Friday, April 17, 2009

NHL Hockey on National Television

The NHL may have a great history on the ice but it's national television exposure has been as complicated over the years as the Rubik's Cube.
From 1956-60, CBS was the first network to televise the NHL during the regular season by airing games on Saturday afternoons. Bud Palmer did the play-by-play while Fred Cusick did the color commentary. Cusick would later move over to play-by-play and Brian McFarlane did color and the intermissions.
When I first saw the NHL on network television, the first game I remember was the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals when CBS aired Game 7 between the Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Canadiens.
The announcers for this game were the best legends that nobody knew about. They were Dan Kelly (St. Louis Blues) and Jim Gordon ( New York Rangers).
As I read through the history of the NHL on network television, I never realized that NBC has the best track record for televising the sport. In 1966, NBC was the first US Network to televise the NHL playoffs.
On April 10 and 17, NBC aired two semi-final playoff games between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. This was a series that featured the battle of a pair of No. 9's with Gordie Howe taking on Bobby Hull.
On April 24 and May 1, NBC televised Games 1 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens.
Forty Three years later, NBC turned back the page and put the Red Wings versus Blackhawks in the public eye by broadcasting the Winter Classic from historic Wrigley Field on January 1 then wrapping up the season on April 12 at the United Center.
While baseball, football and basketball have had legendary announcers over a sustained period of time that fans can relate to, what's interesting about the NHL are the names that have had token appearances broadcasting hockey to the USA fan base.
Here are some of the names which stand out over the years.
In 1966, Win Elliott worked play-by-play and Bill Mazer did the color commentary for NBC.
In the 1968-69 season, CBS broadcast 13 regular season and five playoff games with Kelly doing the play-by play and Mazer serving as the color analyst and intermission host.
In 1971 and 1972, CBS also employed Phil Esposito and Harry Howell for Stanley Cup Finals coverage during these years.
I've always thought that Dick Stockton has been the best all-around broadcaster over the years but this piece of trivia validates that fact. In January 23, 1972, Stockton filled in for Jim Gordon to work with Kelly at the Boston Garden in a contest featuring the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres.
From 1972-75, the NHL was on NBC again and the announcers included Tim Ryan, play-by-play and Detroit Red Wings Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay. McFarlane hosted the intermission while animated character Peter Puck created his own following.
These were the voices that today's baby boomers would have no knowledge about. Some of my favorite announcers over the years include:
1. Dan Kelly (CBS, USA Cable Network)
2. Mike "Doc" Emerick (Fox, NBC)
3. Foster Hewitt (Hockey Night in Canada)
4. Danny Gallivan (Hockey Night in Canada, Montreal Canadiens)
5. Dick Irvin (Hockey Night in Canada, Montreal Canadiens)
6. Bruce Martyn (Detroit Red Wings)
7. Gary Thorne (ESPN, ABC)
8. Marv Albert (NBC)
Color Commentators:
1. John Davidson (Fox, NBC)
2. Ed Olczyck (NBC, Versus)
3. Stu Nahan (CBS)
4. Don Cherry (Hockey Night in Canada, ESPN)
5. Mickey Redmond (Hockey Night in Canada, Detroit Red Wings)
6. Bill Clement (ESPN, NBC)
7. Lou Nanne (NBC)
8. Gary Green (USA Cable Network)
Others include:
1. Dave Hodge (Hockey Night in Canada)
2. Tom Mees (ESPN)
3. Ron MacLean (Hockey Night in Canada, NBC)
4. Al Trautwig (USA Cable Network, Versus)
5. Barry Melrose (ESPN)
6. Brian Englom (ESPN, Versus)
7. Bill Patrick (NBC, Versus)
8. Brett Hull (NBC)
9. Ray Ferraro (NBC)
10. Pierre McGuirre (NBC)
11. Mike Milbury (NBC)
12. Steve Levy (ESPN)
13. Dave Strader (ESPN, NBC)
14. Darren Pang (ESPN)
15. Sam Rosen (FOX, MSG)
When I think of this list, I'm amazed to think that Cherry is Hockey's version of College Basketball's Dick Vitale. Stockton's career can be defined as a man who has televised all four major league sports on national television. Kelly and Emerick are the true voices of USA Hockey.
To this day, NBC is doing a much better job televising the NHL but ESPN should be the primary cable network with Versus having a supplementary role. If ESPN isn't available, TBS would be a viable alternative. There is no reason that the top stars in the league shouldn't have better visibility.
One thing is certain, the Detroit Red Wings were a huge part of NHL's national coverage back in the 1960's, and NBC knows, they'd be in trouble these days without Hockeytown and their four championships in 11 years.
Yet, when it's all said and done, what USA fans won't care about are goal cams, Peter Puck, the glowing puck so fans can track it better, sideline game interviews with coaches and players with microphones so fans will hear the sounds of the game.
The only thing that will matter to the American Sports fan is what occurred in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY when the real voices of USA Hockey Al Michaels and Ken Dryden called the "Miracle on Ice" by winning the gold medal.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at

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