NHL on USA is the de facto title of a television show that broadcasts National Hockey League games on the USA Network. The network last broadcast regular-season games in 1985, but as part of current parent company NBCUniversal's contract to cover the NHL, the network resumed broadcasting a handful of games in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs,[1][2] by serving as an overflow channel for NHL playoff games[3] that cannot air on sister networks NBC or NBCSN through 2021.

History[edit | edit source]

Before the USA Network came to be (1969-1980)[edit | edit source]

Manhattan Cable and HBO (1969–1977)[edit | edit source]

Manhattan Cable (subsequently referred to as the MSG Network) debuted in the spring of 1969 and did all home events from the Madison Square Garden: New York Knicks basketball, New York Rangers hockey, college basketball, horse shows, Golden Gloves boxing, tennis, the Westminster Dog Show, ice capades, professional wrestling, etc. The first reference to the channel as “MSG Network” was sometime around 1971–72, although the name did not become official until 1977.

The first televised events were NHL and NBA playoffs in the spring of 1969; in those playoffs Marty Glickman did play-by-play for the Knicks broadcasts while Win Elliott did play-by-play for the Rangers.

Meanwhile, HBO began simulcasting some MSG games in 1972 beginning with the Rangers/Vancouver Canucks game on November 8, 1972 (the first ever program televised on HBO, to a few subscribers in Wilkes-Barre, PA). 1974–75 marked the only year in which HBO used MSG announcers for their feed. Because HBO is a premium cable service, this created a burden on announcers to fill in dead airtime on HBO while commercials aired on MSG Network. HBO did not broadcast Knicks or Rangers games after the 1976–77 season.

See also: List of New York Rangers broadcasters

UA-Columbia (1977–1980)[edit | edit source]

When the MSG/HBO marriage ended in 1977, Madison Square Garden proceeded to seek a new partner to launch a national network to show off its events. So for several years, beginning with the 1977–78 season, all MSG home events (such as those involving the Knicks, Rangers, etc.) were then televised on a fledgling network that would eventually become known as the USA Network. This channel, which debuted on September 22, 1977, was basically a continuation of the existing MSG Network. The key difference however, was that it was now nationally syndicated via satellite rather than terrestrially. It was also the first cable channel to be supported by advertising revenues. By this time (as previously alluded to), the channel was officially called the “Madison Square Garden Network” or MSG Network.

In 1979–80, the National Hockey League replaced their syndicated coverage package The NHL Network with a package on USA.[4] At the time, the USA Network was called UA-Columbia.[5] As the immediate forerunner for the USA Network, UA-Columbia, served as the cable syndicated arm of not only MSG Network in New York, but also PRISM channel in Philadelphia, and whatever pay/cable outlets were around in 1979.

The formation of the USA Network[edit | edit source]

On April 9, 1980, the Madison Square Garden Network changed its name to the USA Network.[6] This occurred when the ownership structure was reorganized under a joint operating agreement by the UA-Columbia Cablevision cable system (now known as Cablevision Systems Corporation) and MCA (then the parent of Universal Studios, now owned by NBC Universal). Things took a step further one year later when, Time Inc. (which eventually merged with Warner Communications to form Time Warner) and Paramount Pictures Corp. (then a division of Gulf+Western, now owned by Viacom) took minority ownership stakes in USA. G+W also owned the New York Rangers and the MSG regional sports television network (both later owned by Cablevision, but spun off in 2010).

Coverage overview (1979–1985)[edit | edit source]

As previously mentioned USA's (or UA-Columbia as it was known at the time) coverage[7] begin in the 1979–80 season as a Monday night series[8][9][10] with Dan Kelly[11] doing play-by-play alongside a variety of commentators including Pete Stemkowski, Lou Nanne, and Brian McFarlane. Scott Wahle was the intermission host.

1980–81 season[edit | edit source]

For the 1980–81 season,[12] some Sunday night games were added. Dan Kelly once again, did most of the play-by-play alongside Mike Eruzione.[13][14][15] Dick Carlson and Jiggs McDonald also did play-by-play work on occasion. In addition, Don Cherry was a commentator for at least one game. Meanwhile, Jim West was the host for most games.

