Kenny Albert and Eddie Olczyk are veterans when it comes to calling outdoor games. Yet, the Winter Classic still resonates for them as one of the biggest games of the season.
“I certainly wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I would never even consider turning down the assignment because it’s so much fun,” said Albert, who will call the NHL game Monday at Fenway Park between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
This will be the fifth time Albert has worked the Winter Classic, but only his second on television. Olczyk has been the television analyst for most of the Winter Classics since the event started in 2008.
Monday marks the second time TNT will carry the Winter Classic after it took over rights from NBC.
Last year's game in Minneapolis between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues showed that the outdoor games can pose stiff challenges. The temperature was minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 21 Celsius) at the opening faceoff. Albert tried to keep the windows open during the first period, but they closed them midway through because of the frigid temperatures. Things didn’t get much better when the windows were closed.
“I think most of the time, all of us like keeping the windows open just to feel the atmosphere,” said Albert, who has called 11 outdoor games. “Last year, you start having trouble formulating words when it is that cold, and you have the headsets on but your face is freezing. So we decided to close the windows midway through the first period. But then we ran into an issue (of) it started fogging up. So at that point, we were having trouble seeing the players on the ice, so we had to open the windows back up.
“So there are definitely elements involved during these outdoor games that you don’t run into when when calling jams indoors, but it really never gets old calling games and iconic venues."
Olczyk has been part of 14 Winter Classics, including the first one in Buffalo 15 years ago when the Penguins defeated the Sabres in a shootout. The snowglobe-like setting and high ratings on NBC showed the league and networks that an outdoor game to ring in the new year was a hit.
“People were just captivated, you couldn't have asked for any better setting. Everything that the league and at the time NBC dreamed about came to fruition,” Olczyk said. “The game got so much momentum that everybody wanted to be a part of it. Who would have ever thought going down to the Cotton Bowl (where the 2020 game was held) and have a game between Dallas and Nashville.”
While some of the broadcast positions have been very close to the action — announcers for the games in Buffalo and at Notre Dame Stadium were near ice level — or extremely far away — like Minnesota last year — this year's setting at Fenway Park could be the closest that a crew could get to calling a game if it was indoors. Albert and Olczyk will be positioned in a suite along the first-base line at the home of the Red Sox.
While Fenway Park and the Green Monster will receive plenty of the attention, the game carries importance in the standings. Boston has a league-leading 60 points while Pittsburgh features Crosby, who will be playing in his sixth outdoor game.
“It is a game and there are two points on the line, but from a broadcast point of view, it’s about the event,” Olczyk said. “It’s fun to be in a different type of setting than we normally are on a night in, night out basis.”
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