Behind The ScenesSportsCenter

“NHL ’94” highlight treatment was labor of love for all involved

On Friday night, SportsCenter went back in time over 20 years for one magnificent 90-second NHL highlight.

As Fansided’s Mike Dyce wrote: “On Friday night, the folks at ESPN teamed up with EA Sports to do something fantastic for hockey fans and video game fans alike. . . And it is awesome. They get every little aspect down, from the sound effects, the pre-game screen, to that blue ice. They even reference the movie “Swingers” in the segment, making it all the better.”

The result was two clips (outtakes featured above) addressing the Canadiens’ 6-2 victory over the Kings. The clips were an homage to legendary video game “NHL ’94”, with SportsCenter anchors Kevin Connors (on the 11 p.m. ET edition) and Neil Everett (10 p.m. PT show) delivering the highlights to delighted fans everywhere.

Why Kings/Canadiens?

The timing for SportsCenter’s “NHL ’94” highlight treatment was far from random:
• When the game was released (October 1993), Montreal was the Stanley Cup Champion. The Canadiens faced the Kings for that year’s Stanley Cup, therefore it was a “rematch” of the ’93 Stanley Cup Finals
• Also a showdown between the 1993 Champion Canadiens and the 2014 Champion Kings
• The coach of the Kings in 1993 was ESPN analyst Barry Melrose.

“The highlight was unique in the way it was produced and the credit goes to everyone who had the idea, worked the graphics and the crew who executed it,” Everett told Front Row. “My part was easy and yes, definitely memorable.”

Everett admits the last video game he played was Pac Man, but he knew exactly what the SC team was looking for. Connors, on the other hand, grew up with the game and as he says in the intro to his version of the highlight, was frequently “deking” and “scoring” with Pavel Bure.

It didn’t hurt that it was an incredibly well-developed and well-researched conceit.

In a culture like ESPN’s, ideas emerge – and are embraced – from literally every level of the organization. As such, this seed was planted some two months ago when content associate Lauren Donati put together an eight-page treatment with a summary of the idea and a visual storyboard. Once given the green light, game-maker EA Sports was contacted and gladly shared all of the authentic graphics, sound effects and music. Coordinating content editor Mike Kataja worked with Donati in the edit room to put the highlight together while coordinating content editor Dan Kocse worked with the ORAD technology to put the stars under the players. ESPN’s Creative Services provided a huge assist by creating the front end graphic of the highlight with a picture of both Connors and Everett.

“The communication with the Edit Group, Creative Services, and EA Sports took about three days once the initial pitch was accepted, and this was a true testament at how working together as a team can make something memorable for our viewers,” said highlight producer Benjaman Riegel. “The response from this highlight has been overwhelming and it was great to see how special this was for everyone.

“We had YouTube clips of ‘NHL ’94’ pulled up in the edit room to make sure that every aspect was true to the game,” Donati said. “From the graphics in certain situations, boos when the visitor had a big hit/goal, cheers when the home team had a big hit/goal, right down to what organ music played during game play and which ones went off when a goal was scored.”

Both Riegel – “I played the game constantly as a kid,” he said – and Donati were huge fans of the video game in their youth.

“I grew up in a big hockey household, my older brother played hockey for many years and therefore hockey video games were a staple in our household and ‘NHL ’94’ was one of the first ones I remember playing with him as a kid,” Donati said. “The game therefore takes me back to very fond memories. The beauty of that game was in its attention to detail and its simplicity. In the end we wanted to create a highlight that we would not only enjoy creating but, as a fan, would enjoy watching and I couldn’t think of any better way.”

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