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October 7, 2005 - Hits and misses in hockey coverage

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Hits and misses in hockey coverage

It was a special night, the night that hockey came back after its long, fitful sleep.

It was a special night for OLN, too. The channel known for bulls, bicycles and bass was making its debut as the NHL's national cable home.

The results were mixed.

OLN played it safe in its telecast of the Flyers-Rangers game on Wednesday. Viewers got a work in progress, competent and cautious.

But strong pregame and postgame shows also showed that OLN can cover hockey well.

If OLN's game coverage is to come up to the standard of the studio shows, the network will have to make a little more noise with its bells and whistles.

OLN had four players wear microphones but managed to get the words of only one of them, Rangers center Steve Rucchin, on the air.

And what he said was pretty tame: "Boys, we've got to get on the puck here, huh?"

OLN also miked Flyers Robert Esche and Keith Primeau and Ranger Darius Kasparaitis.

Alas, Primeau's microphone "was ripped in half" during the game and could not be replaced, said Bryan Cooper, OLN executive producer.

That meant the television audience couldn't hear the conversation between Primeau and fans who were leaning over the penalty box where Primeau was temporarily residing.

Kasparaitis' mike did pick up a few things, including some background profanity from the Rangers' bench that made it unusable, Cooper said.

Esche, who spent much of the third period watching Rangers shots whiz by him, didn't really say anything, Cooper added.

The referees also wore mikes, which mostly worked well, although it would have been nice if ref Kerry Fraser had explained why he was awarding a penalty shot to the Rangers' Michael Nylander.

Instead, all Fraser said was: "Penalty shot is awarded to 92 New York." Fraser's reticence, of course, was not OLN's doing.

OLN kept its graphics to a commendable minimum and placed the score unobtrusively at the bottom of the screen.

The pregame and postgame shows, featuring ex-Flyers Bill Clement and Keith Jones and former Rangers general manager Neil Smith, were entertaining and informative, although the studio could use a serious makeover.

Using a studio mini-rink, Clement, Jones and Smith demonstrated rules changes and showed how Peter Forsberg had set up a Simon Gagne goal.

Other high spots in the postgame included an interview by WIP-AM's Al Morganti with Forsberg and a segment on Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock.

OLN had Hitchcock wear a mike through preseason meetings, practices and games, creating the kind of insider feel the network was trying for in regular-season play.

And may yet achieve.