As the Bruins schedule on NESN melts away — collateral damage of the ongoing NHL lockout — the network has done a nice job hustling to provide viewers a hockey fix , especially with the re-airings of broadcasts from the 2011 Stanley Cup run.
But while Bruins fans pine for the return of real live hockey games (where have you gone, Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley?), it surely won’t go unnoticed that the network has added a rather familiar hockey name.
NESN announced Thursday that it has hired Leah Hextall as an anchor/reporter, and if that last name rings a bell, well, it should if you have any hockey bona fides whatsoever. Her grandfather is Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall Sr., and her cousin is Ron Hextall, a noted Bruins rival during his time as a feisty Philadelphia Flyers goaltender in the 1980s.
Hextall, who comes to NESN from CTV (Canada’s most-watched network), where she worked since 2005, has a wider view of sports than the one from the rink. She hosted her own sports radio program on which she interviewed amateur athletes and occasionally filled in on “SportsCentre’’ on TSN, Canada’s equivalent to ESPN.
“Not only is Leah an energetic personality on the air, but her well-rounded sports knowledge will allow her to take on many different assignments here at NESN,’’ said Joseph Maar, NESN’s vice president of programming and production/executive producer, in a statement.
Hextall is the third recent hire by NESN. Jamie Erdahl (FoxSports Midwest) and Adam Pellerin (Fox 25) were hired in late October as anchor/reporters, and should debut on the air shortly.
While the natural suspicion is to wonder whether the arrivals indicate that there are departures on the way, NESN is actually filling spots that have been vacated for a while, including those left by Randy Scott, who went to ESPN in June, and Dara McIntosh.
It’s also an opportunity for Maar, who came to NESN in July to fill the job left open by Joel Feld’s departure more than a year earlier, to put his stamp on some of the on-air personnel.
No voice in the matter
Other than the occasional thinly veiled gripe or brief explanation to a caller, John Dennis and Gerry Callahan of WEEI’s morning program have been quiet about the ban implemented by Entercom Boston management on discussing politics. But being silenced during the buildup to Tuesday’s election was apparently too much to bear.
On election eve, Dennis went on a Twitter binge, retweeting dozens of comments from followers and presumed listeners who wanted to know why they couldn’t discuss politics. (Sample tweet: “@Celticsfan06: wow I’m not saying your show should be switch to political stuff but cmon we need u guys screaming!”)
In one sense, their frustration is understandable. The election is of course the ultimate water-cooler topic, something that for at least one day supersedes even the most obsessed sports fan’s interest in games. What radio host wouldn’t want to talk about it?
But what Dennis and Callahan will never acknowledge is that the ban is of their own doing. When they did talk politics, it often came at the expense of discussing relevant sports topics, went on far too long, and was patronizingly partisan. Sports discussion too often felt like an afterthought.
The result was alienated fans, some of whom found an alternative when one came to the market. Any attempt to make it seem as if the ban on political talk has some effect on their inability to overcome The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” in the ratings is disingenuous at best.
Durham was a pro
Terribly sad to hear of the passing of Jim Durham, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice on the NBA since 1996, and one of the true greats in the business. Durham, who died at 65 over the weekend at his home in Tomball, Texas, may not have had the high profile of Marv Albert or Mike Breen, but even if you didn’t recognize his face, you surely recognized his voice. Durham, who was honored with the Curt Gowdy Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, also worked for CBS, NBC, and Turner Sports during his career . . . The Battle of the Midway college basketball game between Syracuse and San Diego State airs Sunday at 4 p.m. on NESNplus. The game, played on the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Midway, was scheduled on NESN Friday but was rescheduled because of the high probability of wind and rain. NESN is airing Boston College-Boston University hockey at 5 p.m. Sunday.