1. 4.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

OGA Road Trip II: Pre-Game With TSN

...I left the hotel in a taxi for Air Canada Centre and was dropped off near the scaffolding where they are improving the west side of the building. After a question to one of the guys helping folks along out of their vehicles, I made my way into the building to Gate 1 to seek information. I found the gentlemen helping make things run smoothly on the concourse because he looked official and then saw him wearing the black blazer with the facility's logo over the left breast pocket. After inquiring, he pointed me along to Gate 2 where they sent me downstairs to the press entrance. At the press desk, I grabbed the press pass Pierre left for me which and rode the elevator up to the 6th floor.

I followed further directions around the concourse until I found the TSB booth where they were setting up and conducting camera checks. While I waited, I looked around a little. Next to the TSB booth was the booth reserved for the Buffalo Sabres' broadcast feed, and then rooms for Toronto, Buffalo, and other VIPs. On the credenza between TSN and Buffalo's booth, they had the broadcasters ready to go with various press releases and stat packs to grab, along with chips, popcorn, ice cream, soft drinks and water. I would find out later a small platoon of interns would run to all media and the VIP booths copies of the final lineup and period-by-period stats. Of interest with the releases was the fact that Toronto Winger Brad May was celebrating his 1000th career game with the Leafs tonight, a feat done by only 20 other Maple Leafs. A nice ceremony was planned before the game.

TSN's lead camera man in the booth grabbed me after a few minutes and took time to take me back down to the media level to find Pierre. Enroute, we began meeting so many folks that I could not keep up with who everyone is. Two people of note, however, were Gord Miller and his neighbor. This was a quick hand shake as they were coming out of the media cafeteria and we would talk more later. But in meeting them, you could tell they walk with a swagger that says they have personal confidence in what they are doing. This is what we often refer to as a veteran's gait in my line of work.

We inquired and were told we could find Pierre finishing his pre-game dinner. We actually found him in a side room preparing to mic up for the game. When he came out of a side door, he grinned and extended his hand with a slap on the back saying it was good to finally meet me. I am one in a sea of folks Pierre knows and works with daily, but throughout the evening, he never made me feel like I was anything less than an old friend. The same can be said for Gord and everyone else they introduced me to. Very down to earth, they are all classy guys.

Once Pierre found out he didn't have to do any pre-game TV spots for about 30 minutes, he told the crew he would be back in 15 minutes and grabbed me to show me around. The clock, you see, was already ticking for the show, they just weren't in the anxious phase of lights on and tape (digits) rolling (running). He took me around to the ice and up on to the Maple Leafs' bench and then over to his battle station for the game. Once there, I now know why he has taken a few pucks and sticks in his broadcasting career. He has the glass down between himself and the home team bench here, one reason he stays so connected during the game. He has a monitor in the booth so while in commercial, they can review something of note for we fans watching along on TV.

Off the ice, we walked toward the TSN's production trailer for a short tour. Enroute we stopped and met Larry Quinn, Managing Partner and Minority Owner of the Sabres. As he stuck out his hand first to Pierre, he said he bet Pierre was going to dump on his team during the game. Pierre responded dryly with, "...Hey, I'm bullish on the Sabres...." The head manager was there with us as well, and when asked, I commented on how Clarke MacArthur has been impressive with five goals in the last four games. We would find out later he was a scratch. When the guys inquired, Coach Ruff said between Connolly and MacArthur, they have one upper body and one lower body injury and he wasn't going to specify who was who. Without further confirmation, I would flip the coin and bet MacArthur had the lower body tweak.

When we turned right off the concourse, we stepped up into 'Spirit,' TSN's best production trailer. The crew to the right side work their butt off editing the digits on demand to produce the replays and highlight clips that are seamlessly infused into the game feed. This was the largest single part of the trailer and looked to be manned by three gentlemen who Pierre likes to see before each game. Each screen they have up has at least six camera views on it. So if you have the Center Ice Online package like I do, your four screens are for rookies! This group of gentlemen and Pierre make each other look good, so, like me when I was a battalion commander, you stop in to show you give a damn before GO time. To the left side of the trailer, we met the show's Producer and his crew of three. They sat in front of a wall of multiple flat-panel screens, all in HD. If this was in your man cave, you would never come out. Of interest to the Producer and his second with Pierre for a couple of minutes was the scuttlebutt of what games he and Gord might be working for the Playoffs - more about this later. But for your knowledge, they had 15 different cameras following the game for the night and these gentlemen who see a game completely differently than we do in order to package what comes out on your screen can follow all of them, sorting through just what a view means to the story that would be April 8th, Buffalo at Toronto.

My impressions after talking to these men tonight were:

1. A show starts with knowledgeable Hockey people placed in the right position who know their own jobs and those of the others immediately around them to secure broadcast flexibility.

2. These knowledgeable folks know how to take a fast-tempo game and periodically slow it down like Gretzky crossing the blue line and starting to curl. In the next few moments, they can take you through the steps that explain the split-second muscle twitches that create two passes, a shot on goal and a goal or save, like the swirling Gretzky who measures where to place the puck. When they slow it down, this is subliminal to the viewer because, in the course of the game, it never really feels like the game has slowed. And after that review of what happened, like Gretzky hitting Coffey's tape for a slapshot, the game slides back into real time motion. This is not necessarily appreciated by the viewer, but it is just like getting into Gretzky's (or pick your name here) head.

3. And pre- and post-game, they know how to hang loose and enjoy themselves. Lots of ribbings about who buys their clothes at the bargain basement, who couldn't put a puck in the net if it was twice the size, and the like all sandwich in around those moments where they intensely are in the game for us.

I say we do not know out in front of our television how lucky we really are.

After we were done at the trailer, I went with Pierre back up to the 6th floor for the game. Because the booth was crowded, he put me in a media chair right under and just to the left of the TSN and Toronto boxes.

More coming in the next post about the game, and then, the post-game story...

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