Hockey Outdoors: More Challenges Than the Cold

With the game-time temperature hovering just a degree or two above freezing and light snow falling, NBC Sports proved up to the challenge of carrying the first outdoor pro hockey match on U.S. soil.

The NHL Winter Classic, held New Year's Day afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium outside of Buffalo, N.Y., earned a 2.6 over night Nielsen rating, the best earned by an NHL regular season match in more than 10 years.

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres in a 2–1 shootout win in front of a sold-out audience of more than 71,000.

NBC Producer Sam Flood was in charge of the coverage. He spoke recently with Television Broadcast Editor-in-Chief Deborah D. McAdams. The full Q&A appears in the January issue of Television Broadcast.

TVB:Hockey is notoriously fast and difficult to follow even inside a small arena. Was it even more difficult to keep the cameras on the puck outside?
Flood: It was pretty much the same; just the lighting... just dealing with the snow changed it.
In the truck, you had to keep on top of the fact that the elements changed the game of hockey, wide shots showed the snow halo effect.
We had the airplane shooting form the above. Signals from the airplane were lost in third period, because the cloud ceiling was too low from the snow.

You had a complement of 28 cameras — more than two per player on the ice. Why so many, and did you use footage from all of them?
Flood Yes. Three were inside the studio set and the rest were all used for coverage.
NBC had cameras isolating coaches and players, handhelds at corners, handhelds at center ice, and high in the stadium in case the plane went out, which it did.

What contingencies were made for weather?
Flood We couldn't have asked for a better script. They had to scrape the ice at every 10-minute period, but we had stuff to drop in there.
We also moved the talent 15 feet from floor of the arena, on a platform. We wanted them to be participants on the scene.
All equipment they were using had to be protected, so the monitors were put under the desks. They had to duck their heads underneath the desk to see replays.