NBC Sports production truck

A view from inside the NHL on NBC Sports production truck before Game 2 between the Blackhawks and Minnesota. (Leonor Vivanco / RedEye / May 8, 2014)

In Chicago, a Blackhawks playoff game is must-see TV. If you can't get tickets to the game, that is.

With a 2-1 series lead, the Hawks return to action Friday in Minnesota and Sunday in Chicago. So what does it take to produce a three-hour NHL on NBC Sports broadcast?

A lot more than three hours, for one thing.

A roster of nearly 50 people chips in to cover the lengthy to-do list. The crew culls the plays of the game, cues replays, creates graphics, compiles stats, talks to the on-ice timeout coordinator about commercials, runs the audio board and decides which shots and angles of the 24 arena cameras to use.

RedEye flashed its press pass for Game 2 to get access to the power players off the ice.

JOSH FREEDENBERG

Game producer

Before showtime, Freedenberg has read all the local newspapers and online articles and looked at team sites to get up to speed. He's consulted with the on-air talent about what they'd like to cover during the broadcast and had a pregame huddle to discuss the show's format.

Simply put, he runs the show. And it's quite a juggling act, though it can appear effortless to viewers.

"It's magical," Freedenberg said. "You just turn on the TV and there it is. But if you were to sit in a truck during the game and watch, it's organized chaos."

Seated in front of a wall of monitors inside a production trailer parked by the United Center loading docks, he made decisions on how to fill air time before puck drop, what storylines to tell on air, what clips of past games to show, which replays and graphics to show, when to air paid sponsored ads and whether to show the national anthem.

During the broadcast, he's got the ears of the analysts and makes sure what goes on the air is accurate and that "no mistakes are made, whether they're technical, which is sometimes out of my control, but even when that goes wrong, not getting too upset and just moving on because this is live television. It's already happened."

Sound stressful? Not for Freedenberg. He's relaxed.

"I know a lot of producers who do a lot of yelling," he said. "They get really anxious before games. I think that's counterproductive."

Just because it's work doesn't mean he can't enjoy watching the action, either.

"I love exciting games," he said. "We've gone to overtime. Our crew has done eight [postseason] games and we've had five overtimes. I love it. Playoff hockey—I root for it every time."

MIKE "DOC" EMRICK

Play-by-play broadcaster

After 41 years in the biz, Emrick has yet to call a perfect game. Or so he says.

"Just as anybody who would spend three hours standing up and talking to somebody would probably misspeak a sentence somewhere along the line, it's just the nature of humans talking for three hours," he said.

But it's likely that hockey fans think he's pretty close to perfect, with his skill following the puck and calling the fast-paced game in a way that mimics the tempo but makes it sound easy and exciting. Sitting in a booth on the seventh floor of the United Center, he showed his uncanny ability to describe puck movement countless ways without being repetitive.

"I just react to what I see and whatever verb comes out, does. I try to make them fit the action as best I can," Emrick said. "There's no card full of words that I refer to, nothing like that. Once in a while if there's something about a player or situation that I want to say and I want to make sure that I don't mess it up, I'll write it down."

In the booth, the sound of roaring fans cheering for the goal scored by Jonathan Toews drowned out Emrick. When a play stopped and analysts Eddie Olczyk or Pierre McGuire jumped in, Emrick took a swig of coffee.

Right in front of him sat his color-coded stats card (red ink is for the Hawks and green is for the Wild) and a three-ring binder of player information in case there was time, such as before a faceoff, to quickly get a fact on air.

So, what's not to like about his job?

"It sounds Pollyanna but there aren't many bad days in this job. There just aren't. Most people that are here as players, as other broadcasters, as coaches, are doing what they've always wanted to do and that leads to a general air of happiness wherever you go."

EDDIE OLCZYK

In-game analyst

He's been in a player's uniform, behind the bench as a coach and up in the booth.

When Mike "Doc" Emrick gave the play-by-play or Pierre McGuire talked on camera at ice level, Olczyk was looking at a monitor for a replay that was about to air while keeping tabs on what was happening on the ice.

"There's plenty of times where they're showing me something that just happened and the next thing you know there's a puck in the back of the net," the former Blackhawks forward said. "So Pierre might take the first replay or second replay and then I jump in with something or vice versa. It's fast and everyone has to know what their role is."

On the telestrator screen, he drew circles and arrows to break down a play for viewers.

"My role on our team with Doc and Pierre is about the now," Olczyk said. "It's to tell people why something is happening specifically, not necessarily with a lot of numbers and notes."

He relishes the opportunity to teach the game.

"We all know that we have a lot of die-hard fans, but there's also those people that are maybe just turning us on for the first time or somebody that's starting to learn about the game," he said.

Olczyk gave credit to the production crew for a smooth broadcast.

"We've got a lot of people working behind the scenes that help us get on the air and try to do the best job we can," he said.

 

FOLLOW THAT MULLET

One member of NBC Sports' crew mans the star camera, or Kane Cam, as Hawks fans would call it. The camera follows Patrick Kane whenever he's on the ice. If he scores a goal—he has five in the postseason—it's easy for the crew to rewind the footage to show viewers a replay of his entire route during the play.

lvivanco@tribune.com | @lvivanco

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