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Why Sportsnet used an American feed for Saturday's replay of 2011's Game 7 between the Canucks and Blackhawks

Some Canucks fans were not happy with Sportsnet’s broadcast of the classic “Slay the Dragon” game.
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Alex Burrows celebrates his overtime game-winning goal over the Chicago Blackhawks with his Vancouver Canucks teammates. photo: Sportsnet / YouTube

Vancouver Canucks fans are badly missing their favourite team right now. With the season suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot of fans confined to their homes for much of the day for the same reason, they’re jonesing for a little Canucks action to help get them through.

Because of that, fans were eager to watch a couple classic Canucks games on Saturday, with Sportsnet Pacific airing two games in lieu of Hockey Night in Canada. At 4pm, they showed 2004’s Game 7 between the Canucks and Calgary Flames, and at 7pm, it was 2011’s Game 7 between the Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks.

The 2004 game, despite the way it ended for Canucks fans, was a treat. It was great to see the likes of Markus Naslund, Mattias Ohlund, and Sami Salo back in action. Seeing the Sedins on a line with Trevor Linden was a treat, though it was a little bizarre to see them on the ice at times with a number 14 that wasn’t Alex Burrows. Instead, it was Geoff Sanderson, who wore 14 after coming to the Canucks at the trade deadline for the second time in his career.

On the other hand, the 2011 game, despite being objectively one of the greatest moments in Canucks history, was strangely disappointing.

Both games include one of the greatest play-by-play calls in Canucks history. The game against the Flames featured Chris Cuthbert’s play-by-play masterclass on Matt Cooke’s game-tying goal in the dying seconds of regulation that had Ed Jovanovski jumping up and down like a madman in the penalty box.

Meanwhile, the game against the Blackhawks featured not one, but two classic calls of Alex Burrows’ overtime game-winner. One was from John Shorthouse’s play-by-play for radio, the well-known “They’ve slayed the dragon!” call, but the television call is just as great. Jim Hughson unexpectedly paraphrased a line from The Exorcist, declaring, “It’s a wonderful day for an exorcism!”  

Canucks fans got neither call. 

Instead of the Canadian feed from the CBC broadcast, Sportsnet used the American feed from Versus, now known as the NBC Sports Network. 

Instead of Hughson, fans got the play-by-play of John Forslund, with Daryl Reaugh and Brian Engblom providing commentary. There was nothing particularly wrong with their commentary — well, apart from Forslund botching the call of Alex Burrows’ opening goal, saying it was scored by Mason Raymond — but it’s hard to compare with that of Hughson, particularly since his call is the one that Canucks fans remember.

Forslund also called Burrows’ goal an exorcism, but it didn’t quite have the impact, perhaps because he didn’t let the moment breathe. He rolled right through from the goal call to saying, “They exorcise their demons and eliminate the Stanley Cup Champions.” 

To be fair, Forslund is a fine play-by-play commentator, legitimately one of the best in the business. It’s just exceedingly odd that Sportsnet Pacific, which is aimed primarily at Canucks fans, would use the American feed. The replay of the 2004 game used the CBC feed, so it isn’t a rights issue.

According to Andrew Garas, the Director of Communications at Sportsnet, the reason for the US feed was because of the complexities of the archiving systems from which they’re trying to find games.

“We're working to get a wide range of games from our various archiving systems,” said Garas. “At the time we were going to air this particular game, only the US feed was available, with some parts condensed.”

Evidently, no one anticipated needing to fill weeks of airtime with full replays of old games.

“You would think that they would all be labeled, you can just go in and say, I want this game from this year at this time,” said Garas, “but I don't think anyone's ever been in a situation like this where you're going back so far and getting games from years past. They're all somewhere in some capacity. It's just a matter of...being able to extract them from the archiving systems.”

Beyond the source of the broadcast, the replay of the 2011 game was plagued by problems. The first five minutes or so were nearly unwatchable due to a jittery frame rate that had the players looking like bad stop-motion animation. This was, again, an issue with the Versus feed that Sportsnet was able to extract from their archives.

Eventually, the broadcast smoothed out, but then Canucks fans just had a clearer view of the baffling editing decisions made to fit the game’s broadcast into a tighter timeframe. Garas was unable to specify whether these cuts were part of the Versus feed in the archive or if they were choices made by Sportsnet. Whoever made the edit removed two key moments from the game.

