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Channel 5 is out of touch

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By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / June 3, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The expenses are steep enough to make a business manager do a spit-take, and the distance provides local news directors with a ready-made excuse once they’re made aware that they’ve fanned on a chance to provide content that viewers desire.

But a ready-made excuse is far from an acceptable reason for not having a reporter on the scene to cover the commencement of the Bruins’ quest for their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Particularly when the competition has made the commitment.

It’s no surprise that Channel 7 is emphasizing the Bruins’ appearance in the Stanley Cup Final; it’s an affiliate of NBC, which airs the national NHL broadcasts along with Versus under the Comcast umbrella. Channel 7 sent sports director Joe Amorosino, reporter Rhett Lewis, and a pair of cameramen. It serves them well to be in Vancouver, but it also serves their viewers.

Channel 4 sent sports reporter Dan Roche and a cameraman, and the regional sports networks, NESN and Comcast SportsNet New England, have their usual flock of on- and off-air personnel.

As for Channel 5? Let’s just say news director Andrew Vrees left the net empty.

Despite what industry sources said was a determined plea by sports director Mike Lynch to have staff in Vancouver for Games 1 and 2, no one from the station is in Canuckland.

“I’m disappointed we’re not there,’’ said Lynch, “but hopefully we can make it back for Game 5 and/or Game 7.’’

It’s no surprise the widely respected Lynch took the high road, so let’s say it on behalf of the Channel 5 sports department: It’s not just disappointing, it’s downright inexcusable. When even the competition sympathizes to some degree, it’s a telling sign that an obvious call was botched.

“I think everyone in this business knows how frustrating it is, what [Lynch] is going through,’’ said Roche, who was born in Methuen and graduated from North Andover High. “I think it’s been easy for people the last decade to lose focus on how much the Bruins really mean around here.

“I’m from that generation that worshiped Bobby Orr, Espo [Phil Esposito], Derek Sanderson, [Gerry] Cheevers, you could go down the whole roster. They were idolized. They’re icons. And later it was [Raymond] Bourque and Cam Neely.

“Maybe because it’s been so long that they’ve won, there is that perception out there, definitely, that the Bruins are the No. 4 team in this market, and maybe sometimes that is the case.

“But if you lived here, grew up with it, you know what they mean, and you know that whenever there is the chance of them doing something special, the interest grows exponentially.’’

Amorosino, a Don Bosco and Boston University graduate who once interned for Lynch at Channel 5, put it more succinctly:

“You can easily, easily argue that the Bruins have the most loyal and passionate fans in Boston. They’re not the largest. But they show up. And they watch.’’

Lynch, a Swampscott native and former Harvard football player, has as much credibility as any reporter in the market. He has been named Massachusetts Sportscaster of the year 15 times since becoming Channel 5’s principal anchor in 1985.

No one needs to tell him what resonates with Boston sports fans. He should be telling those who don’t know.

Of course, the cost of covering the Bruins in Vancouver is daunting, and in an age when the time allotted for sports reports on local newscasts is dwindling, it’s justifiable to cut corners from time to time.

But anyone with a working knowledge of what matters to Boston sports fans is aware that this is not one of those situations. It’s inexcusable that Channel 5 is not there.

If Channel 5 wants some numbers to crunch, consider these, courtesy of the Nielsen Company: Boston was the top-rated market in the country for NBC’s broadcast of Game 1, earning a 25.5 rating and a 39 share, making it the highest-rated NHL game in Boston since at least 1995.

While some context is necessary — before 2009, the Stanley Cup Final games were on cable (ESPN and Versus) — it is nonetheless a remarkable confirmation of the willingness of Bruins fans to tune in.

Whether NBC’s ratings will make Channel 5 realize what it’s missing, check back before Game 5. There will be no greater confirmation of the lesson learned than hearing, “Mike Lynch, reporting live from Vancouver . . .’’

Flood gates are open No one needs to explain the relevance of the Bruins in Boston to Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC and Versus’s NHL telecasts. A Dedham native who graduated from Noble and Greenough and captained the 1983 Williams College hockey team, he gets rolling in conversation when talking about the Big, Bad Bruins of the early ’70s. “Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound,’’ he says with a laugh, recalling the famous bumper sticker. “I’d like to see one of those again.’’ Those Bruins teams were loaded with charismatic players, of course, and there was some chatter entering this series that Boston and Vancouver lacked the requisite star power to make a compelling Final. Flood doesn’t see it that way. “We came on the air Wednesday night telling the stories of [Tim] Thomas and [Roberto] Luongo, these two goalies who have had amazing seasons,’’ he said. “Luongo has his doubters despite all he has accomplished, winning the Olympic gold medal. Using him as a vehicle and using Thomas as a vehicle as this amazing, heroic figure who rose through all kinds of adversity to make it to his point of his career, they’re very relatable people. And there are always stars in every game. You don’t always need an Ovechkin or Crosby.’’

Bruins beat Celtics Perhaps the most interesting ratings tidbit from Game 1? The 25.5 for the Boston market beat the 19.1 from Game 1 of last year’s NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers on ABC . . . Julie Kahn is getting some company as Entercom’s vice president and market manager of its Boston stations. Jeff Brown will join her in the role this month, moving over from his role as VP and market manager of Entercom’s Portland, Ore., station. Kahn will remain the company’s New England market manager.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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