When my son was eight in 2013, we took him to his first Blue Jackets game at Nationwide Area. The arena was beautiful, and I remember all the new sights, smells, and sounds. We could feel the cold air as we rushed up the stairs, past the escalator, and peered over the gleaming ice. Up close, the players were tough and captivating. We rode that joy ride and financially splurged on quarterly season tickets the next year. After a season of endless thrown pizza boxes, some strange third period country hockey song, and catapulted T-shirts that never quite reached our section, we politely asked the CBJ ticket office to stop calling us for STH renewal. We still loved the Blue Jackets and the quality of the experience hadn’t changed. Although we mainly lacked the time to spend downtown that frequently, like a worn-out recording of a favorite song, the novelty was gone.
This article will review the Blue Jackets broadcast experience, the presentation of which has changed a little since moving to Bally Sports Network. If you only care about CF% and GAAs, then this discussion won’t be for you. Plus, it’s nice to take reprieve from analyzing actual Blue Jackets hockey since, well, it’s not good. In my house, we exchange lots of jabs and quips over the announcers, commentary, commercials and graphics, but to be fair, there’s both praise and constructive critique needed.
Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre has been a welcome addition to the Brian Giesenschlag Show. It took a few games to get comfortable, but he offers unique expert insight not just as a former NHL player, but former Blue Jacket. He provides overall, big picture perspectives without getting lost in the X’s and O’s. Giesenschlag has obviously found his niche, given that he has similar roles for both the Blue Jackets and Reds. How did that happen? All I know is I want him or his agent to come renegotiate my contract when it’s time. He’s there to extract and summarize JLPG’s knowledge in a neutral manner, and he does this well.
Jody Shelley and Jeff Rimer provide the game-time commentary, Rimer being play-by-play and Shelley with color commentary. One could argue that Rimer has the toughest job in the entire broadcast, and for that I commend him. I could never keep all those names straight on the fly, and on live TV. He has done a great job, rightfully won many awards, but I do feel it’s time to share duties with someone new (divide home and away games, maybe?). It’s been 16 years with the Blue Jackets. That’s longer than Putin has been president. And lately, errors have become more noticeable.
Jody Shelley is a more polarizing and sensitive topic; he’s affable, down-to-earth, and a fan favorite. However, this season he’s been less discerning. For example, he’s recently called out Patrik Laine for just about everything, but we had to stomach months of his on-air bromance with David Savard, who clearly wasn’t playing well. He has the best job in the world that he wants to keep, but sometimes his outrageously positive statements have no basis in reality. As with Jeff Rimer, perhaps the Blue Jackets could do trials with different color commentators: maybe former players like Scott Hartnell, Jared Boll, Andrew Cassels, etc. to spice things up a little, provide different perspectives, and attract new viewership.
We often listen to the Blue Jackets radiocast with Bob McElligott while driving back from tournaments, and he makes you feel like you’re right there at ice level. He has energy, funny phrases when players score, AND he’s not afraid to offer criticism that is very much on point. Moreover, he has to say “Blue Jackets on the Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets Radio Network” repeatedly without laughing. That’s skill.
The reporters after the game have always been a mystery for me. How does Aaron Portzline always get the first question and why wasn’t he banned after his salacious Brandon Dubinsky headline? I would have sued. Do reporters really need to be in the locker room? That should be sacred space. Are our lives so empty that we need to know what a player thinks IMMEDIATELY, even before he changes his sweaty undergarments? It just feels like an unnecessary invasion of privacy. With all those microphones shoved in their faces, you would have thought the players found the cure to cancer. Why is David Maetzold in the post-game press conference when he obviously irks John Tortorella? I would hope Torts has some say as to who gets repeated access, if not to him, at least to his players.
In addition to post-game coverage, David Maetzold provides pre-game analysis, pre-game on ice interviews, and intermission player interviews. He’s pleasant, energetic, smiles a lot, and very tan. I would like to hear less close-ended, baiting questions though. Players simply agree with him and say “yeah” before rephrasing his leading inquiries. For example…Do you think you guys need to get better on the forecheck? “Yeah.” Are you hoping to carry this energy into the third period? “Yeah”. I actually want to learn the players’ perspectives in interviews. Make the guys think a bit to generate some thoughtful dialogue.
The commercials are entertaining and top quality, but the Blue Jackets need to submit new contracts to the sponsoring companies. I love Nick Foligno, and I enjoyed and laughed the first 50 times I saw his Papa John’s commercials, but sponsors should have to commit to at least 3 commercials for the duration of the season. Enough of Peytonville already. These are big companies; they have the money.
Lastly, I’ve heard a few comments about the Bally Sports Network graphics. I personally feel the information at the bottom is too big and intrusive, but I appreciate the running counter ticker providing other teams’ updates in real time (something Fox Sports did not do). I do miss the CBJ icy crest flying in before the broadcast, but I’ll survive.
Although I’m someone that enjoys change and variety, I recognize there are many people that thrive under routine and consistency. Familiar faces are nice and comforting, and we’ve been fortunate to have talented and entertaining staff on the broadcast. Truth be told, we’d watch every game without sound, graphics, and a walrus sitting there during intermissions simply because we love the Blue Jackets. Although these are luxury issues to debate, sometimes a change in format or personalities thwarts staleness and peaks curiosity, especially in down years like this one.
Which parts of the broadcast do you like or dislike? Let us know in the comments.