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Jaffe is getting lots of ice time

NESN analyst busy and well-informed

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / January 6, 2012
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A glance at Billy Jaffe’s schedule would surely make any underemployed hockey analyst envious.

“In no particular order, my portfolio this year is my work with NESN, the NHL Network [as an analyst on ‘NHL Tonight’], MSG’s ‘Hockey Night Live’ one-hour show on Saturday, and some Sportsnet stuff when I’m in Canada,’’ said Jaffe, who is in his first year as a studio analyst on NESN’s Bruins telecasts and a panelist on “The Instigators.’’

Whew. Even his agent must wonder how he manages to show up for the right gig in the right city on the right day.

“Yeah, my agent and my buddies sometimes laugh at my schedule,’’ said Jaffe, whose other credits include reporter/analyst work for Versus and four years as the Islanders television analyst. “When it comes down to it, it’s just calendar management.

“It’s not like putting the NHL or Major League Baseball schedule together. I look at it and say, ‘OK, I know I have a game here, I have this here, and fill in the blanks.’

“The hardest part - and I do this once a month - is putting together a monthly travel schedule so I know the airline and the hotel I’m staying at.’’

For those who have become familiar with Jaffe’s work on NESN - he is slated for 23 games in the studio and 17 appearances on “The Instigators’’ - the reason he is in demand is obvious: Jaffe is a superb analyst, easygoing and engaging but with a genuine knack for making the nuances of hockey accessible to casual viewers without simplifying them too much for the diehards.

He says his approach is to find the most interesting thing to talk about in the short period of time he has, whether that’s pointing out the way David Krejci’s stick blade moves when he’s making a delicate pass or noting how Zdeno Chara initiates a breakout by turning one way rather than the other.

Jaffe expertly relays the subtleties of the game, informing, sometimes teaching, but never patronizing.

“My first goal is, as corny as it sounds, is if I’m not having fun doing what I’m doing, how the heck is the viewer or listener supposed to have fun?’’ Jaffe said. “If I don’t have energy and I’m not having a good time talking about hockey, then shame on me.

“Hockey can be a very complicated game, and the temptation is for an analyst to overanalyze. But here’s the reality: It’s really all the same in terms of what makes successful hockey. You’ve got to forecheck, you’ve got to backcheck, you’ve got to shoot and score, you’ve got to make saves.

“There are intricacies, of course, but there’s always something interesting or original about a play or goal that you can focus on and explain where it will appeal to all of the viewers.

“I don’t want to overcomplicate it. I try to pick up on those subtleties that maybe the average fan won’t and explain them in a way that makes sense and is fulfilling to everyone.’’

Yet he does not shy away from being critical, and his candor seems to have cost him in the past. In July 2010, he was let go by MSG as the Islanders analyst after four years. Reports at the time said the network wanted to retain him but Islanders management felt he wasn’t positive enough.

“I’ve never had that cross my mind,’’ said Jaffe, when asked whether he worries how criticism might be received by the team. “If I’m not being honest and fair, then I’m not doing the job the way I want to, and I’ve never had to remind myself to do the job that way.

“I’ve never been told, to this day, that I was being too critical in New York. That was the rumblings. I still don’t know, but to me it’s water under the bridge. But if I’m not being fair and honest, I would think a hockey fan would see right through it.’’

Jaffe, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and played hockey at the University of Michigan, may not have been as familiar to local viewers as Mark Mowers, a fellow newcomer to the telecasts this season who played for the Bruins and starred at the University of New Hampshire.

But Jaffe does have personal ties to Boston. His grandmother lived on Beacon Street after moving from Winthrop and she passed along her love of the local sports teams to her grandson.

“You know when you’re a little kid, right, and things just resonate with you?’’ Jaffe said. “And those were the days where you didn’t have global calling plans and call at all hours of the day and you talk to someone maybe once a week. I would talk to her for my time on the phone about Boston sports.

“I was a huge Boston sports fan growing up. We would come to Boston probably twice a year to see my grandmother, and always try to go to one event while we were here. I remember watching on WSBK, Channel 38, as a little kid.

“While I’m a very proud Chicagoan, I do love Boston. It’s a near and dear place in my heart.’’

Frozen treats

NESN is calling tomorrow “Hockey Day in New England,’’ and its programming certainly fits the slogan. The network begins its coverage of the Bruins’ first matchup with the Canucks since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in June (we trust you know the outcome) at noon, with faceoff at 1 p.m. At 4 p.m., UMass and Vermont take the ice for the first of two college games at “Frozen Fenway,’’ with Maine taking on New Hampshire in the nightcap at 7:30. In building up to tomorrow’s live action, NESN will air a replay of Game 7 at 9:30 a.m.

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