One was Alex Burrows’ penalty shot near the beginning of the third period. Burrows had a monumental performance in Game 7. He opened the scoring in the game off a great feed by Ryan Kesler, then had multiple chances to pad the team’s lead, finishing the game with seven shots on goal. 

None of his chances were better than his penalty shot just seconds into the third. Burrows had been money on the breakaway and in the shootout all season, with his patented backhand deke that he once claimed was unstoppable if he did it correctly.

So, when Burrows was taken down from behind by Duncan Keith on the breakaway, it seemed certain that he would go to his, well, go-to move.

Instead, perhaps concerned that Corey Crawford would see it coming, Burrows stayed on the forehand and tried to go past Crawford’s blocker. He was shut down.

“It was probably the worst attempt of my career on a penalty shot,” said Burrows to The Athletic a few months ago. “I know where to shoot, but it was a total fail shot. It was an easy save for Crawford.”

That failed penalty shot is a key part of the narrative of that game and the role Burrows played. Removing it from the replay of the game just doesn’t make any sense.

Saturday’s broadcast also cut out another major moment from the game. Early in overtime, Burrows took a holding penalty, leaving him sitting in the box at a crucial time. In many ways, you could compare it to the 2004 Game 7 against the Flames, with another heart-and-soul player sitting in the box early in overtime, Jovanovski.

In many ways, that entire game was about Burrows. He scored both Canucks goals, had a game-high seven shots, got stopped on a penalty shot, and took a potentially-devastating penalty in overtime. The narrative of that game rises and falls with Burrows.

While killing Burrows’ penalty, Roberto Luongo made a fantastic save on Patrick Sharp on a backdoor play. Hearts stopped across BC in that moment, as Sharp looked to have the game on his stick, but Luongo made the stop.

“From the box, I was just so relieved that Lu made that push and got his blocker on it,” said Burrows to The Athletic.

“I saved his ass,” said Luongo.

That was one of the biggest moments of the game. Sportsnet cut it all out of the replay.

Fans didn’t get to see Burrows take the penalty. They didn’t see the Canucks’ penalty killers go to work to keep the Blackhawks from scoring the game-winning and series-ending goal. They didn’t get to see one of the most important saves of Luongo’s career.

Instead, the broadcast jumped ahead in overtime, skipping over the Blackhawks power play entirely. 

In a way, the editing of the latter parts of the game echoed the jittery frame rate of the opening minutes: it was herky-jerky and hard to watch, leaving the feeling that fans were missing something.

Fortunately, Garas indicated that Sportsnet has big plans for the coming weeks that should erase the sour taste that Saturday's broadcast left in the mouths of Canucks fans.

“Right now what we're trying to do is we're trying to get the entirety of the 2011 series versus Chicago, to be able to air that in its entirety,” he said.

Hopefully Sportsnet will be able to grab the CBC broadcasts from the archives when they air the series in the near future.

For now, fans have other Canucks games from the past to look forward to. Sportsnet shared the Canucks game that are on their upcoming schedule:

Monday, March 30

  • 8 p.m. PT – NHL Rewind: ‘04 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1 Game 7: Calgary @ Vancouver (Sportsnet ONE)

Tuesday, March 31

  • 9:30 p.m. PT – NHL Classics: ’82 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Game 2 – Vancouver @ Chicago (Sportsnet ONE)
    • Clarence Campbell Conference Finals; the “white towel game”
  • 11:30 p.m. PT  - NHL Classics: ’94 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Game 7 – Vancouver @ Calgary (Sportsnet)

Saturday, April 4

  • 3 p.m. PT – NHL Classics: ’94 Stanley Cup Final, Game 7: New York Rangers @ Vancouver (Sportsnet ONE)  
  • 4 p.m. PT – NHL Rewind: Oct 22, 2019 - Vancouver @ Detroit (Sportsnet Pacific)
    • Bo Horvat scores first career hat trick
  • 6 p.m. PT – NHL Rewind: Apr 5, 2018 - Arizona @ Vancouver (Sportsnet Pacific)
    • Sedins farewell game; Daniel scores OT winner
  • 9 p.m PT – NHL Rewind: Oct 22, 2019 - Vancouver @ Detroit (Sportsnet Pacific)

Sunday, April 5

  • 9:30 p.m. PT – NHL Rewind: ’15 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1 Game 6:  Vancouver @ Calgary (Sportsnet)