WHL playoffs a Shaw thing

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

If the Calgary Hitmen are to duplicate last year's Red Mile excitement, they had to get their playoff games aired on TV.

That's what has happened. Now the question is: Will local sports bars turn off their satellite dishes and hook up the cable?

Shaw Communications announced this week it will broadcast the entire Hitmen-Brandon Wheat Kings WHL semifinal series, which starts tonight, with radio play-by-play man Mark Stiles switching booths to call every second of Ryan Getzlaf and Co.'s fortunes.

You'll find the games on Ch. 10, which is not available by satellite providers.

Shaw president Peter Bissonnette said he heard the outcry of fans for extra Hitmen coverage and his company has responded.

The ratings from Shaw's first-round series between Vancouver and Kelowna were proof enough there are many hockey-starved fans. In the Vancouver area, the Giants-Rockets series drew about four times more viewers than competing programming on other local stations.

Deciding to air the Hitmen-Wheat Kings series, Bissonnette said, was simply a no-brainer.

"We're delighted about it," he said. "When we look at the viewership numbers, WHL was the dominant TV event in the Vancouver-Victoria market. We expect the same in Calgary.

"We're pleased to do it and our crews are thoroughly enjoying it. The quality of coverage is very, very good."

The Fan 960 will still broadcast games, with NHL hockey host Rob Kerr sliding into Stiles's spot next to colourman Ken Thrower.

Stiles gets a new TV partner in Bill Wilms, the Giants radio colourman who also did Shaw's Giants-Rockets series.

Shaw is sending 25 crew members to Brandon for the first two games, tonight and tomorrow.

There will be a mix of people from Winnipeg, Calgary, Kelowna and Brandon working on the broadcast.

Dave Roberts will be the studio host, while Winnipeg's Jim Toth will handle sideline duties before the series returns to Calgary Tuesday and Wednesday. Alex Park, Shaw Calgary's vice-president of programming, may be scrambling to find accommodations for his crew in Brandon but insisted he couldn't be more excited to beam Games 1 and 2 back to Cowtown.

"We're so pleased that the first two games are on the road," Park said.

"It will build some anticipation for the games when they come back here. That's a good development for us on the TV side."

Sportsnet has the CHL's national contract and will cover the Memorial Cup from London, Ont. A network spokesman said Sportsnet didn't have time slots to air WHL playoff games because of its extensive Major League Baseball coverage.

living the dream: Growing up in Oakville, Ont., Jamie Campbell dreamed about someday being part of baseball. He would take the train into the city to watch the Toronto Blue Jays play at Exhibition Stadium. So today when Sportsnet broadcasts the home-opener against the world champion Boston Red Sox, Campbell will be in heaven as the new play-by-play man. "I really am living a dream," said Campbell. "I'm just a junkie when it comes to sport, so this is just absolutely spectacular."


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