The NHL Network was an American television syndication package that broadcast National Hockey League games from the 1975–76 through 1978–79 seasons. The NHL Network was distributed by the Hughes Television Network.
After being dropped by NBC after the 1974–75 season, the NHL had no national television contract in the United States. In response to this, the league put together a network of independent stations covering approximately 55% of the country.
Coverage summary Edit
Games typically aired on Monday nights (beginning at 8 p.m. ET) or Saturday afternoons. The package was offered to local stations with no rights fee. Profits would be derived from the advertising, which was about evenly split between the network and the local station. The Monday night games were often billed as The NHL Game of the Week. Viewers in New York City, Buffalo, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Los Angeles got the Game of the Week on a different channel than their local team's games. Therefore, whenever a team had a “home” game, the NHL Network aired the home team's broadcast rather than their own.
Initially, the Monday night package was marketed to ABC affiliates; the idea being that ABC carried Monday-night NFL football in the fall and (starting in May 1976) Monday-night Major League Baseball in the spring and summer, stations would want hockey to create a year-round Monday night sports block. But very few ABC stations picked up the package.
During the 1975–76 season, the NHL Network showed selected games from the NHL Super Series (the big one in that package was Red Army at Philadelphia, but the package didn't include Red Army at Montreal on New Year's Eve 1975, which was seen only on CBC) as well as some playoff games. During the 1976–77 season, the NHL Network showed 12 regular season games on Monday nights plus the All-Star Game. By 1978–79 (the final season of the NHL Network's existence), there would be 18 Monday night games and 12 Saturday afternoon games covered.
The 1979 Challenge Cup replaced the All-Star Game. It was a best of three series between the NHL All-Stars against the Soviet Union national squad. Only 3rd period of Game 2, which was on a Saturday afternoon, was shown on CBS as part of The CBS Sports Spectacular. The network, the show, and their sponsors had a problem with the rink board advertising that the NHL sold at Madison Square Garden, and refused to allow them to be shown on TV. As a result, CBS' viewers were unable to see the far boards above the yellow kickplate, and could only see players' skates when the play moved to that side of the ice. Games 1 and 3 were shown on the NHL Network, where the advertising was no problem.
Saturday afternoon coverage Edit
When Saturday afternoon games were added, the NHL said that they would start at 1 p.m. and end by 4 p.m. ET. Apparently, markets with only three stations were reluctant to give up prime time programming slots. Ultimately, the plan failed, as not only did they not gain new markets, many stations that already carried the Monday game didn't pick up the Saturday one. A few of the markets in the Eastern Time Zone that aired the Saturday afternoon games included Boston, Buffalo, New York, Washington and Springfield, MA.
In addition, the NHL gave stations the option of starting the Saturday afternoon broadcasts at 1 Eastern time or starting at 2 EST, with the full open and a first period summary preceding live action of the final two periods. WDCA (the Washington, D.C. affiliate) and WWLP (the Springfield, MA affiliate) took that option. WPGH in Pittsburgh and WTCG in Atlanta didn't pick up the Saturday package, leaving their markets without Saturday coverage. WPGH and WTCG also showed the Monday games on tape delay at midnight and 11:30 p.m. ET, respectively. Meanwhile, by 1978, WUAB in Cleveland and WBFF in Baltimore dropped hockey coverage completely (Cleveland lost its NHL team, the Cleveland Barons, that year after just three seasons in that city, which may have led WUAB to drop the package).
Also in Buffalo, the Saturday afternoon games during the months of January and February were on WGR. Meanwhile, the Saturday games during the month of March were on WUTV. WUTV carried the Monday Night Hockey package, while WGR was the over-the-air station for the Buffalo Sabres. In New York, WOR did not carry Saturday games in the months of January or February. Meanwhile, WNEW (also in New York) carried the March Saturday games (at 2 p.m.). In both Buffalo and New York, college basketball and World Championship Tennis knocked the NHL off its usual Monday night carrier.
In 1977–78, KBJR in Duluth picked up the Saturday afternoon package and dropped the Monday night games. In that same season, WHMB in Indianapolis joined the network with Saturday afternoon games at 2 p.m. and Monday night games at 11 p.m. In addition, the Iowa PBS stations had dropped the NHL by this point.
