Boston left winger Marco Sturm, center, shown taking out Montreal's Tomas Plekanec on a hard check, and his Bruins teammates will take to the ice in the return of the "NHL on NBC" on Sunday. The Bruins will play the New York Rangers.
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- More from Ted Cox
The NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day produced a publicity boon for the league and its broadcast partner, NBC, but now comes the bigger, more important question: Taken from the great outdoors and returned to the arena, does the NHL "Game of the Week" constitute appointment television?
The season premiere, airing at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on WMAQ Channel 5, probably won't offer any solid answers. Although it should be over by the time the New England Patriots defend their perfect record against the San Diego Chargers at 2 p.m. on WBBM Channel 2, it figures to get caught in the daylong hype surrounding both of the NFL's conference championship games.
With the two-week hiatus before the Super Bowl, it's a relatively open field next weekend, but wouldn't you know that's the NHL's All-Star Game, which gets thrown to cable Versus at 5 p.m. Sunday, while NBC will be concentrating on the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. NBC's "Game of the Week" won't settle into its normal rhythm until February, starting, of course, on Super Sunday.
The "NHL on NBC" just can't catch a break, but that doesn't mean they aren't trying. Hockey comes to life in high-definition TV like no other sport -- it makes a big difference when you can actually see the puck, especially without resorting to cheap tricks like Fox Sports' old comet-tail wizardry -- and NBC will do all NHL games (including anything beyond Game 2 in the Stanley Cup Finals) in HD under the excellent production of Sam Flood.
Chicago's own Eddie Olczyk is back as color analyst alongside play-by-play man Mike "Doc" Emrick, with Pierre McGuire the "inside-the-glass" reporter seated between the benches. He'll also swing over to play studio host between periods with new analyst "Mad" Mike Milbury, the former Boston Bruin defenseman and New York Islander coach and general manager.
In that, NBC is picking the perfect debut match-up for him in Boston-New York Rangers on Sunday. Milbury remains infamous for going into the stands at Madison Square Garden in 1979, mixing it up in a melee and emerging with a shoe, which he used to swat a fan.
"It's unbelievable that after more than 30 years in the game, pummeling a guy with his loafer will be my legacy," Milbury said in response. "But I guess it's better than having no legacy at all."
Milbury seems a natural, in that he's been a quote machine since his playing days. "I'm trying not to be really annoyed," he once said. "But you know me. That won't last long."
He was equally eloquent this week in addressing his TV career. "I didn't go to the Bob Costas broadcasting school," he said. "I grew up in the hockey world. I carry my passion on my sleeve, and I'm not afraid to make a comment about somebody. When I think, for example, a guy is dogging it, I'll let you know. I hope to go straight at it. I broadcast the way I played, obnoxiously."
He went on to metaphorically beat the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr with a shoe, saying, "His psyche is so fragile."
So if the actual game doesn't produce any fights, Milbury's pre- or post-game or intermission comments just might. That can only be good for ratings, which is obviously what NBC is banking on.
In the air
Remotely interesting: Comcast SportsNet Chicago presents its next two high-school hoops games in its 10-game package next week. Lockport plays Homewood-Flossmoor at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and Oak Park plays Glenbard West at 7 p.m. Thursday.
World Wrestling Entertainment goes high-def next week. "Monday Night RAW" and "A.M. RAW" on USA, "Extreme Championship Wrestling" on the Sci Fi Channel and "Friday Night SmackDown" on the CW's WGN Channel 9 will all be in HD where available.
End of the dial: The Cubs' Pat Hughes of WGN 720-AM has put out two new CDs of highlights from Hall of Fame baseball announcers: the Brewers' Bob Uecker and the Phillies' Harry Kalas. They're available on the Web through www.baseballvoices.com for $16 plus shipping.
The Bears helped make WBBM 780-AM the top-billing station in town last year, passing WGN 720-AM by about $3 million in ad revenue, according to a survey by the Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co. accounting firm.
-- Ted Cox