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WINTER OLYMPICS

Puck and cover: MSNBC becomes the place for Olympic hockey

The cable network will air the much anticipated U.S.-Canada men's matchup live in prime time.

February 20, 2010|By Phil Rosenthal

Normally billed as "The Place for Politics," MSNBC on Sunday night will be the place for Olympic hockey. Live coverage of the much anticipated United States-Canada men's matchup will run there in prime time, rather than on corporate cousin NBC.

That may not seem politically correct to some sports fans, especially when it's ice dancing, speedskating, skiing and bobsled getting the marquee exposure on the big broadcast network instead.

The NBC decision is a play in peak viewing hours for the largest possible audience, which would include marginal sports fans and women, and it's rooted in the expectation that those interested in Patrick Kane and Team USA challenging Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews of Team Canada will make the effort to go to whatever channel necessary to see the game.

But Christopher McCloskey, an NBC Universal Sports and Olympics vice president, said one benefit of putting the hockey game on MSNBC is that it can run there without being cut into segments to accommodate other sports, as NBC customarily does in prime time to cover as much ground and as many viewer interests as possible.

"The incorporation of cable platforms into Olympic programming allows for the avid sport fan to watch games the way they are used to watching them -- with long-form coverage," McCloskey said.

MSNBC plans a 40-minute pregame show Sunday, which will begin at 4 p.m. PST. Being on cable also ensures the game will be seen live coast to coast.

Within the host nation, the TV appeal of the hockey rivalry is more palpable and demonstrable than south of its border. Yet had Olympics organizers not scheduled the U.S.-Canada game for prime time in eastern time zones, NBC well might have picked it up. Earlier Sunday, the broadcast network plans to air Jaromir Jagr's Czech Republic against Alexander Ovechkin's Russia.

philrosenthal@tribune.com

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