The NHL Network is an American television syndication package that broadcast National Hockey League games from the 1975–76 through 1978–79 seasons.[1][2] The NHL Network was distributed by the Hughes Television Network.[3]

Conception[edit | edit source]

After being dropped by NBC after the 1974–75 season,[4][5][6] the NHL had no national television contract in the United States.[7][8][9] In response to this, the league put together a network of independent stations covering approximately 55% of the country.[10][11][12]

Coverage summary[edit | edit source]

Games typically aired on Monday nights[13] (beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET) or Saturday afternoons. The package was offered to local stations with no rights fee.[14] 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.[15] 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 ) 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,[16] 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[17] replaced the All-Star Game. It was a best of three series between the NHL All-Stars against the Soviet Union national squad.[18][19] Only the third period of Game 2, which was on a Saturday afternoon, was shown on CBS as part of The CBS Sports Spectacular.[20] 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,[21][22] where the advertising was no problem.

Saturday afternoon coverage[edit | edit source]

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,[23] 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 | edit source]

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.[11][24] When the NHL Network broadcast playoff games in 1976, Marv Albert split play-by-play duties with an announcer from one of the participating teams. For instance, on April, 18, 1976 (Montreal at Chicago), it was Brad Palmer (who was the studio host for Chicago Black Hawks telecasts on WFLD 32) who split the play-by-play duties with Albert. Albert did play-by-play for the first and rest of the game while did Palmer the second.

Starting in the 1978 playoffs, the NHL Network began simulcasting many games with Hockey Night in Canada. In these games, Dan Kelly, who was the NHL Network's lead play-by-play announcer, 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 he teamed up with Brian McFarlane. The entire 1978 Stanley Cup Finals between the Montréal Canadiens and Boston Bruins and the entire 1979 Stanley Cup Finals between the Montréal Canadiens and New York Rangers were both simulcasted as well.[25] However, had that final gone to Game 7, then that game would have been broadcast on ABC.[26]

Stanley Cup playoffs commentary crews[edit | edit source]

Year Round Teams Games Play-by-play Color commentary
1976 Quarterfinals Buffalo-New York Islanders Game 1 Marv Albert and Tim Ryan George Michael
Philadelphia-Toronto Games 4, 7 Gene Hart and Don Earle (Game 4)
Marv Albert (Game 7)
Terry Crisp
Montréal-Chicago Game 4 Marv Albert and Brad Palmer
Semifinals Philadelphia-Boston Game 3 Marv Albert Phil Esposito
1977 Preliminary round Toronto-Pittsburgh Game 3 Marv Albert and Dan Kelly
Quarterfinals Philadelphia-Toronto Games 4, 6 (WTAF feed) Marv Albert (Game 4)
Don Earle and Gene Hart (Game 6)
Steve Jensen (Game 4)
Terry Crisp (Game 6)
Semifinals Montréal-New York Islanders Games 3–4 Tim Ryan and Jiggs McDonald
Philadelphia-Boston Games 1, 4 Marv Albert and Dan Kelly Curt Bennett (Game 4)
1978 Preliminary round Buffalo-New York Rangers Game 3 (CBC feed) Dan Kelly Brian McFarlane
Quarterfinals Detroit-Montreal Game 2 (CBC feed) Danny Gallivan Red Storey and Dick Irvin, Jr.
Philadelphia-Buffalo Game 3 Dan Kelly Eddie Giacomin
New York Islanders-Toronto Game 7 (CBC feed)[27] Dan Kelly Brian McFarlane
Semifinals Montréal-Toronto Game 2 (CBC feed)[28] Danny Gallivan Bill Clement and Dick Irvin, Jr.
Boston-Philadelphia Game 3 Dan Kelly Chico Resch
1979 Preliminary round Buffalo-Pittsburgh Game 3 Dan Kelly
Quarterfinals Boston-Pittsburgh Game 3 Dan Kelly
Semifinals New York Islanders-New York Rangers Game 2[29] Dan Kelly Lou Nanne

Stanley Cup Final commentary crews[edit | edit source]

