So far during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final matchup with the Blackhawks, regulation time has been a rarely heeded suggestion, the first 60 minutes a warmup act for the sudden-death drama of overtime.
Three of the four games have gone to extra time, with the opener requiring three overtimes before it was settled. Only Game 3, a 2-0 Bruins victory, did not provide bonus hockey.
It’s been exhilarating, enthralling, and exhausting.
Or, just Steve Levy’s kind of hockey series.
“With my personal experience, I don’t even start getting excited about a double-overtime classic,’’ laughed Levy, the longtime ESPN “SportsCenter’’ anchor and resident hockey nut. “When you get into a third overtime, now you’ve got my attention.’’
Levy, who will celebrate his 20th year at ESPN in August, was a prominent and well-respected NHL play-by-play voice on the network from 1995-2004. That was when ESPN had the television rights and considerably more interest in the league than it shows now that the games are broadcast on NBC and NBC Sports Network.
It was during that period that Levy got tagged with the nickname “Mr. Overtime,’’ and for good reason: He called the three longest televised playoff games in NHL history. First was a four-overtime matchup between the Penguins and Capitals in April 1996. Four years later, in May 2000, Levy was the voice of a five-overtime thriller between the Penguins and Flyers. Then, in April 2003, he called another five-overtime epic, this one between the Ducks and Stars.
“I just remember, as we went into the third overtime in the first game of this series — an awesome game, great scoring chances — here we are in triple OT, it’s sluggish out there, everybody’s tired, and I’m like, ‘We’re not even close to four overtimes, let alone five overtimes,’ ’’ said Levy. “Looking back on it, it’s amazing how long those games went.”
NBC’s superb play-by-play voice, Mike Emrick, has said his trick for keeping up his energy during the prolonged games is maintaining a stash of peanut butter sandwiches in the broadcast booth. Levy said he got his boost during those marathon games from something just as fundamental as food: fear.
“I always tell people, that’s what kept me going,’’ said Levy, who knows something about long journeys, having commuted from Boston to Bristol, Conn., for 11 years before moving to the Hartford suburbs. “The fear of blowing a call in a triple or a fourth or a fifth overtime, because you know that the call everyone is going to replay over the years.
“At some point you start to lose focus, start running out of words almost, and it’s that fear that keeps you going. You don’t want to get the wrong name on a five-overtime goal.”
Levy, along with sidekick Barry Melrose, does fine work covering the Stanley Cup playoffs for ESPN. But since the network lost the rights, the sport has fallen somewhere down the depth chart as a priority.
“I’d love to have hockey back on ESPN. I miss it a lot,’’ Levy said. “I can tell you there are so many people here, behind the scenes, who really love the sport. I remember the day we lost the rights, it was like someone had lost their dog. People were crying, people were really upset. ESPN remains a huge hockey hotbed — behind the scenes anyway.”
Still, one doesn’t have to be a cynic to recognize that given a choice between offering a little extra time to the Stanley Cup Final or, say, a polarizing lefthanded wannabe quarterback’s third day of minicamp as a Patriot, let’s just say the puck talk is getting dropped while one more Tim Tebow debate will be embraced to the point of suffocation.
“We fight the fight every day — Bucci [John Buccigross], Linda Cohn, myself — and the fight starts at 5 p.m. when we go into those ‘SportsCenter’ meetings for the 11 o’clock show that night,’’ Levy said. “We’ll go around the room and say, ‘OK, what have you got?’ and invariably one of us — and there are others, too — will always try to make a hockey point, try to make sure it’s higher in the show.
“The people who make those decisions, they have the final say, but we’re always trying. I want to champion the sport. I love all sports and follow them closely because of my ‘SportsCenter’ job. But hockey has always been my first love.”
Remy eager to return
Given his well-documented medical history, it’s always a concern when Jerry Remy misses time from the NESN/Red Sox broadcast booth, particularly when he’s scarcely heard from during the absence.
So it was reassuring to hear his voice during a conference call Wednesday in which Remy, who had been out since May 28 with allergies and pneumonia, said he had clearance from his doctors to get back at it Tuesday when the Sox face the Rockies at Fenway. Particularly since he sounded well and spoke with such candor about how much the job still means to him.
“Look, it’s what I love to do,’’ said Remy, whose first Red Sox broadcast was in 1988. “It’s hard for me to sit back and not be able to do my job. Unfortunately, things like this are going to pop up, and it’s hard for me to deal with them.
“What keeps me going is that I enjoy my job very, very much, and I’m really looking forward to Tuesday night. It’s part of my life and what I enjoy doing the most, and I’ve always said, when I eventually retire from doing this, it will be much harder than when I retired as a baseball player.”
The local television coverage on Channels 7 and 25 as Aaron Hernandez’s vehicle was trailed by helicopters en route from his home to Gillette Stadium and then into Boston Thursday afternoon was an eerie and surreal reminder of O.J. Simpson’s slow-speed police chase 19 years ago this month. The circumstances were not the same, but the similarities were too obvious to miss, from the white sport utility vehicle to the involvement of a football star to the scene occurring on the same day as a game of the NBA Finals.