Q&A: Kate Scott on calling Blues-Blackhawks, inspiring young girls

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

“You always have more time than you think.”

Those were just a few of the words of advice Mike Emrick passed on to Kate Scott before she calls her first NHL game Sunday night when the Blues visit the Blackhawks.

“It’s very calming because things do go very fast regardless of what sport you’re calling,” Scott told NBC Sports this week. “You’re calling a game on television so you always have to pictures to give you a beat or two longer than you might than if you were calling a game on the radio for you to find your footing and make sure you’re correct and say what you’re going to say.”

NBC Sports will utilize an all-female crew to broadcast and produce game coverage of Blues-Blackhawks, coinciding with International Women’s Day and marking the first NHL game broadcast and produced solely by women in the U.S. Scott will handle play-by-play duties, AJ Mleczko will be alongside her as analyst, and Kendall Coyne Schofield will be at ice level “inside the glass.”

Scott, who currently anchors, reports, hosts, and calls game for the Pac-12 Networks as well as NBC Sports Network, has prepared for Sunday’s game with a trio of rehearsals over the last few weeks. As she gets set to take the mic, she remembered some other advice Emrick gave to her: “Trust your preparation. Trust your process.”

We spoke to Scott this week about her preparation, how meaningful calling Sunday’s game will be, and what she wants young girls and boys to take away from seeing an all-female broadcast team.

Enjoy.

Q. In calling the rehearsal games, has that been your biggest challenge in training yourself to keep up with the pace of hockey compared to the other sports you call?

SCOTT: “Yeah, 100%. The pace of hockey is unlike anything else, and I call every other sport, except for car racing. There’s plenty of moments [in other sports] which are fast and you have to be on it for 10-15 seconds, but hockey, you’ve got to be on it for minutes at a time because the puck moves so fast. And as opposed to every other television sport, hockey is more of a radio call on television just because it is so fast moving, so a lot of times the folks at home don’t know where the puck is. It’s your job to make sure that they do by calling out who has it and where on the ice it is. That has been the biggest challenge but also the biggest help of getting to do the practice games, was just getting comfortable with that pace. The first game it felt like I was going 100 miles an hour, but the second it slowed down and then last week when we were in St. Louis I felt really good about that one.”

Q. Will the empowerment of this broadcast and what it means completely take over any nerves you might be feeling heading into Sunday night?

SCOTT: “I feel nerves before every single broadcast I do, regardless of what level or where it is just because I place importance on every broadcast that I do because I want it to be the best it can be for all those involved. It may be the biggest shot, the biggest goal, the biggest touchdown of their career, so I consider it my responsibility to do the best job I can in calling that moment for them. I’m sure I’ll be nervous for about the first 10 minutes, but I think I’ll be able to look to my right and see AJ, the gold medalist and an incredible analyst who covers the NHL on the regular; look down and see the spark plug that is Kendall inside the glass, smiling and laughing with all of these guys who have so much respect for her because of the gold medal she won a couple of years ago and the work she’s done in the NHL since. I know [Kathryn Tappen] and Jen [Botterill] are such pros back in the studio, and we can’t forget [director] Lisa [Seltzer] and [producer] Rene [Hatlelid], [producer] Kaitlin [Urka], and all the people who do this every single day. Knowing that I’ve got all of them around me supporting me, I think is going to take the nerves down.

“I’m guessing about halfway through the first period it’s going to start feeling pretty special to get to be a part of this day and this moment and getting to work with such incredible talented pros who live and breathe this sport. I feel pretty honored and humbled and grateful to get to be a part of this game and to get to work with these women for this day.”

Q. Who were your broadcasting heroes?

SCOTT: “Al Michaels was one of them, so it’s fun that he’s such a big voice when it comes to a moment in hockey history. I just love his friendly delivery and his demeanor and how it isn’t about him and that’s really what I try to pride myself on as a play-by-play announcer — get in, say what you need to say, and say it as succinctly as possible and then get out of the way and let your analysts and the game itself shine. Beth Mowins has been a huge role model and mentor of mine over the past couple of years. 

“Those are a couple of my big ones and I could list 80 more people that I’ve come to know and respect over the past few years. Those are the voices that I look up to and I’m looking forward to hopefully making them proud this weekend.”