With USA's coverage of the 1981 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it marked the first time that there was "blanket" American television coverage of the NHL playoffs. In other words, more often than not that, whenever a game was played it was televised on a national outlet (whether it was broadcast or cable). USA however, didn't televise Game 1 of the playoff series between Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames (April 16) because they were instead broadcasting a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies. Meanwhile, they also skipped Games 2–6 (on April 17, 22 and 24) of the Philadelphia–Calgary series because of their coverage of the NBA playoffs. USA also didn't televise Games 2 and 5 of the playoff series between the Calgary Flames and Minnesota North Stars (April 30 and May 7 respectively) because of baseball games involving the Minnesota Twins vs. the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Philadelphia Phillies respectively.

1981-82 season[edit | edit source]

In the 1981–82 season,[16] Al Trautwig[17] took over as studio host. Dan Kelly did play-by-play with either Gary Green[18][19] or Rod Gilbert on color commentary. For the playoffs, Dick Carlson and Al Albert[20] were added as play-by-play voices of some games. Meanwhile, Jim Van Horne hosted Stanley Cup Finals games played in Vancouver.

In April 1982, USA outbid ESPN for the NHL's American national television cable package with $8 million (at least $2 million more than what ESPN was offering).[21]

1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons[edit | edit source]

Things pretty much remained the same for USA during the 1982–83 season. Dan Kelly and Gary Green called most games, while Al Albert did play-by-play on several playoff[22] games and hosted one game of the Stanley Cup Finals.[23][24] USA didn't cover any playoff games on April 7, 1983 because they were broadcasting second round highlights of The Masters. This was followed by a West Coast NBA telecast.

In the 1983–84 season,[25] USA covered over 40 games[26] including the playoffs.[27] While Gary Green did all games, Dan Kelly and Al Albert did roughly 20 games each. Meanwhile, Jiggs McDonald helped broadcast one game.

Because USA was airing Masters highlights, Game 1 of the 1984 playoff series between the Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues (April 12) and Game 2 of the playoff series between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals (April 13) were aired on tape delay at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.

1984-85 season[edit | edit source]

For USA's final full season of NHL coverage in 1984–85,[28][29] Dan Kelly[30] and Gary Green[31] once again, did most games, while Al Albert and Green called the rest. In all, USA covered about 55 games, including 33 in the regular season.[32] Also, Hartford Whalers goaltender Mike Liut was added as a studio analyst for the Stanley Cup Finals.[33][34]

Meanwhile, for increased publicity opportunities, the Stroh Brewing Company[35] turned to such sports as hockey—which had been overlooked by Anheuser and Miller—and sponsored broadcasts of National Hockey League games on the USA cable network.[36]

Seldom during the early rounds of the playoffs did USA carry an away game of one of the three New York-area teams (New York Rangers, New York Islanders, or New Jersey Devils) since WOR-TV New York, at the time available on most of the nation's cable television systems, often carried that away game of the New York-area team both locally in New York and on its "superstation" feed. One exception was a playoff game between two of the New York-area clubs, since WOR was usually barred from carrying it since the home team's cable-television contract superseded the visiting club's over-the-air television deal.

Between 1985 and 2015[edit | edit source]

After the 1984-85 season, the NHL Board of Governors chose to have USA and ESPN submit sealed bids. ESPN won by bidding nearly $25 million for three years, about twice as much as USA had been paying. The contract called for ESPN to air up to 33 regular season games each season as well as the NHL All-Star game and the Stanley Cup playoffs.[37][38]

After the USA Network lost the rights to the NHL to ESPN, they largely abandoned sports after the early 1990s as the channel shifted almost exclusively to scripted entertainment. Beginning in 2006, USA began carrying some coverage of top level hockey by cooperating with NBC's coverage of ice hockey at the Winter Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014; these games were mostly daytime contests that would not preempt the network's increasingly popular prime time programs.

