How Sean McDonough enjoyed calling NHL games again


Sean McDonough calls the Eastern Conference semi-final series between Rangers and Hurricanes for ESPN. Karl B. DeBlaker/AP Photo

Sean McDonough has called just about every sport and called it well during his outstanding and remarkably versatile broadcast career. But he hadn’t done play-by-play on NHL games in nearly two decades, until ESPN regained broadcast rights this season after a 17-year hiatus and called it this summer for its No. 1 booth.

McDonough said in a Friday chat that it was “incredibly satisfying” to call hockey again, which many New Englanders remember doing to him on NESN for Beanpot and Hockey games. East in the 1980s.

“It’s been as fun as I hoped and expected when I got this assignment,” he said. “Satisfying is the right word.”

But he’s also noticed how much the game has changed since his last call – and in some ways it’s become harder for broadcasters to call.

McDonough’s season isn’t over — he calls the Eastern Conference Semifinals series between the Rangers and Hurricanes, and ESPN has the Stanley Cup Finals this season — but some changes in the game of the NHL since the last time he called him up and the lessons learned over the season are already resonating with him.

“The game is definitely faster, for one thing,” he said. “Before, you could kind of look for a note, or if you weren’t quite sure, ‘Hey, who’s No. 18?’ you could look down for a second.

“If you look down now, the puck went to three different people, or it could even end up in the net. You’re dead, and you look up and say, ‘Uh, what just happened?’ ”

It’s more of a whimsical lament than a serious complaint, but when McDonough has called Bruins games at TD Garden, he sometimes finds himself longing for the vantage point and sightlines that broadcasters had at the old Boston. Garden.

“In the old garden,” he said, “you were close enough with that balcony overhang – it was basically the front row of the balcony where we were located – that you could hear conversations as the players and officials lined up for the face-off. It was perfect.”

In TD Garden, the broadcasters are installed on the ninth floor, while the action takes place on the third level of the building.

“So basically it’s like hanging out of the window of a six-story building to describe something that’s happening on the street or on the sidewalk,” McDonough said. “It can be hard to tell if a puck hit the post or if it hit the goalie’s pad, you know?

“Somebody told me Doc Emrick had a nice line when he wasn’t sure what happened. He said, ‘And it didn’t work.’ So that meant he didn’t go in the net, but you also didn’t commit to saying the guy saved him or hit the post or whatever. didn’t work” gives you time to find out what really happened.

“It’s one thing I’ve learned over the season, that sometimes it’s better not to fully commit to what you think has happened until you actually know it.”

Analysts abound

ESPN introduced its Monday Night Football broadcast team on Monday, and it’s about as familiar as anything new can get.

After 20 years as Fox Sports’ No. 1 team, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman officially made the jump to ESPN in March, signing contracts totaling more than $36 million a year.

The big money Buck and Aikman received to switch networks and bring their established profiles to “Monday Night Football” has been the talk of the industry. . . until March 10, when Fox announced that Tom Brady would join its No. 1 booth when he retired. At the rate of $37.5 million a year, Brady will earn more than Buck and Aikman combined each time he starts.

During their chat with reporters on Monday, the subject quickly turned to future broadcaster Brady.

“It’s not something I thought he might consider doing, but I think he’ll be great,” Aikman said. “I have a great relationship with Tom. Love when we call his games. I even got to know him better since he went to Tampa and played in the NFC. I think it will be fantastic. I think he was an exceptional recruit.

Said Buck, “Would anyone ever bet against the guy who’s good at anything?” He kind of cornered the market in there. But it’s something new, and with new opportunities come new responsibilities. I think it will be a steep learning curve, and I’m sure it will be fantastic.

hard times

Nothing impedes the flow of an NBA TV show more than when a team disputes a call. Challenges and most replays should be banned, and I’ll be running on this platform for Something one day. Only slightly less annoying is the ex-referee the networks keep on hold who pops up to say if the call was okay, and about 98% of the time finds a way to agree with the call or justify why a wrong call was made. The fault is on you, Steve Javie. . . Roger Angell’s elegant baseball essays in The New Yorker, particularly “Agincourt and After” about the 1975 World Series, were one reason I started loving writing as a teenager. But nothing stuck with me like his 2014 track “This Old Man,” a rumination on what stays with you and what gets lost over the years. Angell died Friday at age 101. I know I won’t be the only one revisiting his graceful work over the next few days.


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