Q. Since you’ve started calling games, how have you see the growth of women in production roles?

SCOTT: “I haven’t seen as many as I would like. It was actually two years ago — and I’ve been doing this for over 15 years now — calling an A-10 women’s basketball game for NBC. It was the first time I walked over to the [production] truck and realized that we had a female producer, a female technical director and I also had a female analyst that day. We just kind of looked around and I said, ‘Have any of you gotten to be a part of a broadcast like this before?’ And we all kind of looked around and said I think this might be the first time. Up to this point, I’ve worked with three female producers in my entire career and one female director.

“Rene is the fourth female producer I’ve worked with and Lisa is going to be just the second female director that I work with. That is one of the big things that I’m hoping I have a moment to highlight on Sunday. That’s something that I tell young kids all the time when I speak to colleges or when I speak on panels, that I know it probably sounds weird coming from someone who is on air encouraging you to look into other aspects of the industry. But I often wonder because I was told earlier in my career that I would make a great producer because I like being in charge and I’m pretty good at multi-tasking. Things have worked out on this side for me, but I often wonder because it sure looks fun getting to be part of the madness that is being in the control room or in the truck during a broadcast. I hope that we can highlight that on Sunday and encourage more young women to get into that aspect of the industry.”

Q. What do you want young girls and women to take away from watching Sunday’s broadcast and seeing you, AJ and Kendall on the call?

SCOTT: “I’m hoping that they take away that they can do this. That calling a game, analyzing a game, directing a game, producing a game, shooting a game, I’m hoping that they turn off the television on Sunday night thinking, ‘Wow, that was never something I thought I could do before, but I think I can do that.’ That’s one of the reasons, in my opinion, that we are still seeing such slow growth when it comes to women calling and analyzing sports because it starts when you’re a kid. You go to most of the college radio and television stations around the country and they’re still predominantly male because you’ve got to see somebody doing what you want to do when you’re a kid and have that seed planted early on to be able to go and then learn the skills early enough in life to then be prepared to call moments and games like Sunday. 

“That’s what I’m hoping that the young girls watching will take away. And I’m also hoping that the young boys will take that away, too, that they will see strong, prepared, intelligent, funny women on television calling this sport that they love and they maybe grow up thinking as well, ‘Wow, yeah, women can do this too,’ and that will impact the way that they see their sisters or girlfriends or wives or moms or whoever the women are in their lives and will maybe give them a different perspective too.”

The first-of-its-kind broadcast will be in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, which dates back over 100 years. The broadcast will highlight women who have made their mark on hockey, and sports in general, with the hopes to inspire future generations of women to excel on the ice and behind the scenes.

Sunday night’s coverage will also be surrounded by On Her Turf, NBC Sports’ female empowerment brand. The broadcast will include a number of features highlighting women in hockey during pre-game and intermissions, with custom in-game graphic integration and social coverage.

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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.

Sabres’ Okposo has surgery to repair right knee injury

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo had surgery to repair a right knee injury, leaving him plenty of time to recover during the team’s extended break.

The team on Friday announced Okposo had surgery this week, and is expected to miss up to six weeks.

The Sabres are off indefinitely after being one of seven teams to not qualify for the NHL’s proposed 24-team return-to-play format. The start of next season is expected to be pushed back, and may not open until January because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Okposo had surgery a week after the remainder of the Sabres season was canceled.

He was sidelined twice last season because of upper- and lower-body injuries that led to him missing 16 games. The 13-year veteran finished with nine goals and 10 assist for 19 points in 52 games, while playing mostly on Buffalo’s checking line.

PHT reviews hockey video games: ‘Super Blood Hockey,’ a gory good time

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Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of. Previously, that meant looking back at games that are now largely inaccessible. This week’s edition, on the other hand, can be found in many spots: “Super Blood Hockey.”

As we look back at old and very old arcade-style hockey games, it’s almost inevitable to wallow in the sadder elements of nostalgia. Why can’t current games capture those good old days?

Well, games like “Super Blood Hockey” aim to do just that. After spending some time with the Switch version of the game, I think solo developer Loren Lemcke’s aim ended up being mostly on.

“Super Blood Hockey” is an evolution (and devolution) of NES “Ice Hockey”

Earlier in this series, we looked at the NES classic “Ice Hockey,” which originally released around 1988. Thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s SNES emulator (available with Switch Online), you can toggle between “Ice Hockey” and “Super Blood Hockey” on the same device.

