Scott Hartnell on transitioning to media, his outdoor game experience, Gritty (PHT Q&A)

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Retirement has been good for Scott Hartnell. The 17-year NHL veteran announced his retirement in October and has been using the time away from the game to spend it with his family. He certainly doesn’t miss the traveling or the grind of an 82-game season, but definitely misses being around his teammates on a daily basis.

“But when you know, you know,” Hartnell told Pro Hockey Talk this week about retiring. “It was time for me to walk away from the game. I’ve just really, really enjoyed my time away.”

Following a few on-air stints in the off-season, Hartnell joined NHL Network this week as a studio analyst and will debut during this weekend’s coverage of the Stadium Series game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins from Lincoln Financial Field.

While still playing, Hartnell said he would run into on-air personalities who told him he would be great on TV. Since then, trying TV out was in the back of his mind and he’s eager for the opportunity.

“Right now, it’s just kind of me getting my feet wet here with NHL Network and looking to do more shows, get more involved and feel more comfortable,” he said.

We spoke with Hartnell this week about the balance of being a former player and using criticism in his new role, his outdoor game experience, Carter Hart, and, of course, his new pal Gritty.

Enjoy.

Q. As you were nearing the end of your playing days, did you start thinking about what you wanted to do post-hockey?

HARTNELL: “Yeah, I remember somebody asked me after my first year ‘What are you after hockey? It’s not going to last forever.’ I was like, oh, I’m going to play until my mid-30s, and chances were that wasn’t going to be the case. Fast forward 17 years and that was the case. Reality is I’ve got a good support system around me, still have talk to my agent, still have some good friends that are still playing and some friends that retired. You just kind of lean on all of those people and your friendships over the years. Obviously things work out and you kind of go in the direction where some things are interesting for you.”

Q. How do you think you’ll be able to balance your relationships in the game and sometimes having to be critical of friends, ex-teammates and teams you played for?

HARTNELL: “I don’t think I want to be one of those guys where you just absolutely bury a guy for not taking a hit to make the play, where if I was a teammate I probably would have said something. I don’t want to be that guy on TV; you kind of ruin some friendships along the way. There’s a fine line where I think you can constructively criticize and to get your point across without hurting anybody’s feelings.”

Q. How did you view the role of the media as a player?

HARTNELL: “I’m not going to lie, some days it’s more annoying than other days. Some days you’ve got to face the music when there’s a bad play or a bad turnover. Some days are fun, like when you’ve got a hat trick or scored a big goal or made a play that made a difference in the game. It all depends day-to-day. When you’re losing hockey games the media sucks. When you’re winning hockey games it’s let them come in early, right? There’s so many different scenarios.

“To be on the other side of a microphone, thinking of questions, asking questions, it’s very different, very uncomfortable right now.”

Q. You were able to play in two outdoor games with the Flyers in your career, one at home, one away. From your experience, would you say that being the home team is a little tougher going into it compared to the road team where it’s like a business trip with fewer distractions of family and people hitting you up for tickets?

HARTNELL: “Yes and no. Obviously you have some friends that are asking for tickets, you don’t want to say no. The one I played on the road [2010 Winter Classic in Boston], I had some family come in for that. It was standard. You want to take care of the tickets a couple days before the game so you’re not thinking of who I have to leave passes for and those kind of things. That was my kind of rule. If you ask the day of the game, I won’t even answer my phone. 

“It’s fun when it’s a big rivalry like with Pittsburgh. Flyers have made a great push, it’s at the Linc. It’s going to be a wonderful atmosphere.”

Q. Having played in Philadelphia, knowing the history of the franchise, are you amazed at how Carter Hart has come in, especially when he was called up, and helped lead a turnaround?

HARTNELL: “It’s exciting. I think fans were getting sick and tired of the losing, the uncompetitive play. One kid and obviously a couple of changes behind the bench and in the front office, it’s totally turned the mentality of the team. Talking to guys, the room is fun to be in now. Those first few games when Hart was in net, you felt like they were playing better defense, they were stepping into shots, they were not trying to get out of the way of a shot. It’s really fun to see that fire back in the dressing room and that correlates to the ice.”

Q. Finally, what was it like to spend a day with Gritty?

HARTNELL: “That guy is my best friend. He’s awesome. He’s quite the personality. I didn’t think it would go over as well. I was thinking, ‘Oh, boy, can’t wait to see this one fail.’ It’s been hilarious. The personality of him is great, how he’s up there skating with kids and running them over. I’m a big fan and enjoy him.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.