VERSUS evolves; Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic adds to Caps coverage

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The National Hockey League continues to pick up assists in the re-shaping process of post-merger Comcast and NBC Universal.

The relationship between the NHL and NBC was solidified with the 10-year television rights agreement reached last April after both VERSUS and NBC saw large audiences tune in for on-ice action.

And now, one year after the Capitals downed the Penguins, 3-1, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and with an audience that continues to grow, VERSUS’ rebrand will be launched with the coverage of the 2012 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic.

NBC Sports Network will be introduced as the Flyers host the New York Rangers at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, Jan. 2 in the regular season signature game.

“These rebranding efforts are a major step toward a complete strategic alignment of all our platforms and businesses,” said NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus in John Ourand’s story, Exit Versus, enter the NBC Sports Network (subscription required).

This should only enhance coverage of the game and the sport as hockey continues to solidify its footprint in the North American landscape.

On the local front, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic has added a new “Capitals Insider,” Chuck Gormley. Read the CSN Press Release: Chuck Gormley Joins Comcast SportsNet as Capitals Insider for Digital Media.

The regional sports network (RSN) who covers the Caps is taking a cue from the home office and dedicating more resources to their hockey team in Washington.

Gormley is no stranger to the rink, or a team facing high-expectations and demanding fans, after covering the Flyers for over two decades.

And even though the RSN’s may take a while before they share any NBC Sports Network branding, it great for all hockey fans that they are on the same page in the quality and quantity realm.

I’m looking forward to all the coverage this season.

Fans making statement to sports leagues

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Conor Jackson hit the first grand slam of his career last night as the A’s defeated the Los Angeles Angels, 9-1 in Oakland. After the game, reports say all it took for him to get the meaningful memento back was an autographed bat and ball for the local fan who retrieved it.

Yankees fan Christian Lopez after recovering the Jeter 3,000 ball.

This comes a week after Christian Lopez, a 23-year-old Yankees fan, stumbled into 15 minutes of fame as New York’s Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, a home run, rolled to him beyond the outfield in Yankee Stadium.

Many expected Lopez to see the dollar signs of a capitalist, holding the Yankees and Jeter over the fire for a hefty ransom. Why not? It happened during the home run surge a few years ago with Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds and the fans who caught their respective moneyballs.

But Lopez, much like that fan last night, decided to see the stars of a young fan, appreciating the game, the athlete and the special experience.

From ESPN New York’s coverage of the event: “Mr. Jeter deserved it. I’m not gonna take it away from him,” Christian Lopez said. “Money’s cool and all, but I’m 23 years old, I’ve got a lot of time to make that. It was never about the money, it was about the milestone.”

Lopez did receive gifts from the Yankees, but that even brought out more angst from one sports writer who believes the team exploited the generosity of the fan.

As sports fans, maybe it is up to us to show the leagues, bickering over how best to split the millions of dollars they make because of the fans, what it is to be a good person who respects the game and its lifeblood, the fans.

I’ll never ask for his autograph or a picture with him, but I am a fan of Christian Lopez and the A’s fan that looked out for Jackson last night in Oakland.

Celebrate the game. Enjoy the community. Live the experience.

Spark for the Capitals 2011-2012 makeover flame?

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Could it have been a fight on December 12, 2010 at Madison Square Garden, and not another short playoff run, that finally proved some major roster adjustments were needed for the Washington Capitals?

In a 7-0 slaughter at the hands of the New York Rangers, Captain Alex Ovechkin not only dropped the gloves to dance with Brandon Dubinsky, but then pleaded for his teammates on the bench to act like they have some pride and a fighting spirit.

Did general manager George McPhee sit down and re-watch HBO’s 24/7 after the early playoff exit and see the ferocity and frustration of his superstar, captured so well by the documentary-style cameras, towards his own bench?

Adding Matt Hendricks last offseason helped, but it was a small step towards what is happening currently. DJ King was probably expected to add a little more than he did, but as an enforcer, he was a one-off tough guy and not part of an overall rugged culture change.

That change is upon the team and fan base at Kettler and Verizon Center with the addition of veteran forwards Troy Brouwer and Jeff Halpern as well as defenseman Roman Hamrlik.

Could this forward duo help take the “energy guy” burden off of Ovechkin and allow him to focus more on playmaking? Can Hamrlik do the same thing for Mike Green? Is there anyone that can create more space for Alexander Semin, or could that possibly happen as a byproduct of a culture change for the team?

I’m confident we won’t have to wait until next year’s playoffs to see if this new bloodstream encased in sandpaper has made an impact. It will show in the body language and success of both Ovechkin and hardworking forward Brooks Laich, who I also think played a big role in convincing the Capitals front office to shake things up, right from the beginning of the 2011-2012 season.

7:00 PM on Saturday, October 8th can’t get here fast enough.

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