Playoff coverage Edit
The 1976 Stanley Cup Finals on the NHL Network marked the first time that the NHL's championship series was nationally televised in its entirety in the United States. Starting in the 1978 playoffs, NHL Network began simulcasting many games with Hockey Night in Canada. In these games, Dan Kelly, who was NHL Network's lead play-by-play broadcaster, was assigned to do play-by-play along with HNIC color commentators. This for example, happened in Game 7 of the quarterfinal series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders (April 29), where Kelly teamed up with Brian McFarlane. The entire 1979 Stanley Cup Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers was simulcast as well. However, had that final gone to Game 7, then that game would have been broadcast on ABC.
|1976||Quarterfinals||NY Islanders-Buffalo||Game 1||Marv Albert and Tim Ryan (split play-by-play)||George Michael|
|Philadelphia-Toronto||Games 4, 7||Gene Hart and Don Earle (split-play-by-play, Game 4)
Marv Albert (Game 7)
|Montreal-Chicago||Game 4||Marv Albert and Brad Palmer (split play-by-play)|
|Semifinals||Philadelphia-Boston||Game 3||Marv Albert||Phil Esposito|
|1977||Preliminary round||Toronto-Pittsburgh||Game 3||Dan Kelly and Marv Albert (split play-by-play and analyst duties)||Dan Kelly and Marv Albert (split play-by-play and analyst duties)|
|Quarterfinals||Philadelphia-Toronto||Games 4, 6 (WTAF's feed)||Marv Albert (Game 4)||Steve Jensen (Game 4)
Terry Crisp (Game 6)
|Semifinals||Boston-Philadelphia||Games 1, 4||Dan Kelly and Marv Albert (split play-by-play and analyst duties for Game 1)||Curt Bennett (Game 4)|
|Montreal-NY Islanders||Games 3–4||Tim Ryan and Jiggs McDonald (split play-by-play and analyst duties)|
|1978||Preliminary round||NY Rangers-Buffalo||Game 3 (CBC's feed)||Dan Kelly||Brian McFarlane|
|Quarterfinals||Detroit-Montreal||Game 2 (CBC's feed)||Danny Gallivan||Red Storey and Dick Irvin, Jr.|
|Philadelphia-Buffalo||Game 3||Dan Kelly||Ed Giacomin|
|Toronto-NY Islanders||Game 7 (CBC's feed)||Dan Kelly||Brian McFarlane|
|Semifinals||Toronto-Montreal||Game 2 (CBC's feed)||Danny Gallivan||Bill Clement and Dick Irvin, Jr.|
|Boston-Philadelphia||Game 3||Dan Kelly||Chico Resch|
|1979||Preliminary round||Pittsburgh-Bufalo||Game 3||Dan Kelly|
|Quarterfinals||Boston-Pittsburgh||Game 3||Dan Kelly|
|Semifinals||NY Rangers-NY Islanders||Game 2||Dan Kelly||Lou Nanne|
|January 3||Philadelphia at Montreal|
|January 10||Philadelphia at New York Islanders|
|January 17||Montreal at Boston|
|January 25||All-Star Game at Vancouver|
|January 31||Toronto at Atlanta|
|February 7||Toronto at Buffalo|
|February 14||St. Louis at Philadelphia|
|February 21||Atlanta at Montreal|
|February 28||Cleveland at St. Louis|
|March 7||Toronto at Philadelphia|
|March 14||Los Angeles at Montreal|
|March 21||Montreal at Boston|
|March 28||St. Louis at Minnesota|
Monday night package Edit
|January 9||Montreal at Philadelphia|
|January 16||Atlanta at Philadelphia|
|January 24||All-Star Game from Buffalo (Tuesday night)|
|January 30||New York Islanders at Buffalo|
|February 6||St. Louis at Philadelphia|
|February 13||Toronto at Buffalo|
|February 20||Buffalo at Montreal|
|February 27||Atlanta at New York Rangers|
|March 6||Montreal at Buffalo|
|March 13||Montreal at Minnesota|
|March 20||New York Islanders at Philadelphia|
Saturday afternoon package Edit
|January 14||New York Islanders at Washington|
|January 21||Detroit at Boston|
|January 28||Buffalo at Pittsburgh|
|February 4||Buffalo at Minnesota|
|February 11||Philadelphia at Boston (postponed due to snow)|
|February 18||Atlanta at New York Islanders|
|February 25||Colorado at St. Louis|
|March 4||Buffalo at Boston|
|March 11||Boston at Philadelphia|
|March 18||Boston at New York Rangers|
|March 25||Washington at Montreal|
|April 8||New York Rangers at New York Islanders|
In most U.S. NHL cities, the Hughes NHL affiliate was the same one that aired the local team's games. About a couple of dozen other stations carried the games. The network had 47 stations for the 1976–77 season.
