ESPN’s College-Hockey Coverage Goes North to Buffalo for 2019 Frozen Four

Four NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament games were produced onsite

As modern-day knights (some of them Golden) duel on the ice during the professionals’ quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup, squires in the amateur ranks clashed for the national championship. ESPN and four of the country’s best “cawlidge hawkey” teams in the nation (No. 2 University of Minnesota-Duluth, No. 4 UMass, Providence College, and Denver University) met inside KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY from April 11-13 to decide who would walk out a winner at the 2019 Frozen Four.

Onsite Productions Skate at Full Strength
Before the puck was dropped in Buffalo, the network produced a regional matchup between UMass and the University of Notre Dame at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH, with the help of Dome Productions’ Silver production truck. The trend continued for the pair of penultimate and national-title games from the same truck, with an extra B unit and a small sidecar trailer to compensate for extended staff and equipment.

“There was no REMI [remote integration] or GREMI [graphics remote integration] aspect to [our] NCAA hockey coverage this year,” says Paul Horrell, operations manager, ESPN. “These games were produced with all of our operators onsite, with the help of our main game transmission on fiber paths and an IP-based backup with no uplink in the truck.”

Inside the compound, Horrell was accompanied by a slew of teammates on the production’s first line, including John Vassallo, coordinating producer, ESPN; Bob Frattaroli, director, ESPN; Anthony DeVita, producer, ESPN; Andrea Deegan, operations producer, ESPN; Jill Clark, operations coordinator, ESPN; and Terry Cook, tech specialist, ESPN. Along with a full slate of tools, the crew operated four 12-channel and three six-channel EVS replay servers.

Kick, Save, and a Beauty Shot: 16 Cameras Outline the In-Venue Tech
KeyBank Center housed 16 cameras, with wireless capabilities by 3G Wireless. During all three games, fans at home received a first-hand look against the boards with a complementary viewing option on ESPN3. To accomplish this feat, three Fletcher high-speed robo cameras were placed in specific locations along the glass. The company also played a part in recording goal-line views from inside both nets.

A triumvirate of ESPN’s creative services, technologies group, and ChyronHego developed an AllCam system. Although it was at the production team’s disposal, it was not used in any of the games and was most recently used during the MLS season kickoff.

From an audio perspective, A1 Chris Allan implemented 10 mics on the glass to pair with the three-camera system at ice level. Two CP Communications RF mics (one inside each goal) captured any pings or doinks off the crossbar and posts. For enhanced atmosphere sound, eight ambient mics were distributed around the arena, and an additional microphone was placed inside each penalty box.

A graphics package was prepared by Bexel’s Viz Trio, and a new drop-down menu on the scorebug calculated the amount of time spent in each team’s offensive zone.

Operational Line Change: One Mobile Unit Anchors Game, Studio Coverage
Along with game responsibilities, a large portion of the 80 onsite staffers also handled the duties of the pre/postgame and intermission studio shows from the venues.

“In addition to the main game and ESPN3 surround offering, the studio wraps and intermission productions were all done from site and produced through the same truck and resources,” says Horrell. “We were offered a desk location early on in our discussions with the venue – which was just fantastic to work with – that made a lot of sense and the decision for production to bring the studio onsite that much easier.”

In front of the camera, SportsCenter talent John Buccigross and former NHL head coach Barry Melrose called the action for the seventh time together in the booth. ESPN sideline reporter Quint Kessenich joined the duo, and first-time attendee Colby Cohen served as analyst. Host John Brickley was alongside two-time national champion at the University of Michigan Sean Ritchlin and 15-year hockey analyst Dave Starman on the live studio set.

A Seasonal Conclusion in Familiar Territory
With a 3-0 Minnesota-Duluth victory over UMass in the championship game, the Bulldogs captured the school’s second-straight title in three seasons. And a grizzled veteran completing his 17th Frozen Four, Vassallo reflects on the network’s continued efforts on the college-hockey front in the place where it all started for him.

“The Frozen Four is a one-of-a-kind event that many of us have been doing for years. My first was in 2003 – the last time we were in Buffalo,” he says. “The joy of building and growing the coverage over time with both returning production-team members and newcomers is a thrill. Knowing you are the network of record for college hockey’s biggest event on its biggest stage is a mandate we take seriously and have a lot of fun with as well.”

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