ESPN's return to broadcasting NHL games has generated plenty of fanfare, but not a lot of games on either ESPN or ABC. That begins to change this weekend.
Saturday's All-Star Game from Las Vegas will be on ABC, and marks the beginning of ESPN ramping up its coverage for the second half of the season. ESPN will have 11 games starting later this month, while ABC's regular-season package of Saturday games begins on Feb. 26.
Most of ESPN's games so far have been streamed on ESPN+ and Hulu.
“There's always a ramp up every season. It’s a little different for us because we’re just getting back in the game this season,” studio host Steve Levy said. “This is really the big puck drop. It helps kick off the second half when we go full blast on ESPN.”
While TNT's studio crew of Liam McHugh, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Bissonnette, Rick Tocchet and Anson Carter have received plenty of rave reviews, ESPN's trio of Levy, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios are still looking to hit their stride.
“We have been doing one, maybe two games a month but now we are back loaded,” Chelios said. “We just haven't been in the studio enough to get a groove. But I think that things have gone well when we've been there and everyone I talked to enjoys listening to us.”
Levy handled both play by play and studio roles when ESPN had the NHL from 1995-2004. With Sean McDonough becoming the lead announcer with the ESPN reboot, Levy said he enjoys being more in the studio on hockey.
“I really enjoy being conversational. We try that in the Monday Night Football booth as well, but I have to sort of stick to the basics. You know, down and distance, get the right players and all that,” he said. “Whereas, when you’re in the studio hosting, I love asking the questions. Using a minimum of words, and getting the best answers from people.”
Messier said he is feeling more comfortable the more studio time he gets. While Levy is a veteran, and Chelios had worked for ESPN in the past for the World Cup of Hockey, this is the first time Messier has been an analyst.
“Everybody at ESPN has been so accommodating and patient with Chris and I as we’ve gotten our feet underneath us. We do have a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “It is about just getting comfortable behind the desk and being able to articulate a point in a in a short amount of time.”
Besides plenty of games the second half of the season, ESPN will have extensive coverage of the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup finals airing on ABC.
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