Quick Hits: Mushnick Misses the Mark

By: Michael Abitabilo

In today’s New York Post, TV/Radio columnist Phil Mushnick criticized Rangers’ announcers Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti for their description of the events that led to the Capitals scoring a game-tying, power play goal in the second period of game 5 of their first round playoff series:

In the second period of Game 5 of Rangers-Capitals on Friday — Rangers up, 1-0 — the Blueshirts’ Brian Boyle was whistled for an obvious penalty. From in front of the Capitals’ goal, and with play headed the other way, he swung his stick against the back of Mike Ribeiro’s legs.

“Boyle slashed Ribeiro and I think he got called for it!” Sam Rosen, the Rangers’ MSG TV voice hollered when play was stopped. “Ribeiro decked Boyle, but they caught the retaliation!”

Analyst Joe Micheletti took it from there: “Ribeiro’s crosscheck was missed. Boyle was down on the ice, and Ribeiro was frustrated that he couldn’t get the puck in. There’s a push, and then a slash. That’s the one the referee catches.”

The Capitals, a man up, quickly scored. Deep into the third period, the 1-1 score was still being explained as the result of a “retaliation penalty” on Boyle, an implication that the refs blew it. The Rangers, in a huge game, had been robbed by at least one of two half-blind or incompetent refs.

When the Caps won in overtime — on a goal by Ribeiro — one could be left to conclude the Rangers had been thoroughly victimized by Ribeiro’s missed or ignored crosscheck on Boyle.

Fine. Except for one, little thing: If, as Micheletti stated, the refs missed Ribeiro’s crosscheck, they weren’t alone. Nothing of the sort happened. Ribeiro didn’t commit an infraction of any kind, nothing even close. Ribeiro and Boyle were in view during their entire, shared shift. I replayed it five times.

What Rosen and Micheletti so plainly saw — and complained about — never happened, except, perhaps in the dutiful minds of those employed by a network that has placed candor, not to mention viewers, in the freezer since Jimmy Dolan dumped Marv Albert for frank appraisals of bad Knicks teams.

Mushnick’s conclusion is in line with much of what he and his New York Daily News counterpart, Bob Raissman, write about on a regular basis: the inherent conflict of interest when a regional sports network is owned by the same individuals that own the team whose games the network airs (e.g., MSG/Rangers & Knicks, YES Network/Yankees, etc.).   While I don’t disagree with this premise, I think Mushnick was off the mark here.

Let me start with this: I loathe blatant homerism in sports announcing. I find Jack Edwards – who calls games for the Boston Bruins on NESN – insufferable. I find John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman – who announce games for my beloved Yankees on WCBS radio – almost intolerable.

Rosen and Micheletti are homers, to an extent, but there is a fine line between announcers who allow their (unavoidable) personal connection to a team to be reflected in their work, and those who serve as cheerleaders for a team and/or its management.  For me, Sam and Joe walk that line almost to perfection.

Back to game 5.  Mushnick says he watched the footage five times. Maybe a sixth was necessary. While I have not been able to find the MSG feed, a review of TSN’s feed briefly shows the incidents in question. Keep an eye on 9 in red and 22 in white right around the 4:05 mark.

While Ribeiro did not cross-check Boyle to the ice, what is clear is that with Boyle down on his knees, and with both hands on his stick about a foot apart, Ribeiro came down across Boyle’s head or upper back not once, but twice. Rosen and Micheletti, who have to call these plays without the benefit of five replays, should be afforded some slack given that the play occurred in the midst of a frenzy in front of the net during which no fewer than 10 bodies were in the frame.  Finally, contrary to Mushnick’s conclusory statement, Micheletti’s later characterization of Boyle’s slash as a “retaliation” penalty carries no connotation  that the referees missed a call.  Boyle’s slash was in retaliation for Ribeiro’s stick work, and that is what is meant by the term “retaliation penalty” – nothing more. Players can be called for retaliation penalties in response to hits or plays that fall within the rules. Those who watch hockey on a regular basis have a clear understanding of the term.

Mushnick may be correct in asserting that announcers are told to refrain from disparaging the teams by whom they essentially are employed. But this was not a case of Rosen and Micheletti refusing to criticize Boyle and/or the Rangers in an attempt to appease the powers that be.  In this instance, Mushnick missed.

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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and wishes he had someone who would sugarcoat his own shortcomings on the ice.