Of course, it really might come down to letting your kids play “Ice Hockey,” but not “Super Blood Hockey.”

On one hand, SBH carries a lot of the same spirit of that Nintendo classic. There are “fat, skinny, normal” players, with the skinnier being more elusive, and the “fat” being tougher to knock off the puck than vintage Eric Lindros. Much like “Ice Hockey,” “Super Blood Hockey” only involves four skaters and a goalie, rather than the NHL standard.

Fights definitely play a role in the game, as much like in classic titles, the team that wins a fight — actually a wild line brawl — goes up one player. In fact, as I learned earlier today in researching the game a bit more, you can also go up four skaters to one.

A meaty and gory franchise mode

The not-so-family friendly stuff boils down to the gore, and the dark gallows humor of the franchise mode.

Rather than a dry GM mode setup such as games like “NHL 20,” you begin the “Super Blood Hockey” version by … giving up a kidney to afford your team?

Super Blood Hockey screen kidney
via Super Blood Hockey

When you lose a fight, you don’t just essentially go on the penalty kill. You also risk being “down a man” in a dark way. Like, say, losing your best player “Ryan Bretzel.”

Super Blood Hockey poor Bretzel
via Super Blood Hockey

The game’s lack of an NHL or NHLPA license means that you get some fun names (Adam “Pates,” huh?) and the game can go down some literal dark alleys with drug use.

 

When it comes to the humor, your results will vary. As someone who worries that players might be put at risk to return to play, there’s some catharsis in the satire of “Super Blood Hockey,” though. The tone generally works for me, possibly thanks to the throwback pixel art.

Super Blood Hockey discard
Players are inmates in this dark franchise mode. (via Super Blood Hockey)

In a May 2019 interview with Nintendojo, “Super Blood Hockey” developer Loren Lemcke explained the tone of the game:

The omnipresent evil of profit-motive haunts the US Healthcare system and poisons our compassion by injecting into us the necessary machinery to dehumanize others. One doesn’t have to dig very deep to discover a terrifying crypt of nightmarish and surreal ordeals inflicted upon the sick and dying in the name of profit. Super Blood Hockey is a mere cartoonish effigy of the very real kafkaesque horrors levied upon the poor.

(How many other sports video game franchise modes inspire use of the term “kafkaesque?” OK, beyond the microtransactions in the NBA2K series.)

Ultimately, “Super Blood Hockey” follows its retro roots as being a fairly stripped-down game. You won’t play 20+ seasons in this franchise mode, seeing Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes retire along the way.

Yet there’s a lot to like. I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes when I tell my little pixely players to rest vs. hit the gym, but it’s fun to tweak their stats.

An impressive effort could be just a bit better with more resources

If you follow indie video games, you realize that small teams, sometimes basically one person, can sometimes will a game into existence. Sometimes that comes down to making the types of games that don’t get made any longer.

People craved another “Harvest Moon” game, so largely solo developer Eric Barone accomplished his own take on the series with “Stardew Valley.” That game became a smash hit, and Lemcke’s enjoyed his own success while making “Super Blood Hockey” an evolution and devolution of NES “Ice Hockey.”

Now, sure, there are beefs.

Above all else, it would be wonderful to be able to play games online. What better way to keep in touch with friends than to take advantage of their teams being down 4-on-2 thanks to lost fights?

And, while I’d argue that the game plays well, there can be some maddening moments. Sometimes it’s just flat-out frustrating trying to score against Pong-inspired goalies.

SBH stats
Bretzel’s sacrifice? Yeah, kind of in vain. (via Super Blood Hockey)

But with a fantastic retro soundtrack and look, and some fun gameplay, “Super Blood Hockey” could be a nice fit for those wanting an old-school hockey game. It’s often pretty cheap and on many platforms, from the Nintendo Switch to PC, to XBox One and Playstation 4.

As far as what’s next for Lemcke, well, I might need to check out his other project. If you’re of a certain age, you also have fond memories of the “Rampage” arcade games. It looks like Lemcke shared such memories, because check out “Terror of Hemasaurus.”

That looks like it might be worthy of its own movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to be honest.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Roundtable: Best hub cities for NHL’s Return to Play

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Which two potential hub cities would be the best options for the NHL?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m going to rule out Canadian cities because … frankly, Canada is (broadly speaking) taking a more cautious approach. That’s positive for the greater good, but not those who want to hand out a 2020 Stanley Cup. That said, if the NHL was willing to comply with 14-day quarantines and the like, that would be a different ballgame.