Selected early-round playoff games, 2015-[edit | edit source]

As part of a 2011 contract renewal, Comcast's properties earned exclusive national rights for all Stanley Cup playoffs through 2021. Because NBC and NBC Sports Network could not carry all of the games on those two outlets alone, other Comcast properties would need to be used; USA was initially not used, due to the risk of preempting its popular prime time lineup, and the company instead used CNBC and NHL Network as the overflow channels for the first four years of the contract. In 2015, Comcast announced that USA would carry some games in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, mainly on Tuesday and Wednesday nights,[1] returning the NHL to USA for the first time since 1985.[39]

List of commentators[edit | edit source]

Play-by-play[edit | edit source]

Color commentary[edit | edit source]

Studio hosts[edit | edit source]

Studio analysts[edit | edit source]

Stanley Cup playoffs commentating crews[edit | edit source]

Year Round Teams Games Play-by-play Color commentator
1980 First round Buffalo-Vancouver Game 3 (CBC's feed) Jim Robson Howie Meeker
1981 First round Los Angeles-New York Rangers Game 1[40] Dick Carlson Mike Eruzione[41]
St. Louis-Pittsburgh Game 5[42] Jiggs McDonald Mike Eruzione
Quarterfinals St. Louis-New York Rangers Game 3[43] Jim West Mike Eruzione
Buffalo-Minnesota Game 4 Dick Carlson Mike Eruzione
Philadelphia-Calgary Game 7 Dan Kelly Mike Eruzione
Semifinals New York Islanders-New York Rangers Games 1, 3 Dan Kelly Mike Eruzione
Calgary-Minnesota Games 3–4, 6 Dan Kelly Mike Eruzione
1982 Divisional semifinals New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Games 3, 5 Dick Carlson (Game 3)
Dan Kelly (Game 5)
Gary Green
Minnesota-Chicago Game 1 Al Albert Gary Green
Divisional finals Boston-Québec Games 5, 7 Dick Carlson (Game 5)
Dan Kelly (Game 7)
Gary Green
New York Islanders-New York Rangers Game 2, 6 Dick Carlson Gary Green
St. Louis-Chicago Game 4 Dick Carlson Gary Green
Vancouver-Los Angeles Game 3 Dick Carlson Gary Green
Conference finals New York Islanders-Québec Games 2, 4 Dan Kelly Gary Green
Chicago-Vancouver Games 1, 5 Dan Kelly Gary Green
1983 Divisional semifinals Philadelphia-New York Rangers Game 3 Al Albert Gary Green
New York Islanders-Washington Game 4 Al Albert Gary Green
Boston-Québec Game 1 Al Albert Gary Green
Divisional finals Boston-Buffalo Games 5, 7[44] Dan Kelly Gary Green
New York Islanders-New York Rangers Games 2, 4, 6 Dan Kelly Gary Green
Chicago-Minnesota Game 3 Dan Kelly Gary Green
Edmonton-Calgary Game 1 (taped delayed) Dan Kelly Gary Green
Conference finals Boston-New York Islanders Games 1–3, 6 Dan Kelly Gary Green
Edmonton-Chicago Games 1, 3–4 Dan Kelly Gary Green
1984 Divisional semifinals Buffalo-Québec Game 2 Al Albert Gary Green
New York Islanders-New York Rangers Games 1, 4–5[45][46] Al Albert (Games 1, 4)
Dan Kelly (Game 5)
Gary Green
Washington-Philadelphia Game 3 Al Albert Gary Green
Divisional finals New York Islanders-Washington Games 2 (taped delayed), 3, 5[47] Al Albert Gary Green
Québec-Montréal Games 4, 6[48] Al Albert Gary Green
Minnesota-St. Louis Games 1, 7 Al Albert Gary Green
Conference finals Montréal-New York Islanders Games 2–6[49][50] Dan Kelly Gary Green
Edmonton-Minnesota Game 1[51] Dan Kelly Gary Green
1985 Divisional semifinals Washington-New York Islanders Games 3–5[52] Al Albert (Games 3–4)
Dan Kelly (Game 5)
Gary Green
St. Louis-Minnesota Game 1 Dan Kelly Gary Green
Divisional finals Philadelphia-New York Islanders Game 3 Al Albert Gary Green
Montréal-Québec Games 2, 5–7 Al Albert (Games 2, 6–7)
Dan Kelly (Game 5)
Gary Green
Chicago-Minnesota Games 1, 4–5 Dan Kelly (Game 1)
Al Albert (Games 4–5)
Gary Green
Edmonton-Winnipeg Game 2 Dan Kelly Gary Green
Conference finals Québec-Philadelphia Games 1–2, 5 Al Albert Gary Green
Edmonton-Chicago Games 1, 3–4, 6[53] Al Albert Gary Green

