Winter Classic providing TNT chance to showcase NHL coverage

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Keith Jones grew up playing in an outdoor hockey league in Brantford, Ontario, so he has a good idea what the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will experience when they face off in expected sub-zero temperatures at the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN1, TVAS, NHL LIVE).

“You put your toque underneath your [helmet] and the colder the better, and once the game started you never seemed to notice just how cold it was,” said Jones, a former NHL player who will be part of the TNT broadcast. “So I think [the cold weather] will be something that the players will put aside. That will obviously be in the forefront for everybody else that’s watching the game, but the guys on the ice, I don’t think they’re going to feel it too much.”

A sellout crowd of about 38,000 is expected for the first Winter Classic in two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first big NHL event broadcast on TNT, which is in its first season as an NHL TV partner. Jones, who was part of the broadcast of several outdoor NHL games when he worked for NBC, is looking forward to seeing the packed house at Target Field after games were played without fans for much of last season.

 

[RELATED: Complete 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic coverage]

 

“That’s probably the biggest part of it, just having people back and being able to share the experience with everybody within the arena, within the building, and also with the folks at home,” Jones said. “I think it’s obviously a great opportunity for us at TNT to show off our new look and what we’ve got going, but at the same time celebrate the game being played outdoors, which always brings a lot of different things into the picture, including some really cold weather this time.”

Jones will be in the broadcast booth with play-by-play voice Kenny Albert, who will call the Winter Classic on television for the first time. Commentators Darren Pang and Jennifer Botterill also will be on site.

Host Liam McHugh will be joined by Wayne Gretzky, Rick Tocchet, Anson Carter and Paul Bissonnette in studio in Atlanta starting at 6 p.m. ET for an hour-long pregame show, “NHL on TNT Face Off Presented by Verizon.”

Rock band Dirty Honey will lead into the game by performing “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, the late Minneapolis legend, filmed on one of Minnesota’s famous frozen lakes.

Video: The NHL Tonight crew previews the Winter Classic game

The studio team will return for intermission coverage and a 30-minute postgame show. Bleacher Report and House of Highlights also will provide extensive coverage online and on social media. The 23-player roster for the 2022 United States Olympic Women’s hockey team will be revealed during the second intermission.

“It’s great the way the National Hockey League has found different ways in different cities and different environments to bring out the local flavor and that’s always something that I look forward to,” Jones said. “It usually hits you as soon as you enter. And I think all the fans are going to experience it the same way. That’s something I’m really looking forward to seeing, just what all the local touches are that the League and the Minnesota Wild have come together and produced for us.”

In a salute to the “State of Hockey,” Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, will be transformed to resemble a pond hockey tournament, with auxiliary rinks surrounding the game rink. The Wild and the Blues undoubtedly will value the festive atmosphere, but also will have a lot at stake.

St. Louis (18-9-5) leads the Central Division with 41 points, one point ahead of Minnesota (19-9-2) and two points ahead of the Nashville Predators (19-11-1).

“I think that makes it a little more special,” Jones said. “There’s no doubt that both clubs have aspirations of making long playoff runs. St. Louis, of course, has done it before and won a [Stanley] Cup just a few seasons ago (2019), so they are well aware of what it takes. But along the rides you have moments where kind of you step outside of the focus of trying to win the Stanley Cup and get out there and kind of bond with your teammates and your families in a unique environment.”

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