ESPN Drops Frozen Four Puck in HD
By Carolyn Braff
While college hoops fans have been locked in on the road to the Final Four, college hockey fans have turned their attention to the Frozen Four, the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship. The tournament began with a field of 16 teams and has since been whittled down to four, which will compete for the national title this weekend at the Verizon Center in Washington. This year, for the first time, all games will be available live to a national audience, instead of regionally syndicated or tape-delayed.
For the regional-round games — broadcast on ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN360.com — ESPN used five or six cameras, depending on the regional location, with Duet V12 graphic production. The Bridgeport, CT, and Minneapolis regionals were broadcast entirely in HD on ESPNU HD and ESPN2 HD, while the Manchester, NH, and Grand Rapids, MI, regionals were produced in SD due to a lack of financial high-definition resources at ESPN.
This year, for the first time, all 15 games of the tournament will air on ESPN2, ESPNU, or ESPN Classic.
“The games are live and out there for fans to find, whereas, in years past, they may have been regionally syndicated or tape-delayed,” says Chuck Scatterday, coordinating producer for ESPN. “This year, they will all be live and out there for the hockey fan to get.”
The team working the past weekend’s Frozen Four produced the Manchester regional bracket, which they were able to use as a dress rehearsal for the big show in D.C.
“Our Frozen Four TV-production unit worked the Manchester regional so they had a chance to get used to each other,” Scatterday says. “They had a sixth camera in that regional, but, for the actual Frozen Four, we’ll have seven cameras plus two robotics, and that will all be in high-definition.”
College hockey does not have quite the following of college football or basketball, so part of ESPN’s job in covering the Frozen Four is to help explain the sport. During the opening rounds, the production teams were instructed to remind fans of the big picture, the road to D.C.
“What we try to do is use our content to focus in toward the final,” says John Vassallo, senior coordinating producer for ESPN. “It’s important to not live in a vacuum — to constantly remind people what’s at stake and look at the big picture. Our production philosophy is to promote the national championship.”
Although each regional crew has the freedom to produce the game as they see fit, it’s important to Vassallo that fans get a consistent experience across networks and regions.
“In the regionals, you want to make sure your four crews have the same graphics, consistent formats, and that they are in coordination with the arena for faceoffs and commercial breaks,” Vassallo explains. “To keep that product consistently elevated among the four production crews is certainly Chuck’s challenge.”
Once the field for the Frozen Four is set, ESPN condenses into one crew in one location, so, as Vassallo says, “you can kick it up a notch.”
Two Fletcher robotic cameras will help kick up the Frozen Four coverage. One, dubbed the speed shot, will be mounted at center ice and pan left to right. The other will be mounted behind one of the goals to give a low, right-on-the-ice feel.
Also helping the amped-up atmosphere is the NHL arena. The Verizon Center is home to the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the technical crew ESPN has brought in for the weekend has plenty of hockey experience.
“They are very dialed in on what it takes to cover an NHL game,” Scatterday says of the production crew. “It almost made it turnkey for some of our operational folks, as they were in contact with the operational people at the Verizon Center.”
While extra cameras and a professional venue will certainly make the Final Four shine, this hockey broadcast will not feature any glowing pucks or technological gimmicks.
“It really depends on having a director that understands the speed of the game, the corners, the hitting, the bursts of speed coupled with the dynamic checking,” Scatterday explains. “There is not a lot of technology to boast but just good, sound, end-to-end coverage.”
End-to-end coverage can be found beginning on Thursday April 9, when the semifinals puck drops at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2 HD and ESPN360.com, and continues Saturday April 11, with the championship game at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN HD and ESPN360.com.