ESPN gets the 1st chance to air a Hockey Stadium League game

Since ESPN won back the NHL rights two years ago, it has carried the All-Star Game and the Stanley Cup finals on ABC. The only thing he didn’t have was an outdoor game.

That changes Saturday night when ABC hosts the Stadium Series contest between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Panthers from Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina.

ABC’s Saturday game package usually airs in the afternoon, but hockey gets the prime time slot with the NBA on its All-Star break.

Mark Gross — who oversees ESPN and ABC coverage as senior vice president, production and remote events — said they’ve seen notes about how TNT and NBC did their outdoor games. However, each stadium game has its own flavor and identity.

“We’re excited because it’s a big event and it’s going to be a big event with the studio team on location,” Gross said. “We’ll also have sky camera coverage over the ice because there’s nothing to block it.”

In addition to the sky camera, ABC will use a drone to provide additional aerial shots. Select players and coaches will also have wireless students in collaboration with the NHL.

Saturday’s games on ABC on January 28th, followed by the All-Star Game the following week, marked the start of more games on both ABC and ESPN as things begin to build with the playoffs on the horizon in mid-month. April.

“It just boils down to this,” play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough said. “Then, of course, we go straight into the playoffs, which is unlike anything I’ve ever had. It’s a grind when we get into that, so I’m happy to come into it with a bit of a break because when we get going, it’s a whirlwind, to say the least.”

McDonough is in his second season with analyst Ray Ferraro and reporter Emily Kaplan. They were named ESPN/ABC’s premier team after the Walt Disney Company acquired the rights back in 2021 with a seven-year deal.

One of the adjustments McDonough has had to make to hockey is that Ferraro is between the benches instead of next to him in the booth for most games. Ferraro, like most analysts, prefers to be at ice level because it’s easier to see and break down the game.

“I think the biggest concern is meeting each other because you can’t make eye contact. So I had to learn John’s end, and John had to learn when I like to jump in,” Ferraro said. “After you do it a few times, it becomes a rhythm.”

Kaplan, who is also an online reporter for, said she inquired about the possibility of doing rinkside reporting after ESPN regained the rights, learning she could get a few games. In the end she was added to the best team.

Kaplan said the one thing she learned from Ferraro was to get feedback from a limited circle of people.

“No one gives you a guidebook about this or what’s going to happen to you, when you’re suddenly in a national television role. It was a lot of learning along the way,” she said. “It was rewarding because I was able to carve my own path. I want to stay true to myself and what I thought would be best for this role.”

McDonough has credited Ferraro and Kaplan with helping guide the locations and getting to know coaches and players.

“The comfort level is much higher for me this year. I thought I was following him pretty hard as a fan, but it’s a different animal when you’re doing this job,” McDonough said.

Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming and acquisitions, said the scheduling was more favorable this season because the NHL didn’t take a three-week break in February (which was when the league thought it would compete in the Beijing Olympics). Games have also not been rescheduled due to COVID-19.

Ben-Hanan said there is a possibility that more Boston Bruins games will be added to the schedule. The Bruins (41-8-5) are on pace to share the single-season NHL mark of 62 wins held by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We feel we’re well positioned for our schedule the rest of the way, with Boston appearing as the frontrunner. We’re embracing it, and it’s easy to follow if you’re a fan,” he said.


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