Sunday, November 15, 2009

NHL GameCenter Live


With the end of the baseball season, my weekend mornings were suddenly devoid of sports. Yeah, I could watch GameCasts on ESPN.com, but it isn't quite the same. When I woke up Saturday morning, I noticed that Toronto was visiting Chicago in NHL action (Friday night back home). I looked for this game on several sports streaming sites, but couldn't find a decent feed to watch it.

I knew that NHL.com offered a GameCenter Live (GCL) package which allowed you to watch all NHL games live on your computer. It was much like the MLB.TV package that I had watched over the past few months of the baseball season. Generally though, I've felt that the NHL is somewhat technically behind the other sports in terms of their websites and other offerings. For example, it wasn't until a couple of seasons ago that the NHL had live scores on their top page while MLB was offering MLB.TV as far back as 2004. So I was a bit wary of subscribing to the GCL package, which costs $160 for the entire 8-month season.

Nonetheless, I decided to take a look at their webpage, and immediately noticed that they had an installment plan. For only $20 a month, you could start a subscription and then cancel anytime if you weren't satisfied. Well, it was definitely worth a double sawbuck to see the Leafs lose 3 times a week, so I filled in my details and within minutes was watching 4 games of live NHL hockey. And it didn't take me long to figure I wouldn't be canceling anytime soon.

The package

I've only had this package for two days, but it seems to offer every game live. In their advertising, they do say that you can see up to 40 games a week, so maybe there's a hard limit, but somehow I doubt it. The features are much the same as MLB.TV: up to 4 games at once; DVR capability; full screen with a picture-in-picture option; dynamic stats including an ice tracker that let's you view goals and other plays; and a chat window to talk to fellow viewers. There are three possible bit rates, including 2200kbps which provides a great picture on a full-screen iMac as well as an adaptive rate (requires a plugin) that lets your computer adjust the bit rate depending on your bandwidth.

I haven't used any of the optional features yet mainly because I'm too busy watching the games and the widgets take up screen space. I've also noticed that the quality of the broadcast is quite different from game to game even if your bandwidth doesn't change. I assume that's because the original broadcast that is being used for the feed is not in HD, although I thought that by now, every live sport would be shown in high def.

The Games

No need to recap the 18 games that happened over the last couple of days. Of course, the Leafs lost both of their tilts, so I actually didn't spend much time being frustrated watching another goal get by Vesa Toskala. That allowed me to actually watch some good hockey for a change, and I realized just how much the NHL has changed since I left Canada back in 96.

Of course, I'd seen plenty of NHL games live since then, but most of them weren't that good, usually because the Leafs were involved. So it was a treat so see nearly every team and plenty of great goals.

On Saturday, I caught two shootouts as well as an overtime game that involved the Islanders. It should be surprsing that they'd be involved, it was the Isles 9th extra time game this season, and they won it over Carolina on a Kyle Okposo goal. Two of the other three games were close - even Toronto only lost by a goal, which made it even more unfair when a video replay proved inconclusive (the puck was in but there was no camera angle that proved it). Only Atlanta's 7-0 thrashing (sorry, couldn't resist) of the Kings was a blowout.

On Sunday morning, there were 11 games, including the Leafs and Calgary in a Hockey Night in Canada matchup. The Leafs fell behind early so again I ventured off to other games and was rewarded with some great action from around the league. The Islanders went to overtime again but lost to Florida in a shootout. But it was the other two OT games that deserve some comment. First was Boston visiting Pittsburgh. Down 4-3 late, Boston scored a PP goal to tie the game and then a deflection with 2:29 left to take the lead. It looked like the Bruins would win as they were holding the puck in the Pens zone with 10 seconds left. The puck bounced to Patrice Bergeron near the blue line who tried to shoot it back deep. But his stick broke, Evgeny Malkin stole the puck and raced down the left wing, crossing the blue line with Sidney Crosby and Bill Guerin. He passed wide to Guerin, who set up at the top of the right circle and fired a rising wrist shot that beat Tim Thomas with 0.4 seconds left! An unbelievable turn of events! Naturally, Boston quickly collapsed in OT, and the Penguins went from 0 points to 2 because of a broken stick.

