ESPN’s Buccigross will play to passionate audience
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.”