Since the curious and perhaps dubious things that can happen when hockey reporters are allegedly sleep-deprived have mushroomed into one of the more ridiculous media debates in recent memory around here, the time seems right to catch up with someone who actually has a genuine reason to be exhausted during these exhilarating Stanley Cup playoffs.
Over the past 23 days, since the playoffs began, all 62 games have been broadcast nationally through Thursday night. Two of those games aired on the NHL Network. The other 60 were broadcast either on NBC (8), CNBC (13), or NBC Sports Network (39, including Thursday night’s Game 4 between the Bruins and Canadiens).
For virtually every one of those games that was affiliated with NBC Sports, Liam McHugh has been behind the anchor desk, centering analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones, often for an hour of “NHL Live” pregame as well as after the final horn of the final game has finally sounded.
If those games go overtime — and entering Thursday night, 17 of them had — so too does McHugh, who at 37 and without an extensive hockey background has developed into a stellar traffic cop on a studio show that seems to have gotten better and better since he took over the role during the 2010-11 season.
“I’m OK. It’s all good,’’ said McHugh when asked if the grind of the playoffs wears him down as it sometimes does the fans and certain sportswriters. “Tuesday I went into the office and got greeted by a lot of people saying, ‘Hey, welcome back.’
“I had been off for one day. I got the ‘welcome back’ that you might get if you took a summer sabbatical.
“I guess, to this point, it’s sort of unusual not to see me there. I think it’s also unusual for my wife to see me at home. But it’s good. The games have been sensational. That certainly makes it a lot easier.”
Actually, it’s easier for McHugh this year that it was a year ago. His first child was born right before the start of the 2013 playoffs, and his dad duties often began after a night’s games ended.
“There was a time last year when I was finishing out the game, leaving the studio at about 2 in the morning, going back to my apartment, and I’m drinking coffee on the way home because my shift was starting at home then,’’ he said.
“My son was born six weeks early and so he was up every 2½ hours, my wife was with him all day, and I knew that if he woke up at 2:30 in the morning, that was me. I mean, coffee on the way home at that hour. Yeah, this year is a little less crazy.”
He laughs when asked if working with the opinionated Milbury made it easier to take care of an infant. The screaming at odd hours and for unknown reasons, that sort of thing . . .
“It’s a little similar, the babysitting,’’ McHugh said. “Working with Mike is fantastic. I love the idea that we can start a show, plan something, and then in any moment he can take it in any direction. I find that the show winds up being better when it’s like that.
“He’s a very smart guy, a very unusual guy in a good way, and I like the idea that he surprises me on the air.’’
Those surprises aren’t limited to when the red light is on.
“When we go to these commercial bumps, they wind up playing, you know, currently popular music; since I have no life, I don’t know any of these songs,’’ McHugh said. “And Mike, he’s singing along to all of them. Since he has teenage sons, he knows all of them.
“He watches ‘The Voice,’ he knows everything about popular music. I don’t know anything. Some of the kids who work with us, who edit our video and stuff, they’re dumbfounded how Mike knows all of these songs. I would imagine the people at home would enjoy hearing Mike Milbury sing.”
Whether or not viewers are up for a Milbury rendition of, say, Pharrell’s “Happy,’’ it’s hard to imagine that there are many who have a gripe with the studio show. Milbury and the more measured Jones come at it from authentic but different perspectives, and McHugh expertly balances their input while also recognizing when the time is right to go off-script.
“I like the idea that we’ll structure some things in a pre-show meeting,’’ McHugh said, “but if something happens to dawn on me, I can go with it and the producers are good about it where we can say, ‘You know what? We have this format, but rip it up, this is better, let’s see where this takes us.’ And if we need to be reined in at a certain point, they’ll do that, too.”
A muddled story
If you managed to get through the past couple of days without hearing about the weird Joe Haggerty story, well, I envy you. Media-on-media slapfights have a limited shelf life, so I’ll offer the abridged version:
Haggerty, Comcast SportsNet New England’s Bruins writer, filed a column Tuesday night that was published with typos and non-sequiturs, including a particularly bizarre reference to 13-year-old girls.
The story, posted at 2 a.m., was cleaned up and republished approximately six hours later, but not before Deadspin picked up on it and it became a topic of befuddled conversation on Twitter and sports radio.
Haggerty attempted to guffaw away the story during a call-in to the “Toucher and Rich” radio show Wednesday morning, saying it was the result of exhaustion and passive-aggressively pinning it on an editor.
But a significant number of his peers on the Bruins beat, many of whom say they have been victims of Haggerty transgressions in the past, weren’t so quick to let it pass.
Haggerty and CSNNE have gone into radio-silence mode on the topic, but a major unanswered question remains.
He had a quote attributed to Zdeno Chara regarding the Bruins’ courage that no one else heard. The quote was deleted in the cleaned-up version on the CSNNE website. Much of this is just silliness, but that aspect — did Chara say that, and when — does need to be explained.