Pass or Fail: NBC's aerial camerawork in the 2011 Winter Classic

According to the feedback we've received following the Washington Capitals' 3-1 Winter Classic victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field on Saturday, there was one undisputed gripe for many puckheads watching the game.

Forcing two teams to compete in those conditions? No. The lack of a gentlemanly handshake to end the game? A problem for some, not all. Pierre McGuire explaining the futuristic world of personal gel-pack hand-warmers when it's above freezing and raining? Close, but not quite.

No, the universal gripe this season centered around the creative camerawork from NBC; in the sense that most readers found "creative" synonymous with "appalling."

As in previous Winter Classic coverage, NBC utilized an aerial camera attached to an airplane for shots above the stadium. For the first time, it also used the CableCam that's become a vital part of NFL coverage -- making football games look like "Madden" on your Xbox while occasionally making it appear the players are being chased by a Dalek from Doctor Who as the camera dangles into the shot.

Coming up, a video-based look at how both camera angles worked in the 2011 Winter Classic. But first, we ask you, the Puck Daddy readership, two questions:

1. Pass or Fail: The aerial camerawork from NBC via CableCam and SkyCam.

2. Pass or Fail: NBC's overall coverage of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic.

NBC had six more cameras for the Winter Classic than it did at the Stanley Cup Final, and it showed: There were more unusual angles capturing play, whether it was a mid-range shot from the corner of the rink or the CableCam over the ice. Here's an example of the latter, during the Capitals' power play that resulted in Mike Knuble's(notes) goal:

NBC Cable Cam at 2011 Winter Classic from Greg Wyshynski on Vimeo.

If you're someone who loves sitting in the upper deck at a game to observe battles away from the puck and the chess match that occurs on a power play, this angle is revelatory. It's hockey nerd happy time to see the players move around on the man advantage to set up a chance, or to see what coverage breakdown led to a shot or a clearance.

That said, it's not ideal for puck battles in the corner, as you can see from this clip. They need a Hubble-like zoom on that bad boy to make it really effective.

Speaking of the Hubble, here's Eric Fehr(notes) of the Capitals scoring a goal with video captured somewhere in low Earth orbit:

Aerial Cam from NBC during Winter Classic from Greg Wyshynski on Vimeo.

The bottom line for any directing choice in any sports broadcast should be whether or not the clarity, excitement and/or storytelling is enhanced by that angle.

There's no question that a shot from the plane gives a sense of scope that enhances the grandeur of the Winter Classic. But this had all the clarity of ants chasing a grain of sea salt. Watch it again: It could have been a Penguin biting the puck like an overcooked hamburger and spitting it into his own net based on how distant the shot was.

Here's the thing: There are legitimate gripes on when to use these technologies and then there are gripes about the technologies themselves.

As a hockey fan that's been waiting three decades for them to get this game right on television, I'm excited and hopeful when I see something like CableCam. The goal should always be to replicate the speed and chaos of live in-arena hockey; but short of that, turning hockey into a more intriguing sport on television should be the other objective.

We're in a digital age that's moved beyond BIG CAMERA SWINGS BACK AND FORTH AT CENTER ICE game coverage. I give NBC credit for taking a made-for-TV event and making it their own.

Were I to answer our queries earlier in the post, I'd give the camerawork a mild FAIL because of the ill-timing of its usage but would give the overall coverage a PASS because they covered the hell out of that game.

You know: Despite Pierre.

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