Stanley Cup Finals commentating crews[edit | edit source]

Year Teams Games Play-by-play Color commentator(s)
1981 New York Islanders-Minnesota Games 1–5 (CBC's feed)[54][55][56] Bob Cole Mickey Redmond and Gary Dornhoefer
1982 New York Islanders-Vancouver Games 1–4 Dan Kelly Gary Green
1983 Edmonton-New York Islanders Games 1–4[57][58][59][60] Dan Kelly Gary Green
1984 New York Islanders-Edmonton Games 1–5[61][62][63] Dan Kelly Gary Green
1985 Philadelphia-Edmonton Games 1–5[64][65] Dan Kelly (in Philadelphia)
Al Albert (in Edmonton)
Gary Green and Mike Liut

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games to air on USA Network (17 March 2015).
  2. USA Network to Air NHL Playoff Games (1 April 2015).
  3. The 7 things you need to know about NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage (14 April 2015).
  4. (1990) Cable television regulation: hearings before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred First Congress, second session, Volume 2. 
  5. Anderson, Dave. "'I'll set women's tennis back 20 years'; Champs Come and Go; TV's Forever", December 30, 1979, p. DX8. 
  6. Parsons, Patrick. "Blue skies: a history of cable television". 
  7. Vintage USA Network NHL ad, featuring the sweater of every team at the time. (November 14, 2014).
  8. Baker, Kent. "2 Eastern-based firms corner growing sports cable TV market", March 1, 1981. 
  9. Gretzky' Opening (USA Network) - Mar.15,1982 at YouTube
  10. Oilers-Canadiens 1983 - USA Network NHL Opening at YouTube
  11. APRIL, 1984: Broadcaster Dan Kelly poses with his microphone before calling an NHL game for the USA Network circa April, 1984..
  12. Edes, Gordon. "A Troubled NHL Begins Season", October 9, 1980, p. OC_B2. 
  13. Swift, E.M. (December 22, 1980). "After-dinner Speakers And Designated Mop-ups". Sports Illustrated. 
  14. Green, Ted. "Reality Shattered the Golden Dream", February 22, 1981, p. E1. 
  15. The Royal Half Gameday: New York Rangers Game 2 (June 7, 2014).
  16. John Tonelli Recaps His Playoff OT Goal (Apr. 13, 1982) at YouTube
  17. 1984 USA promo NHL coverage at YouTube
  18. Gary Green. NHL.com. Retrieved on 2010-07-17.
  19. Rosa, Francis. "STARS CHASING BELLOWS; NANNE SEEKS BRUIN DEAL", May 9, 1982, p. 1. 
  20. Al Albert. pacers.com.
  21. Taaffe, William (January 24, 1983). "Getting Down To Business". Sports Illustrated. 
  22. Milbert, Neil. "Black Hawks have to heal fast", April 22, 1983, p. D1. 
  23. 1983 Stanley Cup Celebration All 3 TV Feeds Islanders Sweep Oilers at YouTube
  24. Gordie Howe Interview at Nassau Coliseum 1983 at YouTube
  25. NHL Overtime in Regular Season games started in 1983-84 (Feature) at YouTube
  26. "USA NETWORK MAKING SOME MAJOR-LEAGUE CUTS", February 10, 1984, p. 7F. 
  27. Al Arbour Interview USA Network Post Game Game 5 1984 Stanley Cup Final at YouTube
  28. Stewart, Larry. "Rams in the Dark as Channel 2 Drops Exhibition Games", August 2, 1985, p. 3. 
