Wayne Gretzky and TNT are ready for the final series of the junior season

One of the few disappointments Wayne Gretzky faced in his first year as a studio analyst for Turner Sports came on January 1, when he and the rest of the team watched the Winter Classic from a cozy studio in Atlanta instead of a cold soccer field in Minnesota.

“I missed that,” said Gretzky. the athlete Back in February. “Being able to really be at the biggest events, having a committee on those events, that’s what I really imagine as something I think we need more of. I understand, but it was still disappointing.”

That sentiment was one reason Gretzky made a cameo booth for the Heritage Classic in Hamilton while the rest of the committee was still in Atlanta, and on Tuesday, he happily sent out a media conference call from Denver, where the TNT committee will be. On-site for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the series will follow between Avalanche And the Edmonton Oilers Personally.

“Last season – partly because of the pandemic, partly because of problems with borders – everyone made the decision to sort of stay home,” Gretzky said on Tuesday. “So it kind of gives us a seal that people who are already watching us on TV will be able to see us live and so you know, when you’re alive (and) when you feel the air, and you can hear the atmosphere and you can hear the loud noise and the cheering of the crowd, obviously the energy level positive “.

It will also be an exclamation point in the junior season for TNT as the national carrier of the United States. ESPN, which owns the national television package “A,” will broadcast the Stanley Cup Final, with Turner taking the championship series in 2023.

It’s worth noting that TNT ended up with the Western Conference Final because ESPN had a choice of which series to air before the Stanley Cup Final. The fact that the Western Final was guaranteed to have a Canadian market, and the fact that Notice They were likely heading to the Eastern Final which made it a very quick decision from ESPN’s viewing perspective.

By most accounts, Turner’s presence is a success for the league in the United States.

Both Turner’s and ESPN’s ratings exceeded expectations, and the first round was the most-watched cable first round in league history. This included an average of 2.3 million viewers for Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh penguins on TNT, which was the most-watched Stanley Cup Final on cable since 2018.

Ratings for the second round are expected to be released on Wednesday, according to Turner PR.

The TNT panel, which is hosted by Liam McHugh and includes Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter and Rick Tocchet, along with Gretzky, has been well received by staff across the league, including one of the team’s executives who recently remarked that for the first time in their tenure . To hear what was said on US broadcasts during a break.

Gretzky’s level of comfort and candor was particularly notable; This season, there were concerns, even for Gretsky himself, that he would be too stiff or uncomfortable on TV. Overcoming this hurdle early was key to Gretzky, who gave plenty of credit to both Tocchet and Bissonnette for disarming some of these fears with early pranks – while the 99th is untouchable and retired throughout the league, Gretzky hasn’t been immune. than being a joke.

“That was the biggest thing we talked about before we even started our first show,” Gretzky said. “If this is going to work, you know you can’t fake it.”

Earlier this season, McHugh said the athlete That allowing him to crack jokes on Gretzky’s account made any other nerves in his new role go away, and after years at NBC, which had a stricter studio format, McHugh was able to be more realistic when the camera was on.

“We don’t have to be two different people on and off camera,” McHugh said. “That’s great for how this group builds that chemistry right away.”

The other thing Turner did with her board, and her hockey coverage in general, was to count on consistent pairs more than ESPN did with her coverage of the sport. Turner picked roles to cover the hockey game and stuck with them and allowed the board to tweak as a group, while in-game roles were also assigned without much juggling.

ESPN’s coverage was more of a jumble of roles, with some on-air voices going from playing a game to the studio and back again during the playoffs. Part of this is by design – ESPN acknowledged early on that it would be flexible in assigning roles, which is also a side effect of ESPN staying at home for play-by-play roles.

On the other hand, Turner hired two outsiders to play by play before the season started – Kenny Albert and Brendan Burke – and then hired team announcers in the playoffs when the schedule required more play votes. It was an approach that resulted in a stronger on-air product early in the playoffs, as Turner carried a cast of stage voices who were typical hockey announcers rather than just hockey-playing announcers.

As for Gretzky, he will enjoy being near the Albert Series in both Denver and Edmonton as part of the plate, which was close enough after he got a taste of in-game analysis during the outdoor match with the Veterans. Ulchik, Darren Bang and Keith Jones.

“Their jobs are safe,” Gretzky joked. “Those three guys, they do, work harder than we do on that committee. Believe me.”

(Photo by Keith Jones and Wayne Gretzky at the 2022 NHL Heritage Classic: Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)