Year Teams Games Play-by-play Color commentary
1976 Montréal-Philadelphia Games 1-4 Marv Albert Stan Mikita (Game 1)
Garry Unger (Game 2)
Chico Resch (Game 3)
Curt Bennett (Game 4)
1977 Montréal-Boston Games 1–4 Marv Albert and Tim Ryan Stan Mikita (Game 1)
Garry Unger (Game 2)
Chico Resch (Game 3)
Don Awrey (Game 4)
1978 Montréal-Boston[30][31][32][33][34][35] Games 1–6 (CBC feed) Danny Gallivan (in Montreal)
Dan Kelly (in Boston)
Chico Resch and Dick Irvin, Jr.
1979 Montréal-New York Rangers[36][37][38][39][40][41] Games 1–5 (CBC feed) Dan Kelly
Danny Gallivan (Game 2)
Dick Irvin, Jr.
Gary Dornhoefer (Games 1, 5)
Gerry Pinder (Game 2)
Bobby Orr (in New York)

Affiliates[edit | edit source]

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[23][42] for the 1976–77 season.

City Station
Atlanta WTCG


Baltimore WBFF
Boston WSBK


Buffalo WUTV (Monday night games)
WGR/WUTV (Saturday afternoon games)
Charlotte WRET
Chicago WSNS


Cleveland WUAB (tape delay)
Council Bluffs KBIN
Dallas KXTX (tape delay to 10 p.m. CT)
Denver KWGN
Des Moines KDIN
Detroit WGPR
Duluth KBJR
Galveston Local cable
Greenfield WRLP
Greensboro WGHP
Houston KRIV (tape delay to 11:30 p.m. CT)
Indianapolis WHMB
Iowa City KIIN
Los Angeles KHJ (tape delay to 8 p.m. PT)
Miami WPBT
New York City WOR


Omaha KETV (tape delay to 11:30 p.m. CT)
Philadelphia WTAF
Pittsburgh WPGH
Red Oak KHIN
Rochester, NY WROC
San Francisco KQED
Seattle KSTW (tape delay to 10:30 p.m. PT)
Sioux City KSIN
Springfield WWLP
St. Louis KDNL
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.

Ratings[edit | edit source]

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 the NHL Network version of a game instead of a locally produced broadcast.

Announcers[edit | edit source]

Play-by-play[edit | edit source]

Marv Albert was the lead play-by-play man during the first season.[54] 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 | edit source]

The analysts for the 1976 Stanley Cup Finals were active players and each game featured a different analyst alongside Marv Albert. 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 Marv Albert and Dan Kelly on Game 4 of the Philadelphia Flyers-Boston Bruins playoff series (May 1).

Other[edit | edit source]

