Richard Hart debuted as an analyst in the afternoon draw of this week’s Grand Slam of Curling in Kelowna and, by my measure, did a solid job.
Hart, of course, played for many years for Mike Harris and then Glenn Howard. He retired two years ago to spend more time at work and with his family.
Last year, he sat in on a few of the broadcasts of The Dominion Tankard Ontario final on community television and was very good. Sportsnet made an easy choice when it invited him to sit in alongside Harris and Rob Faulds.
I did find it interesting that off the top of the broadcast, there was no mention of regular Joan McCusker. Faulds introduced Hart as the new guy, so not sure if this is a trial and Joan is out or if Hart is just filling in. (Update: Hart will be working this event and the next one in Port Hawkesbury. McCusker will return for the Players, when there are women's teams as well).
Speaking from experience, being an analyst isn’t that easy. You have to watch the game off the monitor rather than down on the ice so you know what the viewer is seeing. Then you have to listen to a guy from the truck talking in your ear, telling you what to do and you have to know when to talk and when to shut up.
With curling, the less said is often better since the players are mic’ed up and can carry the conversation alone.
Then there’s the mistake of telling people what they’re seeing rather than why they’re seeing it. As the legendary golf announcer Henry Longhurst once said, broadcasters should be caption writers.
Hart, by my measure, was a natural right away. He made his knowledge show in the first end when Craig Savill’s second shot – a come-around attempt – clipped the guard and rolled behind the corner guard.
“Better than the called shot,” he said. There were chuckles from Harris and Faulds, but it turned out to be prescient as Howard ended up with a deuce.
And later he explained how the Howard front end of Savill and Laing communicate with the skip or third about the weight. It was something that only a player who had been on that team would now and it was revealing.
In the evening game between John Epping and Kevin Kow, he pointed out why the Epping team sweepers were carrying an intended draw to the button to the back rings.
“Sweepers on that last one were careful not to leave it directly back button. They didn’t want to get caught leaving a freeze on the button.” Smart stuff.
Later the same end he called out the Koe front end for a sweeping mistake, as they overswept a stone that put the Albertans in big trouble. In the same end, he criticized Epping for a poor guard.
On it went throughout the broadcasts as Hart showed his experience with not only the game but also the players in the game.
Harris was his usual self, not afraid to call out what he believed to be a bad call or an interesting strategic move. He also offers up the odd laugher, which is needed from time to time. If there’s any issue I have with Mike it’s not about the curling talk but that once in a while he does Faulds’ job and does play-by-play instead of analysis. That’s really a minor quibble however. As far as I'm concerned, he's solid.
Faulds might be the smartest guy in the booth and he didn’t say much, being the perfect traffic cop. He lobbed them up to Harris and Hart and stayed out of the way.
Overall, I enjoyed the debut. It really was fun to watch and listen.