But I’ll go with two cities in the U.S. to try to be more realistic.

My choices:
• Las Vegas, NV
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Look, you’re not going to find “perfect” options. But, after looking at the CDC’s listings for states/jurisdictions with the least and most infections, Nevada and Minnesota seem like decent bets. Of course, a lot can change in a few weeks, which is the timeline Gary Bettman discussed while pondering potential “hub cities.”

Personally, I’d be weighing safety far and away more than other factors, which is why I leaned (tentatively or not) toward Las Vegas and Minneapolis/St. Paul. In all honesty, the low infection rates of places like North Dakota make me wonder if ND really does rank among the best options. But oh well?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably repeat it some more: the NHL’s going to really need to show some finesse in threading the needle of actually pulling this off.

[Decision on NHL Return to Play hub cities weeks away]

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I agree with James on the Canadian options. Given the current government mandates, if the NHL wants these two hub cities decided on in the next few weeks, I can’t see Edmonton, Vancouver or Toronto having the time to appease the league’s desires.

The one clear front-runner is Vegas, for obvious reasons. Hotel capacity, transportation, rinks, low COVID-19 case rates. The Nevada summer heat is one worry I have, which will give Dan Craig and his team plenty of work to do to ensure the sheets are up-to-par.

Columbus or Pittsburgh would make sense if you want that East/West mix for TV. If the schedule is going to be something similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, the Columbus/Pittsburgh side would start their games at noon ET and we’d have hockey all day with the Vegas games ending the night.

Both have key factors in their corner: multiple ice sheets, hotel proximity, and have been flattening the curve when it comes to COVID-19 cases.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: From the outside, it would seem the top considerations for hub city destinations are the COVID-19 conditions, and whether the infrastructure is sufficient to execute a tournament of this scope. The former is a variable that involves expert opinion and decision making, so I won’t attempt to weigh the cities based on that. The latter is something the league had time to evaluate before it announced the 10 candidates, so one would assume that all the “finalists” meet whatever minimum standard is required to host.

My initial thought from the very beginning was that Las Vegas should be a lock, and the details of what that might look like were described in a recent report from The Athletic. Vegas seems uniquely equipped to create the most controlled environment for these purposes. That’s got my first vote.

With that in mind, my second hub city choice is Pittsburgh, for a few reasons:

First, geographical balance is important considering that, at least at the very beginning, there figure to be several games per day across the two sites. This Olympic-style format would work best on TV if there were staggered start times to accommodate audiences in every time zone. That rules out Los Angeles and Vancouver.

Second, it’s unclear to what extent the US-Canada border situation will influence the final decision, but given where things stand at this exact moment, it seems more practical to have both sites in the US. That rules out Edmonton and Toronto.

That leaves Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh. I’ve got no good reason for picking Pittsburgh except: why not give a carrot to the team that has to go up against Carey Price (who was the overwhelming choice for best goalie in this year’s NHLPA Player Poll) and the Montreal Canadiens (who effectively had a zero percent chance of making the playoffs when the season paused)?

There you have it. Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. The Marc-Andre Fleury bowl.

MORE:
NHL announces return-to-play plans
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

Russia hires Bragin as men’s national hockey team coach

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia hired Valery Bragin as coach of the men’s national hockey team on Friday as it gears up to defend its Olympic title in 2022.

Bragin moves up from his longtime role in charge of the Russian under-20 team, which he led to the silver medal at this year’s world junior championships.

The Russian Hockey Federation didn’t say for how long Bragin’s contract runs. Bragin said his main aim was to prepare the team for next year’s world championships with a focus on players from outside the NHL.

Bragin replaces former Toronto Maple Leafs player Alexei Kudashov, who moves into a consultant role with the national team after 11 months as head coach.

Bragin also takes over from Kudashov as head coach of club team SKA St. Petersburg, whose operations are tightly intertwined with those of the national team. Roman Rotenberg is the general manager for both teams and holds vice president roles in both the club and the federation.

Rotenberg said in a statement that Kudashov “cannot currently put his full focus on coaching work.” He did not elaborate further.

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Igor Larionov replaces Bragin in charge of the junior team.

Russia’s players won the men’s hockey gold medal at the 2018 Olympics under the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” name after the country was officially barred from the games for doping offenses.