ESPN, NHL Reunite for World Cup of Hockey

This weekend, the National Hockey League returns to ESPN for the first time since before the 2004-05 lockout. ESPN will cover the World Cup of Hockey, a two-week tournament starting tomorrow and pitting eight teams chock-full of NHL talent against one another at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. And those at ESPN who were part of the network’s NHL coverage in the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s could not be more thrilled to welcome back “the good old hockey game.”

WCH16_PrimaryMark_md-660x400“I was involved in hockey back when ESPN had it, and to see it back again is a great thing,” says Wendell Grigely, coordinating director of event operations, ESPN. “I think the production people, the operations and technical people are really excited about it. We have a lot of events at ESPN; we do a lot of remotes. But to have something of this caliber — this is a great tournament with the world’s best players, and it’s going to be a great stage — we’re really excited about it.”

The World Cup of Hockey, a joint effort between the NHL and NHLPA in cooperation with the International Ice Hockey Federation, features more than 170 NHL players competing on eight teams: Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Europe, Team Finland, Team North America (a selection of under-23 players from both the U.S. and Canada), Team Russia, Team Sweden, and Team USA. The preliminary round, in which the teams are split into two groups, begins tomorrow; the Semifinals are scheduled for Sept. 24-25; and a best-of-three Final is slated for Sept. 27, Sept. 29, and Oct. 1.

Canadian broadcaster Rogers Sportsnet will provide international broadcasters, including ESPN, with a host feed. ESPN plans to take Sportsnet’s clean world feed as well as 16 discrete cameras and supplement with four Sony 1500s: two in hard-camera configurations, two handhelds. The hard cameras will be positioned at tight play-by-play and left slash; the handhelds will be stationed low right and in the announce booth during the game, breaking away for player interviews as necessary.

ESPN will operate out of Dome Productions’ Spirit A and B units, with Sidecar 3 onsite for ESPN3’s coverage. The network plans to leverage the EVS room in Spirit to show replays and create highlight packages specifically geared to the U.S. audience.

Throughout the two-week tournament, ESPN plans to showcase its player-and puck-tracking technology to better emphasize the speed of the game. Sportvision’s infrared tracking system will be embedded in pucks and player jerseys; cameras located in the Air Canada Centre rafters will capture data from the IR signals and rout them to Sportvision’s control truck. The data — ranging from skating speed and player location to puck trajectory and distance traveled — will be ingested into Vizrt graphics-rendering engines and made available for in-game replays and studio reports, with the potential for live.

“We’ll have the ability to send that information back to a studio in Bristol, [CT], where the intermissions will be anchored, and they can analyze more in depth if they would like some of that information,” says Grigely. “We’ll also use our Avid editor and our EVSs in the truck to replay some of this interesting information when it fits, so that’s the plan right now. We’ll see how the tournament develops and progresses, and we’ll see how interesting it looks, so there could be some live opportunities as well.”

ESPN plans to anchor its studio shows — pregame, postgame, and intermission — from Bristol, featuring advanced telestration technology to provide in-depth breakdowns of pre- and post-game highlights. Although there is the possibility that ESPN could move its studio presence to Toronto, depending on such factors as how well Team USA is performing, the current consensus is to see how the tournament goes before committing and, for the time being, to enjoy the ride.

“ESPN was heavily involved in hockey for a lot of years. … We have done some college hockey and the Frozen Four, but, as far as the NHL is concerned, we’ve been out of that for a while. I think, when this first arose, everyone was excited about it and thought that this would be a great opportunity for us to get back into the game,” says Grigely. “I think there are a lot of people at ESPN that are passionate about hockey and look forward to it. … It’s great that we have a little piece of this back.”

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