2009 NHL Winter Classic Takes the Mound

By Carolyn Braff

For the third outdoor regular-season game in NHL history, the league decided to make already difficult logistics even more challenging. Instead of playing the game on a similarly oriented football field, as the 2008 and 2003 editions were, the 2009 NHL Winter Classic takes place at Wrigley Field” a baseball venue not shaped to accommodate a hockey rink.

“The rink splits the pitchers’ mound from first to third,” explains NBC producer Sam Flood. The 200- by 85-foot ice rink was driven to Chicago from Mobile, AL, in preparation for Thursday’s New Year’s Day contest between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. It sits 112 feet from home plate and 288 feet from the center-field wall, so NBC can utilize many of the same camera positions used for baseball coverage.

“The cover camera is the high home position for the main play-by-play camera,” Flood explains. “The end-zone cameras are essentially the first-base and third-base platforms. And then we have scoreboard cam, a high right-field position for the right end-zone camera, and the same for left field.”

NBC is using 25 cameras for the broadcast, some of which are split feeds from the CBC, since the two networks are sharing some equipment to cover the game.

“We have one jib of ours, one jib of the CBC’s, an RF camera that can go anywhere” including the parties across the street” handhelds all over the place, and then the traditional cameras in the locker room and such,” Flood says.

With F&F Productions providing the mobile-unit support, he says, NBC will be utilizing the same basic complement of cameras and lenses as for a normal game, but the more lenses he can use, the better. With a mixture of Fujinon 70 and and 80-times lenses, he says, “we’re going as big as we can get.”

When the puck drops at noon CT, the weather is expected to be in the mid 30s, which may be balmy for Chicago in January but is far colder than a hockey camera operator is used to.

“Knowing you have to deal with the elements is one of our biggest challenges,” Flood says. “Granted, camera guys work in very cold football games” like some of this season’s NFL games” but following a puck is different from following a football. It requires some adjustment. Because most of the guys who work hockey games are used to doing it inside an arena, they have to adjust to how the sun and the snow plays games on what you are doing outside.”

Helping to make those adjustments will be the mostly Chicago-based crew. Flood and his team recruited plenty of local crew members for the Winter Classic to make the operation as efficient as possible.

While NBC televises the game, Verizon will be streaming the entire contest for wireless users on its V Cast video service, making the third edition of the Winter Classic more accessible than ever.

“Being at such an historic venue, being able to tell the story of a hockey game at this place on this date, with the spectacle and the setting behind,” Flood says, “it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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