In 1993, when the Kings went to the Stanley Cup final for the first time, we quizzed our local NHL experts on the best ways to get novice hockey fans up to speed and be a little more Gretzky-literate about what they were about to watch.
Although technology has changed a lot in the last 20 years – big-screen, high-def, wide-angle TV sets are far more than norm, and replay angles have improved by leaps and bounds, as well as use of the telestrator to explain how plays develop – the basics really don’t change. Neither do the broadcasters: The Kings announcers have been covering the team since long before that last Stanley Cup appearance.
Long before, and long after Fox tried its glowing puck graphic tricks in the mid 1990s.
But the basics really don’t change.
Here are some excerpts of a column we did on the subject in May, 1993:
Tip No. 1: Don’t necessarily try to focus on the puck.
Said Bob Miller, the Kings’ play-by-play voice going into his 20th season at the time:
“I usually tell people who watch the game for the first time just to focus on the area in front of the net. That’s where the puck will end up sometime.”
Added Jim Fox, the Kings’ TV analyst: “The camera’s focus on the puck isn’t as important as its ability to provide close enough action to see as many skaters as possible at the same time. It’s just like watching a basketball game on ice. If you can tell who’s carrying the puck, you don’t need to focus on the puck and follow it pass to pass.”
And from Nick Nickson, the Kings’ radio play-by-play voice: “The game has plenty to offer away from the puck. On a four-on-four power play, for example, a defenseman can sneak in and read the play and get a three-on-two going the other way.”
Tip No. 2: If you missed a play the first time, the replay will probably catch it – at a better angle.
Miller: “Slow-motion replay is best used in hockey than in any other TV sport. In football, you don’t need it that much. In basketball, how many times do you need to see a slam dunk? Hockey is too fast and needs to be slowed down to see it, especially on scoring plays.”
Fox: “The novice fan will learn more from the slo-mo, watching how the puck is deflected, where screens are set . . . I rely on the replay.”
Bob Borgen, who produced the Kings’ telecasts on the local Prime Ticket: “Sometimes we discover things on the replay that even surprises us. Hockey, to me, is like improvisational jazz. The puck can be all over the place. And it can get so wide on TV that with one camera, you can’t see the little things the first time.”
Tip No. 3: Don’t get hung up if the announcers don’t explain the rules. The red and blue lines are you friends.
Miller: “It always puzzles me why some think we have to explain all the terms with new viewers. There aren’t that many things to explain.”
Just know there are only two times a whistle blows: An offsides – just like an offsides in football, except here we have a blue line to show you clearly – and icing, which probably is the most difficult one for people to understand.
“The most questions I get are about penalties,” said Miller. “To the novice, every check must look like a penalty.”
Tip No. 4: A fight is not always a fight.
Fox: “I wouldn’t expect a new viewer to understand that there are some fights that allow the players to police the game themselves rather than a set-up fight between two guys who feel they have to earn their money.
“If the game could eliminate the second category, we’d all be happier. But just watch how the players are grabbing jerseys and can’t plant themselves. Few fights turn into injury.”
Neither Miller nor Fox watch a TV monitor when they call a game because they feel the screen can be too restrictive.
“I can watch hockey on TV and enjoy it,” said Miller, “but not as much as in person.”
Added Al Michaels, a long-time Kings’ season-ticket holder: “There’s no trick to it. Get a 46-inch big-screen TV and wait for the replay.”