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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co. , Published December 12 2012

NHL lockout helps turn national media attention to college hockey

GRAND FORKS – ESPN’s John Buccigross had enough.

After months of bickering between the NHL and the NHLPA, he decided it’s time to move on.

“It’s almost comical that players and owners, and you the fan,” he wrote last month, “are relying on two men with not one hockey cell in their body to determine your fate. I won’t let that happen with my love of the sport. I’ve moved on to other hockey. I watch, read and follow more college hockey than ever before, which will continue whether or not the lockout ends.”

Buccigross, who has been a big follower of college hockey since covering the 1995 NCAA Frozen Four in Providence, R.I., is one of a handful of national media people who have given the college game an extra spotlight this season.

Buccigross has been consistently posting college hockey info on his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 100,000 NHL fans.

Just this week, he tweeted a link to a video of Danny Kristo’s near highlight goal against Denver, saying “Danny Kristo might have the sauciest paws in the nation.” He’s been tweeting injury updates about UND’s Friday night opponent, Michigan Tech, this week as well.

“The players are so good today,” Buccigross told the Grand Forks Herald. “Like the NHL, the elevation of skill since that 1995 Frozen Four is mind boggling. The skating and skill is off the charts. I just wish the nets were bigger because we would get much more ‘payoff’ from these amazing moves.”

On the television end of things, NBC Sports has sent its No. 1 NHL broadcasting duo of Doc Emrick and Pierre McGuire to call college hockey games.

Both broadcasters also have some college background.

Emrick used to call games for CSTV. He called Dave Hakstol’s first game as head coach – a 4-3 UND win at Maine thanks to an overtime penalty shot goal by future NHLer Drew Stafford.

McGuire has closely followed college hockey and has been a key contributor to World Junior Championship and NHL Draft broadcasts in the past.

“I love the passion, spirit and speed in college hockey,” said McGuire, the former Hartford Whalers coach whose father grew up in Grand Forks. “It’s phenomenal. It’s getting better and better all the time. I’ve been able to see students prepare for games, the intensity of practices and how they carry themselves. They should feel good about the future of the game. It’s an exciting time.”

College Hockey Inc.’s Nate Ewell has worked with both broadcasters, helping them prepare for games.

“Their enthusiasm has been outstanding, and you can tell in their broadcasts how much homework they put into it,” Ewell said. “They want to make sure, in lieu of the NHL, they are providing NHL quality coverage. I think they’ve done that so far.

“I think it’s a nice treat for college fans to hear how much these guys care about the college game.”

NBC also has put NHL commentators Dave Strader (the network’s No. 2 guy behind Emrick) and Brian Engblom on games this season, while the in-the-studio hosts have been the regulars, Keith Jones and Mike Milbury (both played college hockey – Jones at Western Michigan and Milbury at Colgate).

Even if the NHL lockout ends, expect some of the coverage to stay, Buccigross says.

“I was going to amp up my early season coverage anyway,” Buccigross said. “The lockout has been a blessing for me in that regard. College hockey has gotten my fullest attention.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald