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NHL Puck Drop 2021: ESPN Director Doug Holmes and Producer Jeff Dufine on What To Expect From the Reimagined NHL on ESPN


NHL Puck Drop 2021: ESPN Director Doug Holmes and Producer Jeff Dufine on What To Expect From the Reimagined NHL on ESPN The NHL vet and rookie are at the front bench for the league's return after 17 years By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Tuesday, October 12, 2021 - 4:29 pm

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When the NHL returns to ESPN tonight for the first time since 2004, fans will be greeted with a mix of nostalgia for the iconic NHL on ESPN coverage of yesteryear and new beginnings that go along with the launch of a new sports-broadcast era. It's fitting that the same will be true of the duo at the front bench producing ESPN's NHL coverage - one an NHL on ESPN veteran and one a rookie.

(Photo: Kelly Backus/ESPN Images)

Doug Holmes is back in the director's chair, having helmed NHL on ESPN broadcasts for more than two decades, from 1992 until the NHL rights package departed in 2004. Producer Jeff Dufine, on the other hand, will be making his NHL debut after overseeing ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball and Saturday Primetime College Basketball in recent years alongside Holmes.

Having spent the bulk of the past five years side by side on these properties, Holmes and Dufine now embark on a new chapter - for their partnership, for ESPN, and for the game of hockey in the U.S. SVG sat down with the pair to discuss their production strategy heading into the season, what new technologies and tools we can expect, and how much it means to the largely hockey-mad ESPN workforce to have the NHL back in-house.

Can you provide a sneak peek at some of the new cameras we'll be seeing for NHL coverage in ESPN's broadcasts?

Holmes: First off, aside from cameras, you're going to see more-aggressive cutting of the game. In hockey, there are a lot of purists that don't like to see much cutting, but one of our main goals is to speed up the game, and [aggressive cutting] is one way to do that.

Also, everyone talks about how great hockey is in person and why is it so different on television? Well, we want to get [viewers] closer to the ice because the energy is completely different when you get close to the ice. Those are two of our goals, philosophy-wise: to get close to the ice often and speed up the feel of the game. Not to the point of losing documentation, but to do it as much as we can and get as much energy in the games we possibly can.

The biggest thing is, you're going to see a camera on the ice, which is really exciting. There has been a camera on the ice for a long time, but it's almost exclusively just used for pregames. We're looking into different ways to exploit that camera and get more access on the ice throughout a game as opposed to just pregame ceremonies. We wouldn't have it [on the ice] during action, obviously, but we're hoping to have it during longer [stoppages in play], coming out of commercial breaks, intermissions, and things of that nature.

We are also playing around with a SupraCam. [Wired aerial cameras] are not necessarily new for NHL [coverage], but we've got some ideas in terms of how it can be used to get closer to the ice. That is something that we think can make a difference in how you see the game. One of the biggest problems we're always trying to solve in hockey is how to get the game camera closer. The near boards are a major blockage, so we want to get around that as best we can, and we think [SupraCam] is a great tool for that.

We also did a ton of innovation back when [we had the NHL], especially with robotics, and that's definitely going to continue. Robotics are counted on more than ever - especially for super-mos and all the new positions that have been created. So we're continuing to push forward on that front, and we will have a new robotic position on the reverse side in between the benches that will be on a lot of games.

And what about on the audio side of things? Will players and coaches be miked in the game, and what other strategies are you taking to boost the audio experience for viewers?

Dufine: When we say we're going to bring the viewer closer, it's not just about the video; it's about the audio as well. The league in the past has been understandably proactive with providing access to the players, and it's a great way to show their stars off. The league has been pretty receptive about [miking players]. Right now, our plan is to have at least one player miked as often as possible. We do have to go to each team and request a certain player and have them sign off on it, so obviously it's a process. But we plan to have a player miked for both of our games on Tuesday night. It's not something that we may do every game, but it's something that we're hoping to do as much as possible.

We will also have a pregame interview with an IFB for a particular player during the pre-skate that takes place about 15 minutes before we come on the air. That could be something really cool because you've never seen that kind of access before. It will obviously have to be rolled in whether it's in a pregame show or in the open to the game, but it's something that you very rarely see. So that's exciting.

We will also have access to the locker room on some games for the coach's pregame speech. We want to take the viewer somewhere that they very rarely go, and we think more access to the players and coaches is how to do that.

Holmes: We're also putting a lot of emphasis on getting more ice effects. We want to hear a lot more of the action on the ice - while being safe relative to profanity and whatnot. We're going to try to enhance the audio perspective at every game that we do. So, when we do take certain cameras or roll certain replays, you're going to be able to hear things like you've never heard them before.

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