Yesterday, ESPN aired a KHL game online. In much the same spirit as BHS staffer Cam Charron’s popular Don Cherry Confused Me feature, I will attempt to break down what the hell Steve Levy and Barry Melrose were talking about during “the Worldwide Leader’s” coverage of an actual professional hockey game.
You had to know going into this that it would be a bit of a gong show. As far as I know — and I can’t be bothered to look it up for reasons that should be obvious — this was the first professional hockey game played on an ESPN television network since The Worldwide Leader in Sports and NHL parted ways after the last lockout. And indeed, the broadcast team of Steve Levy and Barry Melrose, calling the game from what was assuredly a basement closet in Bristol, made a meal of the whole thing from the opening minutes to after the final horn sounded.
First, I guess it’s important to talk about just how bad KHL hockey wasn’t. I’d seen bits and pieces of KHL games before but never sat down and actually watched the an entire game. So in this regard, I was relatively new to the league. Despite all my preconceptions that it would be fall-down terrible hockey played by bad players washed out of North American systems, this was not the case. The hockey was boring, no doubt, and it had nothing to do with the 1-0 scoreline. It was also not officiated particularly well, which we’ll get to in a minute. Let’s just say that while I didn’t find KHL hockey to be completely abhorrent, I also saw no reason to ever watch it again except for the fact that there are a few handfuls of NHL players in the mix.
I certainly won’t have any interest if it’s called by Levy and Melrose. Again, I went i knowing that this game would be two things: Primarily about Alex Ovechkin, who scored the game’s only goal for Dynamo Moscow, and poorly-prepared. The fact that they mentioned Ovechkin three times in the space of two minutes before the puck dropped pretty much cemented that.
Just seconds into the game, Melrose began wondering aloud why Ovechkin was wearing the No. 32 jersey for Dynamo, and not his famous No. 8. “That’s a story we have to track down,” he said. (During the first intermission, during which time viewers were treated to football highlights and analysis, they apparently learned from Ovechkin’s agent via Twitter that it was his number prior to coming to North America, and would still be if 32 wasn’t retired in Washington. Riveting stuff.)
And then, soon after that, came the Euro-bashing you’ve come to know and love, not that it should have been surprising, given that Melrose referred to modern-day Russia as “The Soviet Union,” said the word “Communist” at least half a dozen times, and later noted that men named Ivan and Igor were the producer and director of the broadcast, despite the fact that the game was played in Prague (“You know why stereotypes exist: they’re usually true,” Levy added helpfully). Actual Melrose quote when he became befuddled by Russian pronunciation: “Nyet, nyet, Soviet.”
Melrose was downright obsessed with two things in this game: How there wouldn’t be any forechecking and how there would be no shot blocking. There wasn’t a North American amount of either, but any time it did happen, Melrose commented on it in wonder. That is, except when he felt shot blocks were’t meritorious enough. Marcel Hossa’s knee-down block in the first period, for example, was dismissed as an accident. Jiri Novotny laid out to block one in the second, but this too wasn’t official enough in Melrose’s mind. Only when Dmitry Pestunov, whose name was butchered by Levy, got in front of one, 42 seconds into the third period, did Melrose concede that this, finally, was a shotblock worth his attentions. Pestunov did nothing of note for the remainder of the game.
Levy, meanwhile, was seemingly fixated on the fact that two guys on the roster Lev, the home team, were named Juraj Mikus. It seemingly mattered not at all to them that only one of the Juraj Mikuses was actually playing in this game, and it was the center, born in 1987, who was drafted by Montreal a few years back. There was speculation that the two were brothers, despite their very plainly not being brothers to anyone who looked up either on Elite Prospects, and having been born in different cities.
“We were hoping they weren’t very good so we didn’t have to call their names,” Melrose said. Well, unfortunately Juraj Mikus came up a lot, to the endless fascination of both announcers. Not that this kept them engaged enough to decide on a single pronunciation of Mikus’s first or last name.
Of course, perhaps the broadcast’s best moment came early in the very first period.
“You can imagine the amount of research and work that went into this broadcast,” Steve Levy said less than five minutes into the game. This was, as far as I could tell, not in any way meant to be ironic, which was odd because it followed Levy asking Melrose what he knew about Lev’s coach, Josef Jandac, to which the latter replied, in a moment of candor matched only when he was asked the same question about Dynamo’s coach later in the game, that he knew “nothing” about him.
There was, fortuantely, a reason for this, as Melrose later explained. “They must have been low-level players some place” for him not to have heard their names before. This despite his seemingly having no idea that Juraj Mikus (the defenseman who didn’t play today and not the forward who did) played for the Toronto Marlies as recently as last season. But hey, who are we to disbelieve the Eastern European knowledge of a guy who, to his credit, very correctly guessed that Prague is six hours ahead of Eastern Time.
There were other mistakes as well, such as Melrose guessing that 100 NHLers playing in Europe constituted about 20 percent of the NHLPA during a rant about a lack of union solidarity from players headed overseas, or his saying, “You can call it interference, kneeing maybe, whatever you want to call it,” on a penalty that was very obviously a hold, and called as such.
As for the game itself, again, boring. And the only goal came 33 seconds into the final period, when the ice devolved into a soupy mess. A roller to the side of the net was covered by Lev goaltender Tomas Popperle, but the referee told him to move it despite Ovechkin being the closest player to him. So he uncovered it, Ovechkin shoved him over, the backhanded one into the net on the crazy scrum that resulted.
This is KHL hockey, I guess, and the quality of ESPN’s coverage was very fitting.