It's hard to estimate what ESPN was going for when they decided to broadcast some KHL games on their Internet streaming service, ESPN3.com, during the NHL lockout. It became easier to decipher, however, when ESPN decided to put one of those games on actual television.
Monday's Lev Prague vs. Dynamo Moscow match made it to ESPN2 for not one but two airings, and it was the first professional-level hockey game televised by ESPN since the 2004 World Cup.
It was a clear, and obvious, troll move towards a league -- the NHL -- that had spurned the network after ESPN finally came to it's senses and tried to get back into the hockey game two years ago.
ESPN must have known the quality of hockey they were getting. Aside from the occasional shift from Zdeno Chara or Alex Ovechkin, there was nothing really separating the KHL from, say, the AHL in terms of skill level. As a man who saw a lot of the Newark Bears back in the day, the KHL feels like independent league baseball. Honestly, seeing a Canseco brother wouldn't have shocked me.
There could be no other reason for this game to air on television than as a dig, a snarky "Happy Lockout!" card to the NHL and their fans.
It wasn't a great game, a 1-0 defensive struggle in which Dynamo came out on top thanks to an Ovechkin goal, and it wasn't a very good broadcast either. Steve Levy is a total pro who tried to make this game seem worthy of his talents, while Barry Melrose clearly sounded as though he'd done no preparation. The fact that Levy and Melrose discussed Erik Christensen for a good three minutes kind of proves that.
Melrose dominated the broadcast, occasionally for the better, mostly for the worse. Here's a sample of some of the things that came out of his mouth during the two-plus hour call:
- Melrose wondering why Alex Ovechkin was wearing No. 32, later to find out.
- Suspecting that two players on one of the teams having the same name meant that they could be brothers, and doing this for almost the entire game.
- Wondering why European-born players tended to be right handed more often than North Americans.
- Mentioning a bunch of Russian stereotypes, then defending/copping to them by saying "these are stereotypes, and most stereotypes are true."
- Calling it "the Soviet Union" with no attempt correction.
- "I am a big believer in jersey lovability" He said exactly this.
Levy's attempt to draw discussion of the game to discussion of the lockout proved intelligent, and gave the NHL it's biggest platform on ESPN in months. Too often, however, the broadcast turned into Barry Melrose's Canadian version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World" schtick you'll often see on SportsCenter.
In a way, it confirmed a lot of things that we were already almost certain of: The KHL is not, and never will be, a threat to the NHL, and that ESPN will never be the right place for hockey or hockey discussion.
Not when ESPN's idea of hockey continues to be Barry Melrose.