NHL, Welcome to the National Spotlight

Author: Anthony Winker

As a guy from Minnesota, one sport that has been a huge part of my life is hockey. I grew up playing and watching my favorite team the Minnesota Wild on TV.

As years passed, I would watch my high school play, and in 2021, my senior year, we won state. Players such as Nick Leddy (drafted by the Wild in 2009, currently with the Detroit Red Wings), Kyle Rau (drafted by the Florida Panthers in 2011, currently with the Wild), and Casey Mittelstadt (drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2017) have all gone through the program at Eden Prairie high school. All but Mittelstadt (who was runner up) hoisted a state championship trophy in front of 18,000 plus. Yes, you read that right. In Minnesota, the state tournament for high school fills up a professional rink. In other words, hockey is a pretty big deal here. However, that is not the case nationally. That is about to change. 

Coming back to the big stage

In recent memory, the NHL has been with NBC as its TV partner. While NBC was good for the game for a while and gave viewers some amazing announcers (like Doc Emerick). Eventually, the game reached a point where it was not growing the way that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would have liked. This past season, the NHL’s longstanding contract with NBC expired and the NHL found a new partner: ESPN. 

A lack of respect

ESPN has not televised an NHL game since 2004. For a long time, hockey has been an afterthought on the network, shelved instead for things like the NBA, NFL, even fighting seems to get more airtime over there than hockey. That was made increasingly evident as the years went on, especially after a comment made by Max Kellerman, then co-host of ESPN’s hit show “First Take.”

“Listen, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but in the United States of America, no one really cares about hockey. You know, the old joke is every town has 20,000 hockey fans, they all have season tickets, so the arenas are always sold out but the TV ratings don’t do anything. So it’s not one of the four major team sports.” 

Max Kellerman

Hockey people do exist over at ESPN. Linda Cohn, Kellerman’s co-worker at ESPN, fired back at him saying that it was “insulting to this great game” and that she was “surprised and disappointed” in Kellerman for making such a statement. 

A second chance

With this new TV deal though, ESPN is making a commitment to hockey. The expectation is now that ESPN holds some rights, hockey will be brought up more in shows like “First Take”. More national attention will be brought to the game because of this TV deal, simply because ESPN has the potential to get more eyes on games if it’s on their channels. This was a great move by Bettman.

Hockey has the potential to grow so much more than it ever could have on NBC. Welcome to the national spotlight hockey. If the ESPN era pre-2005 is any indication, you’re in great hands.