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Mark Rycroft can actually make you a smarter hockey fan

South Stands Denver | October 23, 2014

Kudos to the Colorado Avalanche. In a world where more and more professional teams are turning to their broadcast crew to further their own public relations department’s agenda, it’s fantastic to see someone on a studio broadcast that’s not afraid to offer a dissenting opinion.

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For reasons sufficient to myself, the dynamic achieved by live broadcast teams has always been a curiosity of mine. A successful broadcast thing is something that is very difficult to pull off, as anyone who has ever sat through an entire slate of NFL games on a given Sunday can attest to (and let’s face it, all of you have).

So when South Stands emcee Colin Daniels asked me to write up a piece on what I thought of Colorado Avalanche studio host Mark Rycroft, it was right in my wheelhouse.

Let me start by saying that I believe that the Avs have the best broadcasting crew of any of Colorado’s major franchises. Mark Moser has always done a remarkable job on the radio (solo no less), Mike Haynes has always been a solid play by play guy, and Kyle Keefe obviously fills the role of a facilitator adequately back in the studio. But there is one member of the crew that has to be addressed before I can get to Rycroft: Peter McNabb.

McNabb gets his own section because over the years, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon with the former NHLer: Hardcore hockey fans and anyone who plays/has played the sport of hockey cannot stand him, while virtually everyone else thinks he’s great.

It actually wasn’t until I was in media that I realized this was the case. Prior to that, I’d watch hockey games with friends and family (most of whom have deep ties to the sport) and everyone would lament that we had to listen to him. Since that time thought, I’ve grown to understand McNabb’s importance to the broadcast.

The problem that ‘hockey people’ have with McNabb isn’t his knowledge of the sport (of which he has more than enough), it’s that he ‘dumbs it down’ too much for their liking. No one will actually put it in those terms, but that’s what it is. From my perspective, McNabb actually comes with good information for fans. The issue is that he presents it in such a way to make you think a play is profound, when in fact it’s pretty routine.

The best example I can give happened last season. McNabb showed a replay of an opposing defenseman skating back for the puck and used the slow motion to demonstrate how the defenseman looked over his shoulder twice before getting to the puck so that he already knew where he was going to send it before he got there. That’s great info and really adds to a casual fan’s understanding of the game! But then he finished the bit by saying “and that’s what sets him apart from other defensemen across the league.”

Ummmm, no it isn’t. That’s something you’re taught at about age 13 if you play hockey.

So you see what I mean? It’s not that the information is bad, it’s that he adds a certain context to his comments that rubs ‘hockey people’ the wrong way.

That’s where our subject comes in.

Too often television crews will sacrifice a little bit of knowledge of the game in exchange for someone who can talk to players and create human interest pieces about the team. The belief behind it is that those human interest pieces have more of a shelf life than any single game and will resonate with fans more over time. This is all true of course. My frustration is that it isn’t hard to have both.

Mark Rycroft isn’t the guy generating stories on the players’ personal lives or comments in the locker room, but does anyone think that the Avalanche are lacking in that category? Have they missed out on some golden marketing opportunity by having Rycroft in studio over some peon with a tape recorder? Of course not.

Rycroft has been an incredible find for Avs broadcasts. The former University of Denver star and later NHL role player has an understanding of the game that rivals the most knowledgeable  national pundits, and an energetic delivery that makes you want to tune in to the postgame even after a blowout, just to see where he stands on the state of things.

If McNabb soothes novice viewers by presenting material in easily digestible bits (and believe me, that’s a vital role for a team looking to grow its fanbase), then Rycroft challenges them to be smarter fans by outlining multi-layers of individual and team strategy that most hardcore fans would even miss without the benefit of replay.

My father coached hockey for the better part of 20 years and is one of the most notoriously tough guys on NHL broadcast teams. He’ll still text me after a bad goal saying ‘I wonder what Rycroft will have to say about that one,’ which leads me to one last thing that bears stating…

Kudos to the Colorado Avalanche. In a world where more and more professional teams are turning to their broadcast crew to further their own public relations department’s agenda, it’s fantastic to see someone on a studio broadcast that’s not afraid to offer a dissenting opinion.

Just in the last year, we’ve seen writers craft carefully-worded puff pieces to lessen the negativity surrounding certain football stars, and we’re all familiar with how the local baseball team runs their own insufferable home broadcasts. After the recent debacle between the Colorado Rapids and my former colleague Chris Bianchi made national news as a blatant example of a team essentially firing someone for not writing only positively-skewed journalism about their team, it would seem wrong to not point out when a team allows their own media members to sometimes skew to the negative when necessary.

If you haven’t watched an Avalanche game recently, or are the type of person who changes channels during the intermission and never watches the postgame, I’d highly encourage you to give Mark Rycroft’s analysis a try. It will make you a smarter hockey fan.




Written by South Stands Denver


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