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Nhl Stars Plugging Away For Fox

New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter leaned forward on his hockey stick and squinted at the teleprompter. The words were still scrolling by, but his tongue had stopped working.

“I swear I passed my driver’s test,” he said, still squinting. “I just looked away and lost my place.”

Richter was doing a promotional spot for Fox’s first season of NHL coverage, which starts April 2. And if he lost his place, Fox can forgive him.

He’s new at this, just like the rest of the NHL, which hasn’t had a network TV contract since NBC brought us “Peter Puck” in 1974-75.

“They’re beginning to realize how big the game is getting and what big stars they can become,” Fox vice president-creative director George Greenberg said. “We’re just asking them to come out of their shells a little bit. The onus is on us to bring out their personalities.”

A week ago, Fox began airing its promos, shot with players from all over the NHL. So far, Wayne Gretzky, Pavel Bure and Dale Hawerchuk have appeared for the “NHL on Fox.” Fox has had them doing everything from shooting pizzas to carving fish into Fox logos.

“We had Benoit Hogue of the slanders smacking raisin bagels,” Greenberg said. “They smack like pucks, they just taste better. Hogue’s a diamond in the rough. He tells the cameras, `We hockey players can do amazing things with round objects.’ Then, in his French-Canadian accent, he ends the promo by saying, `Care for a schmear?”’

Greenberg, a New Yorker living in California, played hockey until he was 11 or 12.

“But then I stopped. We moved to Florida,” Greenberg said. “The ice wasn’t too good at the Polar Palace in Hialeah. It was like skating on margarine. Skating on margarine or surfing? It was no choice.”

Richter’s promo shows him in his goaltenders’ uniform, comparing his mask with those of other NHL goalies.

“The guy in L.A., he’s got a Hollywood sign on his mask. … The Panthers goalie, he wears a Panther. The guy on the Mighty Ducks, I assume he’s got a Mighty Duck. I’ve got the Statue of Liberty,” he says.

“I know it’s a symbol of New York and freedom and all, but I don’t know if it’s quite right. I mean, the Statue of Liberty welcomes people in. I try to shut them out.”

In the final scene of the promo, Richter is to face a firing squad of pucks, and he makes a final request of one more Stanley Cup. Originally, the script called for him to be wearing a blindfold with a cigarette in his mouth.

But Greenberg decided it wasn’t appropriate.

Out takes

On Sunday, Tom Hammond and Bill Walton were in Denver for a Jazz-Rockets NBA game that was telecast regionally by NBC to the mountain time zone. After a commercial break, NBC cameras came back to Walton and Tom Hammonds, the Denver forward.

“Hi, everybody, Tom Hammonds with Bill Walton here,” the basketball player started to say. Hammond, whose name often is misspelled with the `s’ at the end, then returned to the set, ejecting Hammonds.

At least, John McEnroe isn’t shy.

Reflecting on Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and his attempt to get Wimbledon away from NBC, McEnroe tells Tennis Magazine in its March issue: “The person who owns Fox is single-handedly responsible for a lot of what I find despicable. It’s all about some kind of power play. I’m sure he doesn’t even know he’s getting tennis - if he gets it. He’s a low-life.”

McEnroe, an NBC and USA Network analyst, made the remark before NBC beat out Fox for Wimbledon.