Leading up to the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers on New Year's Day at Citi Field, there is some friendly but spirited holiday competition already underway involving baseball and hockey interests.It's the MLB Network vs. NHL Network Challenge, a now-annual five-day competition that
Leading up to the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers on New Year's Day at Citi Field, there is some friendly but spirited holiday competition already underway involving baseball and hockey interests.
It's the MLB Network vs. NHL Network Challenge, a now-annual five-day competition that airs with the first challenge episode today and pits talent from both sides of the broadcast teams that occupy the same studio facility in Secaucus, N.J. Harold Reynolds and Ron Darling will represent MLB Network, up against Ken Daneyko and Kevin Weekes of NHL Network.
The five events will include challenges in Home Run Derby, Throwing Accuracy, Shooting Accuracy, One-Timers and Trivia. One event feature will premier each day, broadcast on the "Hot Stove" show on MLB Network and "NHL Now" on NHL Network. On Saturday, fans will see a 30-minute show with highlights from all five events, and there are bragging rights at stake plus some players trades and a little collegial trash talk.
"We didn't fare very well last year," Reynolds said of the inaugural challenge. "We had to exact a little revenge, even made a player trade. I traded Eric [Byrnes] for Darling. I knew Darling, being a Northeast kid [high school in Shrewsbury, Mass., and college at Yale], probably grew up playing a little hockey. My guy Eric is from California, and last year I barely was able to get him to wear shoes. I said it's hockey, not playing in the sand. We feel good about our chances, I can't tell you the end, but that's the strategy."
Daneyko and the New Jersey Devils won three Stanley Cup titles during his tenure with the team as a defenseman from 1983-2003, and early in his career he was playing in the same New York market where Darling was leading the Mets to the 1986 World Series crown. Now they are about to compete in the Home Run Derby, each with 20 swings to hit as many homers as they can.
"First off, I go way back with Ron. I was at Game 6 and 7 of the '86 World Series," Daneyko said. "I was a young buck with the Devils at the time. I knew Ron and David Cone from a few charity events in the offseason. We would hang out and have a few Coca-Colas in the city once in a while, back when you were allowed to have more fun.
"I love Ronnie -- such a class guy, always nice to see him. To get to compete against him, I know he's a Yale guy, knows about the game of hockey. I can't let him beat me, that's for sure. I can't trash talk him too much. He's a hell of a competitor, he is fired up. If he goes down, he is going to go down swinging, that's for sure."
Reynolds said this event brought "big trash talkin'." It was fun. We see each other, we cohabitate in this building here with hockey and baseball, and we see each other all the time. There's a real connection between baseball players and hockey, because we all have the Minor League stories. Whether it's a 14-hour bus ride, and whether it's the McDonald's or grocery store food, the humble beginnings of hockey and baseball are very similar."
Indeed, Daneyko said he grew up playing baseball until he was 15 years old, as his "other love." He said "everyone wanted to go to Williamsport" -- the Little League World Series. But he also was that boy who would lift a silver trash can over his head, pretending he was hoisting the Stanley Cup. Which he would do in reality in 1995, 2000 and '03 as "Mr. Devil."
"At that stage, it was leaving home and focusing on the hockey career -- and hoping for one, anyway," Daneyko said of his youth. "I left for junior [hockey] at a very young age."
Now, he says, there is pride on the line. In addition to the Home Run Derby pitting him against Darling, participants in the Throwing Accuracy event will each get five throws from right field into a trash can at third base. The fastest to hit four targets in each corner of the net will win the Shooting Accuracy event. One-Timers criteria is the most goals scored in 45 seconds. NHLN answers MLB trivia, and MLBN answers NHL trivia. #MLBNvsNHLN is the hashtag.
"We have to hold our end of the bargain as far as hockey players. We feel we're better-rounded athletes," Daneyko said. "I told people I may be better at the baseball than the hockey at this stage. I grew up with baseball and loved it, wasn't the smoothest on the ice at times.
"This is my first year participating. I had heard the hockey guys won last year, so it would look real bad if we don't win this. Then I'm the weak link. I can't have that. We're in the same wonderful building here doing our thing and breaking down the sports we love. It's just a fun, almost gimmicky thing, but having said that, we do baseball events, hockey events, and cross over. It's who's got a little game in some other sports."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner.