Pittsburgh won’t just be represented on the ice at this year’s World Junior Championship – the city will be represented in the broadcast booth as well.
The Penguins’ own Steve Mears will be calling the action for all of Team USA’s games in the tournament, with NHL Network’s E.J. Hradek serving as the analyst and Rob Simpson as the rink-side reporter.
“It’s such a prestigious tournament to be able to see the future stars of the league, especially in a year like this where you’ve got so many talented players on all teams,” Mears said. “It’s going to be really fun. I can’t wait to get going.”
Mears, a graduate of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pa., has been a member of the Penguins Radio Network team since September 2009. In addition to his work on the Penguins' radio and TV game broadcasts, he serves as the host of "Penguins Live" on Pittsburgh Penguins 24/7 Radio and is also a contributor to PensTV on the official team website.
In addition to his duties with the Penguins, Mears has been working with the NHL Network when the opportunity arises – covering the NHL Playoffs and Final last year and also serving as anchor of their show NHL Live at times during the 2011-12 season.
That relationship with NHL Network that paved the way for the opportunity to do play-by-play for the World Junior Championship, scheduled for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia. And while Mears has called a lot of game action before, he’s never done it for international hockey.
“As a broadcaster, you want to have opportunities like this,” Mears said. “It’s just something different. It’s something new. It’s something I haven’t done before. I haven’t done much international stuff. I’ve called plenty of NHL games, I’ve done college hockey and playoff games and all kinds of things, but to do international hockey is something new and different and it’s definitely challenging because they’re players you don’t see on a regular basis, for the most part. You get to familiarize yourself with some new names that you know are going to be prominent in the sport for a long time.”
Some names Mears is already familiar with are the Penguins prospects that will be playing in the tournament. Forward Teddy Blueger will play for Latvia, defenseman Olli Maatta will play for Finland and defenseman Scott Harrington is representing Canada for a second-straight year. Harrington, who won bronze with Canada last year, is a player Mears is particularly excited to watch.
“People just don’t really give him the credit he deserves,” Mears said. “I think that’s because of the life of the defensive defenseman. They don’t really get the press and the headlines like the point producers do. But Harrington is an alternate captain. He’s been there before, has such a level head and comes from a team that’s just on fire in London. To be that type of a player and make the cut in a lockout year with all the talent that they have on the blueline with all the first-round picks, and to know he’s one of the best defensemen that Canada has to offer in a pool that is just so incredibly vast, it really speaks to how good he is.”
“Penguins Live” isn’t focused solely on the NHL’s Penguins. On his show, Mears spends a lot of time covering college and high school hockey in the area as well as following the careers of all local players, whether they’re promising prospects or established NHLers.
So with Mears calling the action for all of Team USA’s contests at the tournament, he’s hoping to see all four kids from the Pittsburgh area that are currently at training camp in Helsinki, Finland.
Forwards J.T. Miller, Vince Trocheck and Riley Barber, along with goalie John Gibson, all played for the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel program while developing in the Pittsburgh amateur hockey system (for more details on these players, click here).
Mears attended both drafts the boys were selected in. Miller, Trocheck and Gibson became part of history when they joined Brandon Saad to be part of Pittsburgh’s largest-ever draft class in 2011 in Minnesota, while Barber was drafted in his hometown of Pittsburgh in 2012.
“It’s something that we’ve covered even going back to when Miller and Gibson and Trocheck were drafted,” Mears said. “We’ve been following the career paths of these Pittsburgh natives and it’s just such a great story as they continue to rise. They won’t just be there and have the Pittsburgh presence, but they have prominent roles. That’s the main storyline and we’re going to be talking a lot about them on broadcast.”
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