The other overtime game featured the Lightning and Kings in Tampa Bay. It was a 1-1 game at the end of regulation, so I tuned in for the OT period. With about 1:40 to go, Tampa shot from the point and the puck was deflected in. The Lightning piled off the bench to celebrate as the announcers said that their overtime luck had changed. When the puck went in, I thought that there might be a problem because there was a Lightning player in front of the goalie. But the referee had signaled goal, and when I saw the replay, it seemed clear that the Lightning player had been pushed into the goalie by an LA d-man, so I figured the goal would stand. I closed the window and moved on to another game.

I was a bit surprised then to see a few minutes later that the game was in a shootout. Sure enough, the other referee standing outside the blue line had waved off the goal and the game had continued. LA won the shootout and we had two games were the teams who were apparently going to win did not. Quite a memorable turnaround, but I wonder why the more distant ref made the call and overruled the one standing next to the net. Glad to see questionable NHL officiating hasn't changed!

There was one late game that featured Vancouver visiting Colorado. I saw these two play at the end of last season in a rather dull 1-0 OT affair won by the Canucks. Of course, this time, they scored 3 goals in the first 12 minutes and went on to a 8-2 rout of the Avs. I didn't watch the last two periods as it was time to enjoy the sunshine, but it was a great morning of hockey for me. Perhaps the coolest thing was watching Montreal and Nashville in French - reminded me of my childhood days when some nights, the only game on was the Canadiens on the French CBC. Unfortunately for Habs tonight, they did not score so I didn't get to hear the classic "Et le but!!!".


Differences between GameCenter Live and MLB.TV

I'm not sure if the NHL broadcasts are live or not, but I'll find out next week when I phone someone at home who is watching the game. I do know that the MLB.TV feed is about a minute behind because when I watched a game that was being shown on NHK here in Japan, there was a substantial lag. This meant that sometimes the updates on the full scoreboard would appear before the action on the field (in MLB.TV) would happen, which can be really annoying. In GCL, the goals are not put up on the scoreboard until well after they have occurred, so there's no spoilers in that sense.

Otherwise, I'd say the services are comparable. Neither work particularly well on my crappy laptop, but both are great on the iMac. Switching between games is easy; in GCL you can even drag and drop games from the scoreboard into the viewing window. Both offer extra features for the true stathead or chathead, but I don't really use those as I like to watch as many games as possible. All-in-all, both are good investments for those who enjoy live sports and have the time to watch.

As a rather stupid aside, watching 4 games at once in both packages has helped me better appreciate the differences between hockey and baseball. There's no doubt that it is much easier to watch 4 ballgames at once; each game has a rhythm so you can set yourself to watch each pitch in succession. With inning breaks, it's rare to have balls in play in more than 2 games at once, so you don't often miss big plays. It's no big deal to miss a walk or a strikeout, as long as you catch most of the homers and other key games. Since you know who is pitching, who is batting, and how many are on base, you can concentrate on the game that has the biggest probability of providing some action.

Hockey on the other hand, is more exciting to watch when you have several games going on. Goals occur much quicker than runs in baseball (just ask Boston!) so you are constantly looking at each game, trying to see if one team is on a rush or generating pressure. As well, I feel that with the NHL games being lower scoring and much closer, the last 5-10 minutes of any game were very entertaining. Too often a baseball game was over by the 6th inning.

Of course, you miss a lot as well when you don't concentrate on a single game. In baseball, you're not able to track each pitch like you would when you're at the game. In hockey, a lot of the penalties escape your notice, and you can't really tell which players are having a great game if you're just glancing at it every few seconds. Still, I expect as I get more accustomed to watching 4 games at once and learn the players a bit more, I'll get even more out of the GCL package. Just hope I get to see the Leafs win one!

Next up

No live sports for me this weekend, although there were plenty of choices, including a baseball tournament, Asia League ice hockey games, American football in the X league, Emperor's Cup soccer action, a women's volleyball championship, and even the World Kudo Championships. There's no better place than Tokyo to get your fill of live sports.

Next weekend is a long weekend so I'm off to Guam. Doesn't seem to be much to see there, but I'll report back a bit on the island. It's part of America, so I'll be watching my share of ESPN and NFL! Can't wait!

Best,

Sean

Update: When I wrote this post, I referred to the package as Center Ice, it is really GameCenter Live and I've updated all references.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sean. Nice commentary on the differences between the MLB package and NHL package. I'm sure you know this but the NHL sites are the only sites (of the four major sports in the US)that still allows a viewer to listen to the game on radio on their computer. That's what I do when there's not a game on TV.

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