ESPN’s Buc­ci­gross will play to pas­sion­ate au­di­ence

The Buffalo News - - WEATHER - By Alan Perga­ment

John Buc­ci­gross knows the Frozen Four isn’t ex­actly must-see TV across Amer­ica.

ESPN’s play-by-play man work­ing Thurs­day night’s semi­fi­nals in KeyBank Cen­ter com­pares the pop­u­lar­ity of col­lege hockey to that of mu­sic bands be­fore they be­come pop­u­lar.

“I was a huge R.E.M. fan at a young age when they were a very small band be­fore ‘The One I Love,’” Buc­ci­gross said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “They grew to be a world­wide phe­nom­e­non. To me, they will al­ways be that lit­tle band that I knew be­fore any­body else did. So, I kind of look at col­lege hockey like punk rock … it is small au­di­ence, but it is a pas­sion­ate and in­ti­mate au­di­ence and they are re­ally into it.”

Buc­ci­gross plans to be into call­ing games be­tween Den­ver and UMass and Min­nesota-Du­luth and Prov­i­dence tonight.

He doesn’t change his ap­proach be­cause col­lege hockey doesn’t have the view­er­ship of other sports.

“I don’t,” said Buc­ci­gross, who will be call­ing his sev­enth Frozen Four along­side an­a­lyst Barry Mel­rose. “You walk that fine line be­tween want­ing to re­spect the hard­core fans, es­pe­cially the hard­core school fans, who cer­tainly know his or her team. So, you don’t want to be too pa­tron­iz­ing. You also want to in­form the ca­sual hockey fan or even the alumni who ob­vi­ously haven’t been fol­low­ing all year but is now tuned in be­cause his or her alma mater is on tele­vi­sion.

“For the most part, I like to treat it as a hockey game and I want to call a game so when the fam­ily and friends of the play­ers watch, they like the broad­cast. So that’s the au­di­ence I play to — the play­ers, the fam­ily mem­bers and the friends who are watch­ing. I say ev­ery­body’s name, I work very hard to say ev­ery­body’s name. I want to re­spect the ath­letes.”

He does feel some self-en­forced pres­sure.

“I don’t want to miss a goal call,” he said. “For some of these kids, it will be the big­gest goal they’ve ever scored in their life. It will be the big­gest game they ever scored in their life.”

He un­der­stands why col­lege hockey isn’t a big TV draw.

“We only have so much time to puck in the stands and a col­lege player com­mit­ting a penalty will serve his time even if the op­pos­ing team scores on a de­layed penalty call.

“I like that, es­pe­cially for an el­bow or a vi­o­lent penalty,” Buc­ci­gross said. “The player should still serve time for the in­frac­tion. Why should a goal ab­solve him of his sins?”

Buc­ci­gross, who does ex­ten­sive home­work that in­cludes watch­ing re­plays of games on his iPhone on the ESPN+ app, pro­vided a scout­ing report of play­ers to watch. He said there are prob­a­bly 20 or 30 play­ers who will play in a NHL game.

Tops on the list is de­fense­man Cale Makar of UMass, who was picked fourth over­all by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2017 NHL draft. Buc­ci­gross said there is spec­u­la­tion that he could join the Avalanche for the play­offs right af­ter the Frozen Four.

“He would step right into their lineup,” Buc­ci­gross said. “He could have played in the NHL this year. He is the star of col­lege hockey this year.”

Buc­ci­gross sees Den­ver goalie Filip Lar­son, a sixth-round draft choice of the Detroit Red Wings in 2016, as an­other po­ten­tial NHL player.

He also ex­pects Min­neso­taDu­luth de­fense­men Scott Perunovich and Dy­lan Sam­berg to make it in the NHL.

“This is the year of the de­fense­man in col­lege hockey,” said Buc­ci­gross. “It is a de­fen­sive-minded sea­son, a de­fen­sive-minded Frozen Four. There are no real su­per­star for­wards like we’ve had in the past.”

Buc­ci­gross saw his first Frozen Four when he worked at a Prov­i­dence TV sta­tion be­fore join­ing ESPN in 1996, was im­me­di­ately hooked.

“It is a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent hockey ex­pe­ri­ence than an NHL game,” he said. “It is a dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere with bands, all of these dif­fer­ent hockey sweaters. If you are a hockey fan, I re­ally think if you’ve never been to one be­fore I would def­i­nitely take it in for the same rea­son you go on a sight­see­ing tour on va­ca­tion.

“To see some­thing and ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing you haven’t had be­fore. I would do it if you were a sports fan, but cer­tainly if you’re a hockey fan I would give it a shot.”

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