Hockey Day In America and Heritage Classic combine for nine hours of coverage across NBC Sports and Versus

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With the combined forces of NBC Sports and Versus, this Sunday is shaping up to be one of the biggest hockey days in recent television memory. With NBC’s Hockey Day In America joining forces with Versus’ coverage of the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary the two networks are set to bring hockey to the people for up to nine hours worth of coverage.

Everything begins at noon Eastern on NBC starting at Millennium Park in Chicago where NBC’s Ed Olczyk will be there skating outdoors with the Stanley Cup. NBC Sports and Versus executive producer says, “Not a bad spectacle to start the day.”

Throughout the day stories depicting hockey life and the love its shown throughout America will be highlighted during NBC’s coverage. Features include showing the efforts of Neal Henderson of Fort Dupont Ice Hockey program designed to help inner city youth in Washington, D.C. that he began in 1978, to the annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships that happen in Minnesota, to celebrity hockey in Los Angeles. Young and old, common folks to superstars, everyone plays hockey.

NBC’s Doc Emrick puts it succinctly in describing Hockey Day In America and what the coverage of it means to do.

“It is a celebration of hockey…We try our best to make sure that people understand that we are passionate about the sport.”

The focus of the doubleheader coverage of the day will be regional coverage from one of three games starting at 12:35 p.m. ET with Washington at Buffalo where Jeff Jackson will handle play-by-play duties with Ray Ferraro doing analysis between the benches. Philadelphia at the New York Rangers starts at 12:40 p.m. with Ken Daniels and Joe Micheletti handling the call while Detroit at Minnesota begins at 12:45 p.m. ET with Pat Foley and Darren Pang doing the broadcast.

From there, coverage shifts to national action with the Penguins taking on the Blackhawks at 3:30 p.m. ET in Chicago from United Center. Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire will take care of the broadcast with Mike Milbury and Liam McHugh back in the studio for analysis. The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions while the Penguins won it two years ago.

Upon the conclusion of the game from Chicago, action then shifts from NBC to Versus for coverage of the 2011 Heritage Classic. Bill Patrick, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick will be holding down the studio desk from McMahon Stadium in Calgary for the game. During the game, Dave Strader will take care of play-by-play while Andy Brickley and Brian Engblom will be doing analysis.

As for how it all works together spanning two networks and five different locations in all, Flood is excited for the fun it will provide.

“It all builds to the Pittsburgh-Chicago game which has the cool advantage of leading into the Calgary game. And for the first time, we can take advantage of the NBCU synergies with this new company and tell the audience that there is a big outdoor hockey game north of the border that takes place as soon as Pittsburgh-Chicago ends. So again, we’ve got this hockey crazed audience celebrating the game for the day and ending up in Calgary for the hockey under the lights in the open air. And nothing could be more fun than that.”

This kind of coverage is unprecedented in America making this year’s Hockey Day In America all that much more impressive. Pulling all of this great action together over one day is stunning and should make Sunday that much more fun for everyone.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.