ESPN has announced its on-air personnel for its upcoming NHL coverage. The network begins a seven-year deal that commences in the fall. ESPN last aired NHL games in 2004 before declining to renew its coverage following the season-long lockout. Some familiar names from the last go-round will return, combined with a few new voices who have been building their reputations on other platforms.
ESPN has gone primarily internal with its play-by-play team, which will be led by Sean McDonough, an ESPN mainstay since 2000, after having worked for CBS. Currently, he is the Worldwide Leader’s #2 college football and basketball voice, as well as part of ESPN’s golf coverage. McDonough has a long association with hockey, having called college hockey’s Beanpot tournament for NESN in the 1980s, the 1998 Olympics for CBS, multiple Frozen Fours and NHL contests in his ESPN days.
Steve Levy, the #2 NHL announcer for ESPN at the end of the previous TV deal, will take on the same role for this deal. Currently the voice of Monday Night Football, the ESPN veteran became popular on NHL coverage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and is known as “Mr. Overtime” for having called three of the four longest NHL games since World War II. Most recently as far as hockey is concerned, Levy was the lead announcer for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. (Levy, eft, with Barry Melrose.)
Other play-by-play announcers include ESPN lead college hockey announcer and longtime SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross; New York Jets radio voice and ESPN college football and basketball broadcaster Bob Wischusen, who used to serve as a backup on New York Rangers television and radio broadcasts; and Leah Hextall, the lead women’s hockey voice for Sportsnet up in Canada. The Winnipeg-based Hextall called an NHL game for Sportsnet in 2020 as part of an all-female broadcast team and has broadcast NCAA Hockey Tournament games for ESPN since 2019.
The lead color commentators for ESPN will be Ray Ferraro and Brian Boucher, both very familiar to hockey fans. The former was with ESPN at the end of the last deal, and has emerged in the time since as possibly the premier analyst in the sport. Ferraro, who scored over 400 goals in his NHL career, is currently the lead analyst for Canadian sister network TSN, where he works on Toronto Maple Leafs local telecasts and marquee international hockey events. Boucher is moving to Disney from the lead team at NBC. The longtime NHL goaltender is currently working in the Inside-the-Glass position for his second Stanley Cup Final and is expected to continue in that role on ESPN’s top team with McDonough and Ferraro.
ESPN did not specify which analysts would work games and which of them would work studio, but going off reports and those who have experience in the booth, I would imagine the following will receive game reps: former Canadian Olympic women’s captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall, part of Sportsnet’s main studio and a backup game analyst for the Calgary Flames; NHL Network lead analyst Kevin Weekes, an 11-year NHL goaltender who has become one of the top news-breakers in the sport; Ryan Callahan, once the Rangers’ captain and now an NHL Network analyst; and AJ Mleczko, a gold medalist with the 1998 US women’s hockey team who is now a color commentator for NBC and a studio analyst with the New York Islanders. I’d imagine that the latter three, all of whom live in the Northeast, will also handle some studio work.
Rinkside reporters will include Hextall, as well as ESPN writers Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, and former professional women’s player Blake Bolden, who currently works as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings.
Levy will be the lead host with Linda Cohn, the face of the nightly NHL highlight show In the Crease and a veteran SportsCenter anchor, is also expected to host studio coverage on occasion. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buccigross does as well.
Studio analysts will be led by Hall of Famers Mark Messier and Chris Chelios, who remain household names in the hockey world even over a decade after they both retired. Messier, second in NHL history in scoring, last worked in a studio with the network, then known as Versus, in the latter part of the 2000s. Chelios, who won three Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman and played his last NHL game at age 48, has dipped his toes in broadcasting but has never fully committed to it until now.
Other analysts I would expect to spend more time in the studio include former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose, who has been with ESPN since 1996 outside of one brief coaching stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2000 #1 overall pick Rick DiPietro, who played over a decade as a goaltender with the Islanders and now is a talk show host on ESPN Radio’s New York affiliate; and Hilary Knight, a forward on the US women’s hockey team expected to skate in the 2022 Olympics.
Turner Sports, the other new NHL rightsholder, has not yet announced their full broadcast lineup, but has announced a few names; Kenny Albert and Eddie Olczyk, two-thirds of NBC’s top team, will move over to Turner in the fall in the same roles, and Wayne Gretzky will be part of the studio coverage.