The Bruins began their adjustment to the quirky realities the NHL restart Thursday night with a 4-1 exhibition loss to the Blue Jackets from the bubble in Toronto. Considering that the Presidents’ Trophy winner hadn’t played a game since March 10, it’s hardly alarming that they looked out of practice.
They will, however, have to shake the rust off in a hurry since round-robin play — yes, one of those new realities — among the top four seeds in each conference commences Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Flyers.
As the NHL reignites its season and soon dives headlong into the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s not just those playing the games that have adjustments to make. It’s a new world for those calling the games, as well, as NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley experienced Thursday night.
Because the NHL is not permitting teams to send their own broadcasters to the two hub cities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Edwards and Brickley, along with reporter Sophia Jurksztowicz, called the exhibition from a “world” feed provided by NBC that they watch on monitors in NESN’s Watertown studios.
They will take the same approach when they call the final two of the three round-robin games (Sunday’s opener with the Flyers is exclusive to NBC) and the majority of first-round playoff games.
During a conversation with reporters Friday morning, Edwards and Brickley said it was gratifying to be calling hockey games again, but acknowledged that acclimating to the new protocols for the broadcast is a work in progress.
“It became a little more comfortable as we went on,’' said Edwards, who hadn’t called a hockey game off site since the Bruins played in Prague to open the 2010-11 season. “I was really cautious in the first period not wanting to make an obvious mistake.”
Brickley, with his familiar enthusiasm, said it was “awesome” to be back calling hockey, even if the circumstances require an adjustment. “It was so fun to be back in the saddle and doing hockey . . . and knowing that the postseason is just a matter of days in front of us and to be able to get a few reps in, just as the players, because of this long 4½-month, five-month hiatus. It was necessary for us. We needed a little training camp ourselves.”
Brickley said he watched clips from the broadcast when he got home Thursday night.
“It did have that seamless appearance, maybe to most viewers, but we knew the challenges we were facing,’' he said. “I thought we did a really nice job at our first kick at the can.”
Those challenges include a plexiglass partition between Edwards and Brickley in the NESN studio that the analyst said somewhat alters their interaction.
“It affects our affects our body language and nonverbal communication, when to jump in when to lay out,’' he said.
If they had a larger lament, it’s that the “all-12” camera angle provided by NBC, which purportedly is to allow for a full and clear view of the entire ice, wasn’t of much help.
“When you have that ninth-floor view [the broadcast team’s usual location at TD Garden] of everything , all the moving parts, [you can see] what’s going on on the ice, what’s going on on the benches, whether it’s that kind of communication between the bench and the players when there’s a matchup situation, when there’s a line change, and how smooth it is or how slow it is,” said Brickley. “Just that high view of exactly what’s going on at ice level, that viewpoint is missed.”
Edwards said the all-12 camera serves two crucial purposes.
“For us to see the entire ice so if a team pulls its goalie on a delayed penalty or at the end of the game, we can clearly see it,’' said Edwards. “And to get the game clock on the screen so we can see it.”
The problem came when the NBC feed panned so far back on the all-12 camera — in order to show the clock on the scoreboard above center ice — that nothing on the ice was as clear as it needed to be.
“It’s nearly impossible to identify the players from a shot that’s 200 feet wide,” said Edwards, who said in one situation he had no idea who was on the point during a Blue Jackets power play. “For our play-by-play purposes, it has got to be a tighter shot which would require zooming in and losing the stadium clock.”
NBC is expected to be flexible with the requests it receives from regional cable networks about adjusting the feeds to specific needs. And NESN can tailor the feed with its own graphics and other visual elements to make it look as familiar to its audience as a typical Bruins broadcast.
The other big adjustment for Edwards and Brickley is perhaps the most obvious: getting used to calling a game without a crowd. The energy at TD Garden during an exciting Bruins playoff game is practically its own life force. That atmosphere is downright impossible to replicate in a studio.
“That was a major challenge, just to feel the energy of the players and let it come through my voice and my diction,” said Edwards. “That’s going to be a continuing challenge. As the playoffs go deeper, the crowds get more intense. You naturally raise your volume when the crowd gets louder and you sense that energy.”
Edwards and Brickley have some time to ponder what worked from the exhibition broadcast and what didn’t. The Bruins’ round-robin opener with the Flyerswill air on NBC Sunday at 3 p.m. John Forslund, Mike Milbury, and Brian Boucher will have the call from the Toronto bubble.