|Buffalo||WUTV (Monday night games)
WGR/WUTV (Saturday afternoon games)
|Cleveland||WUAB (tape delay)|
|Dallas||KXTX (tape delay to 10:00 p.m. CT)|
|Houston||KRIV (tape delay to 11:30 p.m. CT)|
|Los Angeles||KHJ (tape delay to 8:00 p.m. PT)|
|New York City||WOR
|Omaha||KETV (tape delay to 11:30 p.m. CT)|
|Seattle||KSTW (tape delay to 10:30 p.m. PT)|
|Washington, D.C.||WDCA (tape delay to 9:00 p.m. ET)|
Despite the presence of the Minnesota North Stars, there was no NHL Network affiliate in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
By the time that NBC’s contract with the NHL ended after the 1974–75, they were getting a 3.8 rating. Meanwhile, the ratings for the NHL Network in its first month of existence were a 3.1 in New York, 1.9 in Los Angeles, and a 1.3 in Chicago. By 1978–79, the Monday night games were seen by about 1 million viewers; 300,000 of which were in the Boston area. Also in 1978–79, the 2 p.m. ET version of the Saturday broadcasts (with the first period cut out) was picked up by all participating affiliates except WSBK-TV Boston (which carried the entire game), and often, the cities whose local teams were playing if the local station aired NHL Network version of a game instead of a locally-produced broadcast.
- Dan Kelly
- Marv Albert
- Fred Cusick
- Ted Darling
- Don Earle
- Jim Gordon
- Gene Hart
- Jiggs McDonald
- Sam Nover
- Brad Palmer
- Tim Ryan
Dan Kelly was the lead play-by-play announcer. Marv Albert was the lead play-by-play man during the first season. During this particular period, he was paired with a local guest announcer. They typically, would split play-by-play duties.
For Game 4 of the 1976 quarterfinal playoff series between the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks (April 16), Marv Albert and Brad Palmer called the game. Albert handled play-by-play for the first and third period while Palmer, the Black Hawks' TV host, handled play-by-play for the second period. They in the process, acted as analysts for each other. Played at Chicago Stadium, the game was blacked out in the Chicago area.
Meanwhile, Marv Albert also during the 1976 playoffs, teamed with Tim Ryan (who split play-by-play duties with Albert) and George Michael for Game 1 of the New York Islanders-Buffalo Sabres series (April 11) and Terry Crisp for Game 7 of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Philadelphia Flyers series (April 25). Terry Crisp also worked alongside play-by-play men Gene Hart and Don Earle on Game 4 of the aforementioned Toronto-Philadelphia series (April 17).
Color commentary Edit
- Marv Albert
- Don Awrey
- Curt Bennett
- Bill Chadwick
- Terry Crisp
- Phil Esposito
- John Ferguson, Sr.
- Ed Giacomin - In 1977–78, Giacomin worked with Dan Kelly on Game 3 of the Philadelphia Flyers-Buffalo Sabres playoff series (April 22)
- Bobby Hull
- Steve Jensen - In 1976–77, Jensen worked with Dan Kelly on Game 4 of the Philadelphia Flyers-Toronto Maple Leafs playoff series (April 17)
- George Michael
- Stan Mikita
- Lou Nanne
The analysts for the 1976 Stanley Cup Finals were active players and each game featured a different analyst alongside Dan Kelly. These players were Stan Mikita, Garry Unger, Chico Resch, and Curt Bennett. This format continued in 1977 with Stan Mikita, Garry Unger, Chico Resch, Don Awrey replacing Curt Bennett, who instead worked with Dan Kelly on Game 4 of the Philadelphia Flyers-Boston Bruins playoff series (May 1).
Studio Host Edit
- Stan Fischler
- Jim Simpson
- Dick Stockton
- Scott Wahle
Dick Stockton served as studio host for a season. Scott Wahle was the studio host for the 1978–79 and 1979–80 seasons. Meanwhile, Stan Fischler was on the broadcasts as studio analyst.