Blackhawks turn NBC Sports Chicago Plus into a cartoon channel for a day


When the NHL broadcast its first live animated game in March 2023, Blackhawks President of Business Operations Jaime Faulkner watched the game with her then five-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. No one knew the cartoon the show was based on, Disney's “Big City Greens,” and so her reaction caught her mother's attention.

“My son and daughter were completely engrossed in it,” Faulkner said. “My daughter thought it was more of a cartoon because it had animals in it. She's not interested in ice hockey, but she enjoyed it. My then five-year-old hockey player thought it was like watching a video game.”

The concept became clear to Faulkner when her children rewatched it and thought it was more of a TV show than a Capitals-Rangers game in cartoon form.

“If we just communicate it the right way, we can build a following,” Faulkner said. “We can start to make them popular with certain players, make them popular with the Chicago Blackhawks.”

After the league aired its second animated game to a national audience last month, the Hawks and NBC Sports Chicago will air the first local animated broadcast for the game against the Stars on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. This will air on NBCSCH+, with the traditional show appearing on the main channel.

When Faulkner learned of the success of the NHL's first animated game – strong viewership with an audience even younger than the standard Disney Channel and Disney XD audiences – she urged the league to give the Hawks a chance to produce one locally .

But while the game will take place locally, production will take place at the NHL offices in New York, where the league has a studio and control room. Hawks TV announcer Chris Vosters and ESPN analyst Dominic Moore will call the game cartoons themselves. The league selected Moore, who played center for 10 teams in 13 seasons (2003-18). They rehearsed on site last week.

“Chris is used to calling an adult game; He’s not used to calling a game for kids,” Faulkner said. “The way he characterizes must be completely different. That's why we sent him to New York, to make him comfortable but also to test his skills as a storyteller. Five year olds don't necessarily know what icing and offsides are. As part of the script, we want to teach kids the game of hockey.”

Hawks TV announcer Chris Vosters and ESPN analyst Dominic Moore will anchor the broadcast.

Blackhawks TV voice Chris Vosters and ESPN analyst Dominic Moore will be animated for the broadcast.

This script will feature Hawks mascot Tommy Hawk, who will celebrate his birthday in cartoon and costume form. He will also appear on the half-hour pregame show and during breaks hosted by Ruthie Polinsky along with analysts Tony Granato and former Hawk Adam Burish.

Players' movements are captured by the NHL's puck and player tracking, as well as Hawk-Eye Innovations' optical tracking and camera calibration technology, which required the addition of 12 cameras at the United Center. The animation is created by the Dutch company Beyond Sports.

“The NHL is bringing our feed to New York,” said John Schippman, vice president of sports content at NBCUniversal Local Chicago. “This is when things turn upside down [to animation]. It only takes a few seconds for this to happen and I find it amazing that it happens so quickly.”

The Hawks and NBCSCH began experimenting with alternate broadcasts this season with “HawkCast,” which included guests and iso-cam coverage. It was a wonderful break from focusing on the team's problems this season. But even though the Hawks are likely to improve, there could be more alternatives coming.

“We need to be able to deliver our game in a way that people want to consume it and give them options,” Faulkner said. “So we're currently testing a lot of things in the areas that are critical for us in terms of fan growth.

“We will learn a lot [the animated game]. I think it will be successful, we expect it to be successful, and if so, we will then figure out how to add more animated games.”

The traditional broadcast will feature Pat Boyle and Stu Grimson in the studio and John Wiedeman and Darren Pang in the booth.

Long distance patrol

Faulkner said the Hawks continue to conduct due diligence on their next TV and radio contracts. Their contracts with NBCSCH and WGN Radio expire this year.

“The media landscape is changing every day, and when we think about our shows, we look at all partners and all options,” she said. “We are trying to learn as much as possible from what is happening now. There’s still a lot of work to be done to figure this out.”

* Co-host of the Score Afternoon Danny Parkins' The first book, “Pipeline to the Pros,” comes out Tuesday. It examines the trend of NBA coaches and executives coming from small colleges and the profound impact they have had on basketball and the league.

*Saturday's Dodgers-Cubs game will air on Marquee Sports Network and FS1, where Kenny Albertformer boy Eric Karros and reporters Ken Rosenthal will answer the call.