SUN Hockey Pool

We're wild about hockey

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Oh, baby, is NHL hockey back in a major way -- perhaps like never before.

If you're thinking Canadians seemed more wound up than usual about opening night in the NHL ... well, let's just say nobody knows that better than the folks at TSN.

Wednesday's season-opening doubleheader shattered all records for NHL viewership on the network, and rated as one of the most-watched nights in TSN's 21-year history.

"It exceeded our wildest expectations," said an incredulous TSN president Phil King. "Hockey is back in a huge way, that's for sure. It was just unbelievable."

A few numbers for your consideration. The Senators-Leafs early game, combined with a regional Flames-Wild telecast in Alberta, pulled in 2.1 million viewers. It peaked at 2.7 million during the overtime and shootout won by the Sens.

That's more than double the previous NHL high on TSN (a 2004 playoff game), and the first time a regular-season NHL game even cracked the one million mark. It was also the third most-watched event in network history (the top two, both over three million, are world junior hockey finals).

There's more. Game 2 of the twinbill -- Wayne Gretzky's Coyotes in Vancouver against the Canucks, along with an Oilers-Avalanche game in Alberta -- teamed up for an audience of 1.3 million.

TSN research indicated 6.4 million Canadians watched at least some portion of the NHL doubleheader.

"We knew going in that it was going to be one of the biggest nights in TSN history, but not like that," said King. "It was our day to shine.

"There was a pent-up demand for hockey (after a season lost to the lockout) and we had an unbelievable slate of games (with Canadian teams)."

There were plenty of smiles elsewhere, too. Over on RDS, 613,000 tuned into the Canadiens' 2-1 win over the Bruins in Boston. CTV's Lost attracted 2.2 million viewers.

Even Rogers Sportsnet reported an audience increase for its Major League Baseball playoffs. Game 2 of the Red Sox-White Sox series -- a 7:30 p.m. start -- was watched by 452,000, an impressive number given the competition. The 'Net's other two playoff audiences attracted 355,000 or more.

All of which makes us ask ...

Who wasn't watching TV on Wednesday night?

PUCK DROPPINGS: In the wake of the seven-week CBC lockout, the gang at Hockey Night in Canada has about five days to pull together the opening night of a new season -- a task executive producer Joel Darling said normally takes about two months. But viewers will get the regular doubleheader tomorrow night complete with intermission staples such as Coach's Corner and the Hot Stove League. And yes, you'll see a pre-game show at 6:30 p.m. "I don't think the normal viewer will notice that much difference (from previous years)," said Darling ... Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos on the Senators, who he likes to win the Stanley Cup: "(Dominik) Hasek and coach (Bryan) Murray give the Sens the type of face lift Joan Rivers would envy."

SENS-IBLE CHOICES: As of yesterday, Rogers Sportsnet hadn't announced who'll replace Greg Millen as game analyst on its Senators regional telecasts. But sources say the job will go to former NHLer Garry Galley, the Team 1200's afternoon drive co-host. Dean Brown returns as the play-by-play voice for 20 games apiece on Sportsnet and the A-Channel. But it's believed the Sens will opt for a different analyst for the A-Channel local games -- Brown's regular radio cohort, Gord Wilson. Expect announcements soon on all of this.

SUN SHINES ON VANCE: Former Sportsnet anchor Jody Vance has moved into the print world. She's penning weekly columns for 24 Hours, Sun Media's commuter paper in Toronto. Her pieces take a lighthearted look at T.O. through, as she puts it, "Vancouver specs" (a reference to her home town). They appear every Thursday at toronto.24hrs.ca.

AROUND THE DIAL: The NHL Network is offering a free preview through October. The month's programming includes six of the 28 live NHL games the network will air this season ... Sportsnet will air 177 regional NHL games in 2005-06 -- more hockey than any Canadian broadcaster ... Martine Gaillard will be a part of the prime-time anchor rotation for Sportsnet News. And what a way to break in, paired with the zany Mike Toth.


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