The Northern Michigan University student-dominated crew that produces video coverage of Wildcat hockey games surpassed seven larger institutions nationwide in its division to win the outstanding live game production award in the Sports Video Group (SVG) 2023 College Sports Media Awards. The five-minute video clip they submitted for the competition showed the conclusion of a Wildcat hockey game in which NMU beat rival Michigan Tech in overtime on a breakaway goal.
“Our students are the magic behind everything we do,” said Producer/Director Mike Lakenen, one of two staff members who, along with eight students, comprise the NMU crew. “They come to the arena with their energy, enthusiasm and professional attitude. The audience for hockey expects a high-quality viewing experience, which puts a lot of pressure on the students. But they deliver by taking ownership of the productions. It is my honor to work with and share some knowledge with them. They take that information and turn it into some of the best sports productions in the nation.”
The students' live video work is featured on FloSports, which streams every home game; on feeds the referees use for official reviews; as highlights and replays on the scoreboard in the Berry Events Center; and on TV6 broadcasts of NMU-MTU hockey games. Aside from Lakenen and NMU Broadcast Systems Operator Adam Diaz, who is responsible for replays, students run the cameras, graphics, audio and shading (brightness and color monitoring). There are five student-operated cameras and two static cameras above the goalies at each end of the rink.
NMU was in the collegiate student-championship division of the SVG College Sports Media Awards, for production personnel made up of at least 80% students. Other finalists were: Ball State University in Indiana; Liberty University in Virginia; Manhattan College in New York City; Monmouth University in New Jersey; Northern Arizona University; St. Cloud State in Minnesota; and the University of California, Davis.
“Some of the upper-echelon athletic programs hire professional companies to produce their game videos, so those fall under different divisions for the awards competition,” said Patrick Lakenen, NMU director of Broadcast and Audio/Visual Services. “But if students are involved in those, they're likely carrying cables for the pros rather than running cameras. Not many schools let students get the kind of hands-on, real-world experience NMU does. They're not just working on a project; they're creating something that the university and community rely on and appreciate.”
“Being from a smaller school, I never would have imagined we would win a national award like this,” said Megan Tarcea, a junior multimedia production major from Waterford, Mich., who was responsible for graphics and audio this past season. “At the same time, it really feels like we're part of a professional crew because we work so well together to create an amazing show on air that looks great. We felt good about every show this past season, and we're proud our efforts were recognized through this awards competition.”
Like many students who are asked to join the production team for hockey, Tarcea first became involved in Public Eye News, a student-produced television news program. She gained studio experience in every on-air and behind-the-scenes role, serving as producer/director the past two years. In addition to hockey, she now assists with the Ask the Experts, High School Bowl and Media Meet shows broadcast on WNMU-TV, the public station on campus. She is also a technical director for Marquette's newest commercial station, WZMQ-TV.
Mike Lakenen said he prefers that students gain previous video production experience, either through Public Eye News or the Sports and Special Events class he teaches, before they progress to the hockey broadcasts. This helps to ensure quicker, more qualified responses to direction, better teamwork and award-caliber shows.
NMU was a finalist in its first bid for a live game production award last year. Lakenen accepted this year's top honor in the division in Atlanta at the 15th-annual SVG College Sports Media Awards in association with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. Organizers reported that a record number of entries—more than 700—were submitted across all award categories. The summit provides an opportunity to “connect with professional counterparts, gain valuable insights into technology, and push university sports to new heights.
“The keynote speaker was the director of Final Four college basketball,” he said. “He had 51 cameras available to him during those broadcasts, so it was nice to listen to him describe that process. All the heavy hitters were there, and I have to tell you, our productions will compete with anyone, in any category. A number of attendees approached me after the ceremony and congratulated us on the award. They also expressed how impressed they were with our production from ‘such a small school. I thank the NMU administration and NMU Athletics for their funding and support.”
In addition to Tarcea, other student members of last season's Wildcats hockey game production crew were: Mike Cudahy, Ava Moilanen, Andrew Hoover, Joe Sigourney and Cross Lakenen, camera; and Kenzie Harrod, camera shading.
NMU 2016 digital cinema alumnus Kelly McCommons also received an SVG College Media Award for outstanding live non-game production in a division with more professional than student crew members. His video was an ice hockey show opening for Colorado College Athletics, where he serves as director of technical services and video production. Prior to that, McCommons worked as arena video director for Professional Bull Riders. He spent the last semester of his senior year at NMU traveling to weekend bull-riding events across the country before working full time.
McCommons spent three years on Mike Lakenen's hockey video crew while attending NMU, and also worked in studio on WNMU-TV productions. It is appropriate that the former student and mentor reconnected as professional colleagues in Atlanta and celebrated their respective national awards. McCommons embodies the practical preparation NMU students receive that provides them with highly marketable skills and enables them to hit the ground running in their profession after they graduate.
“Getting to work hands-on at a TV station in college was a huge benefit to prepare me for what was to come,” he said. “Despite the rural setting and small-town atmosphere that Northern offers, there are still big-time opportunities to be had, whether in Marquette or throughout the country. My time at NMU prepared me for a career in video production and broadcasting. I had many opportunities to learn tricks of the trade and practices that gave me the real-world experience I needed before I even got to the real world.”
View the 2023 SVG award-winning video submissions in all categories here.