely be requesting him regardless of what team he is on.”

On the Ice and in the Locker Room
Aside from miking players, the Versus telecast will offer player interaction from all angles. For those players without the benefit of a microphone, reporters Bob Harwood and Charissa Thompson will be conducting interviews and ice-level reports on the bench and in the locker room throughout Saturday and Sunday.

“We’ll be hitting as many players and getting as many stories as we can,” says Baker. “The beauty of this sport is how approachable and down to earth the players are, especially in a situation like this, where it’s not Stanley Cup Finals-level intensity. They all know they’re there to put on a good show.”