Dick Stockton served as host for a season.[59] Scott Wahle was the studio host for the 1978–79 and 1979–80 seasons. Meanwhile, Stan Fischler was on the broadcasts as an intermission analyst.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Woods, Sherry. "When Will TV Turn its Eye on Two Underdog Sports", February 13, 1979, p. 6C. 
  2. Yannis, Alex. "CBS Again Drops Soccer TV Pact", November 3, 1976, p. 76. 
  3. "Hughes Network to Show Number of Hockey Games", October 11, 1979, p. B14. 
  4. Klein, Frederick C.. "Hockey, Violence and Movies", March 25, 1977. 
  5. Atkin, Ross. "Sports check on what's new", June 9, 1975, p. 19. 
  6. "5 New Coaches Will Try to Dethrone the Flyers", October 8, 1975, p. D8. 
  7. Langford, George. "Hockey in battle for TV life!", October 5, 1975, p. I3. 
  8. Durso, Joseph. "Problems of Overexpansion Continue to Haunt NBA and NHL", July 13, 1977, p. A16. 
  9. Herman, Robin. "NHL's President-Elect Scores Points With His Take-Charge Attitude", June 28, 1977, p. 24. 
  10. "Holiday TV Hurts Series", December 28, 1975, p. 137. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "NHL Plans Cup TV; Seeks New York Outlet", Mar 23, 1976, p. 46. 
  12. Verdi, Bob. "Hockey needs TV blanket to keep it warm in U.S.", January 17, 1979, p. E1. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Deeb, Gary. "TV hockey back, but no Hawks", November 9, 1976, p. C2. 
  14. Deeb, Gary. "SHRINKING ACT", February 23, 1979, p. E4. 
  15. Merry, Don. "NHL Starts Tonight: Action but No TV", October 11, 1978, p. E2. 
  16. Herman, Robin. "Russians And NHL Both Learn", January 13, 1976, p. 32. 
  17. Carroll, Dink. "Challenge Cup is Bait to Lure TV", February 9, 1979, p. 18. 
  18. Deeb, Gary. "NFL OVERKILL", December 15, 1978, p. 1. 
  19. "Television This Week; OF SPECIAL INTEREST", February 4, 1979, p. D35. 
  20. Swift, E.M. (February 19, 1979). "Run Over By The Big Red Machine". Sports Illustrated. 
  21. Brown, Frank. "Plenty for NHL to Ponder About", February 13, 1979, p. 26. 
  22. "Sports BRIEFING", February 15, 1979, p. E3. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 "NHL Gets Its Piece of TV Action", January 9, 1978, p. C10. 
  24. Herman, Robin. "Flyer-Maple Leaf Game on TV Tonight", April 25, 1976, p. 165. 
  25. "TV Finds New Ways of Rerunning Reruns", May 12, 1979, p. 7. 
  26. Associated Press. "NHL, ABC-TV Agree", May 13, 1979, p. 89. 
  27. Lanny Mcdonald OT goal against Islanders, Quarter final game 7 at YouTube
  28. 1978 NHL Semi Final Game 2 Toronto @ Montreal 5 4 1978 at YouTube
  29. Game 2 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinal Rangers at Islanders (NHL Network 79) at YouTube
  30. 1978 NHL SCF G 1 Boston @ Montreal 5 13 1978 at YouTube
  31. 1978 NHL SCF G 2 Boston @ Montreal 5 16 1978 at YouTube
  32. 1978 Stanley Cup Game #4 Montreal Canadiens vs Boston Bruins (May 20,1978) (Part 1) at YouTube
  33. 1978 Stanley Cup Game #4 Montreal Canadiens vs Boston Bruins (May 20,1978) (Part 2) at YouTube
  34. Classic: Bruins @ Canadiens 05/23/78 at YouTube
  35. NHL May 25/1978 G6 Montreal Canadiens - Boston Bruins (HD) at YouTube
  36. John Davidson & Ken Dryden game delay -1979 Stanley Cup at YouTube
  37. Bunny Larocque wears cage helmet -1979 Stanley Cup at YouTube
  38. 1979 NHL SCF G2 NY Rangers @ Montreal 5 15 1979 at YouTube
  39. Rangers Hit Ken Dryden Again - 1979 Stanley Cup at YouTube
  40. Montreal Canadiens win game 4 of 1979 Stanley Cup Final at YouTube
  41. NHL Classic Games: 1979 Rangers vs. Canadiens - Cup Final, Gm 5 at YouTube
  42. Verdi, Bob. "New TV hockey boss ignores sad history", January 31, 1978, p. C3. 
  43. Roberts and Olsen (1977). Vue. Communications Publishing Corp.. 
  44. Strecker, Bob. "From the Sidelines", September 25, 1976. 
  45. Jauss, Bill. "Television experts underestimate the public's taste", June 12, 1979, p. C3. 
  46. Deeb, Gary. "WGN's sportscasters finally pull the plugs", June 2, 1978, p. C7. 
  47. Deeb, Gary. "CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM?", October 20, 1978, p. E10. 
  48. Eskenazi, Gerald. "Sports Guide", February 27, 1978, p. C9. 
  49. Keese, Parton. "Rangers Suddenly a Threat", April 26, 1979, p. D17. 
  50. "Sports Today", May 13, 1979, p. S10. 
  51. (1980) TV Communications. Cardiff Pub. Co. 
  52. 1976-Last time Chicago and Montreal met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at YouTube
  53. Eskenazi, Gerald. "ABOUT LONG ISLAND", March 25, 1979, p. LI2. 
  54. "NHL-Soviet Games on TV Here", December 24, 1975, p. 18. 
  55. "2 star Swedes sign with Rangers", March 21, 1978, p. E2. 
  56. Verdi, Bob. "Boston whodunit—color Orr missing from Cup telecast", May 14, 1977, p. B1. 
  57. Verdi, Bob. "Soviet 'pupils,' suspicious NHL stars open 3-game war", February 8, 1979, p. C3. 
  58. "Orr is Hockey's Howard Hughes", December 24, 1976, p. 1B. 
  59. "Some Reflections On Soviet-NHL Series at Garden", February 25, 1979, p. S2. 
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