SUN Hockey Pool

NHL fans dine on CBC feast

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Thank the Ottawa Senators, in great part, for extending your hockey viewing experience on a handful of Saturdays in the new NHL season.

Hockey Night in Canada released its 2006-07 broadcast schedule earlier this week and, even at first glance, it's very clear this is a much more robust offering than viewers received last season. Eighty games in all will be produced by the CBC, a healthy boost of 18 over a year ago.

A jump in regional telecasts -- which will sit well with Senators and Montreal Canadiens fans, to name two -- is most responsible for the heftier slate. But the most intriguing change is the addition of Saturday afternoon fare to the menu.

Usually, only Hockey Day in Canada brings the puck game into the mid-day hours, with the occasional Christmastime matchup also being an exception to the norm. But in the new schedule, Hockey Night is making a concerted effort to see what afternoon hockey can draw, with the Senators at the forefront of the experiment.

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Six afternoon games are on Hockey Night's drawing board for '06-07, meaning a half-dozen Saturday tripleheaders. Four are Senators home games -- Dec. 9 (vs. Rangers), Jan. 13 (Montreal, on Hockey Day), Jan. 27 (vs. Boston) and Feb. 17 (vs. Atlanta).

"We had some holes in our schedule on some Saturday afternoons," said Joel Darling, Hockey Night's executive producer. "We talked to the Senators and the league about it. Give the Senators credit. They helped us by changing the (start) times to do this.

"It's an opportunity for more exposure for Canadian teams."

So, too, are the 17 regional games on Hockey Night's docket -- seven more than in 2005-06.

Again, Senators fans are winners: Eleven of those regional games involve Ottawa, including Zdeno Chara's first game against his old teammates Oct. 28 in Boston. That helps give the Senators 18 Hockey Night dates, by far the most ever for the team.

"We listen to our audience and the reaction we get from them," Darling said of increased regionalization. "We wish we could do every single game (involving a Canadian team) on Saturday nights. So we looked at things and tried to be creative in finding ways to add more games to our schedule."

That rationale also went into the CBC's decision to start its season on a Thursday (Oct. 5), when the Senators play their home opener against the arch-rival Maple Leafs.

"It's a good matchup and a good fit for us," said Darling.

TSN, meanwhile, has six Senators appearances scattered within its 70-game schedule, including opening night, when Ottawa travels to Toronto.

Throw in the 40-42 games that figure to be shared by Rogers Sportsnet and A-Channel, add an exclusive game or two on RDS, and Sens fans figure to have about 65 telecasts to watch on 'free' TV this season.

It's not blanket coverage yet. But call it a step in the right direction.

PUCK DROPPINGS: TSN's 70-game NHL slate includes 33 matchups featuring Canadian teams, with the Canadiens (nine) getting the most exposure. Eight doubleheaders include Ottawa-Toronto and Dallas-Colorado on opening night Oct. 4. Wednesday Night Hockey remains the staple of the network's schedule ... NBC has bumped up its NHL coverage for the coming season with regional games on nine weekends (up from six a year ago). After its openers on Saturday, Jan. 13, NBC's coverage will shift exclusively to Sundays for the rest of the regular season ... HockeyCentral at Noon, featuring Daren Millard and Nick Kypreos, launches Sept. 11 on Rogers Sportsnet. The one-hour show will also be simulcast on Toronto's Fan 590 radio station ... The HD telecast count: 35 regular-season games on TSN, one per week minimum (the 7 p.m. game) on CBC, plus the all-star game and Stanley Cup final.

AROUND THE DIAL: Former Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil is back in the TV world as a part-time game analyst for the NFL Network ... NBC earned a 6.8 rating for Sunday's Hall of Fame game, the highest number for an NFL pre-season tilt in two years ... Ex-Steelers running back Jerome Bettis makes his debut as an NBC studio analyst during Sunday's Redskins-Bengals telecast ... GOL TV Canada begins weekly German Bundesliga coverage tomorrow, with Bayern Munich facing Borussia Dortmund at 2:30 p.m.


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