  29. Harasta, Cathy. "NETWORKS WOULD RACE TO TELEVISE INDY LIVE", May 24, 1985. 
  30. "Stockton, Walker Get a Break as Big Call Goes Their Way", September 20, 1985, p. 3. 
  31. 1985 NHL All-Star Game Opening (Calgary) at YouTube
  32. Craig, Jack. "OLYMPIC JITTERS SET IN AT ABC", June 24, 1984, p. 1. 
  34. Baker, Chris. "Bob Clarke (Left) and Bobby Clarke (Right): 2 Sides of Success With the Flyers, Who Are at Home in Stanley Cup Final", May 25, 1985, p. 4. 
  35. 1985 NHL All-Star Game at YouTube
  36. Simmons, Darrell. "Space appealing to Kathy Johnson", May 31, 1985, p. E2. 
  37. "ESPN acquires NHL games Backroom bickering in TV deal", The Globe and Mail, July 30, 1985. 
  38. "NHL Finds a Home at ESPN", Philadelphia Daily News, July 26, 1985. 
  39. Back on the USA Network: Sports Return With NHL Playoffs (17 April 2015).
  40. Rangers vs Kings (G # 1) 1981 Preliminary Round at YouTube
  41. The Royal Half Gameday: New York Rangers Game 2 (June 7, 2014).
  42. St Louis Blues vs Pittsburgh Penguins 1981 04 14 at YouTube
  43. Blues vs Rangers (G # 3) 1981 Quarter-Finals at YouTube
  44. 1983 Adams Division SF Game 5 Boston Bruins vs Buffalo Sabres at YouTube
  45. Game 1 1984 Patrick Division Semifinal Rangers at Islanders (USA Network) at YouTube
  46. 1984 Kenny Morrow OT Winner All English Television Calls at YouTube
  47. Game 5 1984 Patrick Division Final Capitals @ Islanders highlights at YouTube
  48. NHL on USA Network Playoffs Opening 1984 at YouTube
  49. New York Islanders 3 Montreal Canadiens 1 Game 4 Semi Finals May 1 1984 USA Network at YouTube
  50. Game 5 1984 Wales Conference Final Islanders at Canadiens (USA Network) at YouTube
  51. Oilers vs North Stars (Fuhr & Gretzky Show) - 1984 Playoffs at YouTube
  52. Game 3 1985 Patrick Division Semifinal Capitals at Islanders (USA Network) at YouTube
  53. Clarence Campbell Conference Finals 1985 - Game 4 - Edmonton Oilers @ Chicago Blackhawks at YouTube
  54. Classic: North Stars @ Islanders 05/12/81 at YouTube
  55. Game 3 1981 Stanley Cup Final Islanders at North Stars at YouTube
  56. Game 5 1981 Stanley Cup Final North Stars at Islanders (CBC) at YouTube
  57. Game 1 1983 Stanley Cup Final Islanders at Oilers (USA Network) at YouTube
  58. Game 2 1983 Stanley Cup Final Islanders at Oilers (USA Network) at YouTube
  59. Game 3 - 1983 Stanley Cup Finals - Edmonton Oilers @ New York Islanders - USA Network w/ Dan Kelly at YouTube
  60. Game 4 1983 Stanley Cup Final Oilers at Islanders USA Network at YouTube
  61. Game 1 1984 Stanley Cup Final Oilers at Islanders USA Network at YouTube
  62. Game 2 1984 Stanley Cup Final Oilers at Islanders USA Network at YouTube
  63. Game 3 1984 Stanley Cup Final Islanders at Oilers USA Network at YouTube
  64. Classic: Flyers @ Oilers 05/30/85 at YouTube
  65. NHL CLASSIC 85 Stanley Cup Final Philadelphia Flyers vs Edmonton Oilers, May 30, 1985 at YouTube
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