Hockey returned to ESPN when the network aired the KHL match between Dynamo Moscow and HC Lev Praha on Tuesday afternoon. The match was not only historic in the fact it was the first time Russian hockey appeared on the ESPN family of networks, but also because it brought Steve Levy back to hockey play-by-play for the first time since 2004. Joining Levy was Barry Melrose doing the color commentary.
Unfortunately, while it's nice to see ESPN covering hockey again there were plenty of negatives, many of which involved the commentary during the game.
If you couldn't catch the game, here's what you missed.
ESPN seems to think Alex Ovechkin was the only man on the ice at all times, even when he was on the bench. It would have been quite the feat to record just how many times Ovechkin was discussed. It makes sense that the network would take time to cover one of the NHL's biggest names but they could have easily focused on Zdeno Chara who was also skating in this one.
ESPN's coverage of the game will receive more coverage than the game itself. Dynamo might have emerged victorious by a score of 1-0, but it will be the rather bizarre and sometimes uncomfortable commentary between the previously mentioned Levy and color man Barry Melrose that will be remembered.
It's important to remember that ESPN is only airing KHL games because of the NHL lockout. With that fact in mind, it was rather bizarre to hear Levy and Melrose discuss the lockout. Melrose commented that he believes it's wrong that so many players have "gone against the union" and taken jobs in Europe. Ironically, Melrose would not be doing hockey commentary currently without those very players skating in the KHL.
The rest of the commentary could be described as strange, and that's being somewhat kind. Melrose at one point mentioned how large the Soviet Union is. Note that he said "is" and not "was". You might want to open a history book, Barry.
Melrose and Levy also mentioned the lingerie hockey league during their broadcast. We're still not sure why. The two also made plenty of jokes throughout the game, cracking up and giggling every few seconds. It was ... strange.
It was fun watching hockey in the middle of the afternoon. That being said, don't chalk this up as a major win for ESPN. Few NHL fans will show anything but a passing interest in the KHL. Add in the fact the commentary was brutal and the intermissions consisted of ESPN rambling on about Tim Tebow, and you have hockey coverage that's only passable during a lockout.
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The good: It's hockey season, and there's hockey on my TV.
The bad: Chara only got Oshied once.
The ugly: "The emp is netty." - commentary attempting to refer to Lev pulling their goalie with under a minute to go. (This was hardly the sole oddity of the commentary, but it was the one closest to the end of the game, and I happened to catch it on the replay as well while flipping channels in the evening.)