NHL playoff hockey is back, but it looks and sounds a lot different than what audiences are accustomed to.
COVID-19 restrictions and strict protocols at Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton has shut fans out of action in the hub city bubble. Oilers insiders have also been forced to call the shots from outside the rink.
630 CHED’s Oilers Radio Network’s play-by-play announcer Jack Michaels and colour analyst Bob Stauffer called their first game from their makeshift studio out of the CHED building in south Edmonton.
“It felt kind of normal,” Michaels told Global News after settling into the first period of the Oilers versus Flames exhibition game Tuesday night.
“After a while, a hockey game is a hockey game.”
Michaels and Stauffer haven’t called a game together since the NHL paused the league back in March due to the pandemic. However, after a decade of working together, the duo quickly found their stride.
“I grew up doing play-by-play off the television as a kid,” Stauffer said. “This is what I wanted to do.”
The radio announcers watch multiple screens as they deliver the plays in a two-dimensional format.
It took weeks for the engineers and staff at 630 CHED to make sure the multiple audio and video feeds were synced.
Syd Smith, program director at 630 CHED, said from the get-go, the radio station went on the assumption that the announcers may not have live-viewing access.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to getting it on the air,” Smith said.
That included coordinating with the NHL and Oilers to access every available feed and setting up a virtual studio all the while keeping six feet apart.
“This just kind of adds a few extra layers to what would have been a cumbersome process in the first place,” added Smith.
The one challenge Michaels and Stauffer discovered during the exhibition game was not being able to feed off the energy of the fans.
“We’re going to have to take that atmosphere on the ice and try to pump it out to our audience,” Michaels said.
Stauffer noted in the arena you might be able to see a play develop further back — but he said over the years he has learned to anticipate the play and to make the best of every scenario.
He said listener feedback indicated that audiences couldn’t tell their broadcast booth was on the south side of the river.
Inside Rogers Place or out, both men said being back over the airwaves and having the Oilers in the playoffs has been worth the wait.
“This is what Bob and I do. This is what we love to do, ” Michaels said. “Quite frankly, he won’t admit it, but I will — we don’t know how to do anything else. So this is fantastic.”