As the Kontinental Hockey League debuted on ESPN2 for the first time Tuesday afternoon — with an evening replay at 8 p.m. ET — some considered it an embarrassment for the National Hockey League. Here were Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara, established NHL stars, shining a light on Dynamo Moscow and HC Lev Praha respectively, on a network with whom Gary Bettman's had some bitter history.
Was the NHL embarrassed? Yeah, not so much. The KHL was, however, as their debut game on the WWL was a tepid sub-NHL affair with little that would compel a casual fan to tune in again.
Also, because the ESPN2 team of Steve Levy and Barry Melrose spent as much time on the NHL lockout, ads on the ice, guys named Mikuš and time zones than on the KHL itself. Was it fun? Yes. Did it remind me of calling high-school football games with the rest of my buddies in the AV club? Yes.
Here's our live blog on the KHL on ESPN2. Follow along when you're watching it again to get your hockey fix anyway you can.
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1:00 p.m.: ESPN2 transitions from a shot of Drew Brees celebrating a touchdown pass to the villain from a 1960s Bond film singing the national anthem. We see his lips moving as ESPN's theme music blares, and then fades out awkwardly. Which is weird, because ESPN has never pushed hockey aside awkwardly for another sport. Steve Levy: "Well, if you were tuning in for 'O Canada', you were out of luck. While the NHL is away, the KHL will play."
1:01 p.m.: First Alex Ovechkin name check and sighting, in the lineup for Dynamo.
1:02 p.m.: Melrose: "If you're a casual fan, you'll recognize some names like Skoula, Chara and Ovechkin." Someone tell him that causal fans think Skoula is a brand of chewing tobacco.
1:04 p.m.: Melrose notes that Ovechkin is wearing No. 32 in the KHL while he wears No. 8 in the NHL, and that is "something we'll have to track down." Point No. 1: Nice show prep, Barry. Point No. 2: This took us roughly 1.8 seconds to track down, from Sept. 19.
1:06 p.m.: Good job up front by ESPN breaking down the differences between KHL and NHL hockey — less hitting, less board work, more of a chess match, and a little more "fancy" with the offense.
1:08 p.m.: The KHL rink crew (a.k.a. a dude in a Lev jersey with a power drill) hits to the ice to the delight of the ESPN crew. "Everyone's sorta hoping that he falls on his butt out there," said Barry Melrose.
1:10 p.m.: Chara with a hit. "No one told Chara he isn't supposed to hit in Europe!" says Melrose. I'm starting to really like the "Steve and Barry Take The Piss Out of Euro Hockey" routine.
1:10:30 p.m.: Case in point —
"Josef Jandač is the head coach for Lev Praha. What do you know about him, Barry?"
"Not a thing, Steve. I'm not going to sit here and lie to the audience."
1:11 p.m.: We find out that Barry Melrose thought that Yuri Gagarin was a hockey player, to the surprise of no one. "And for you space fans out there, Russian astronauts are called Cosmonauts." An actual quote from the actual Barry Melrose.
1:14 p.m.: More KHL knowledge, as we learn there isn't a hell of a lot of shot blocking, even on the power play. Which means Ovechkin would play HC Lev 10,000 times before he ever plays the Rangers again. Maybe he is staying.
1:18 p.m.: We have KHL cheerleaders on ESPN2!
1:20 p.m.: Melrose and Levy thank the hockey gods for having one Erik Christensen in the game since 80 percent of the other players are named Seirgevey Khalanonvovzyigovzy.
1:22: p.m.: The crowd chants something that sounds like "C-M-PUNK". Melrose is asked what it means. "We want a goal," adding that it's the universal hockey chant.
1:25 p.m.: There are two players named Juraj Mikuš on the HC Lev team, a.k.a. Zdeno Chara's team (as told to us by ESPN). The first Juraj Mikuš is a 25-year-old center. The other Juraj Mikuš is a 23-year-old defenseman. The boys find this endlessly amusing. And with that, we creep forever closer to a "Who's on Juraj Mikuš?" routine that would rival that of Abbott and Costello.
1:32 p.m.: Ovechkin is without a scoring chance and hasn't had the puck all that much. How did ESPN2 not inform us this was a playoff game?
1:34 p.m.: NHL lockout talk to end the period, with Melrose and Levy lamenting the work stoppage and Melrose predicting the players will return in December. Levy's outro for the scoreless first period is cut off by a WNBA commercial, which is weird, because ESPN has never pushed hockey aside awkwardly for another sport.
END OF FIRST PERIOD: One of most interesting moments of the first? Barry Melrose on Ovechkin and Washington Capitals fans, saying, "If I'm a fan back in DC watching my captain play for a different city and team, I'm angry"
1:50 p.m.: Nice job but Levy publicizing the Lokomotiv comeback story, as the resurrected team sits in first place in the KHL. Keep it up, and Lokomotiv is setting itself up to me honored by ESPN at year's end. Oh, who are we kidding?
1:54 p.m.: Melrose wonders if the 'T' is always silent in Russian names. Levy mentions several Russian names in which this is not the case. The preceding was sponsored by Rosetta Stone.
1:56 p.m.: Apropos of nothing, the KHL penalty benches look like something the players should carve their initials into while sitting there. "CHRIS SIMON WUZ HERE." That kind of thing.
1:58 p.m.: Ovechkin gets his best chance of the game with a driving shot to the net while falling that Malkin would have obviously buried. Levy and Melrose think he has better jump in the second period, which probably means someone from IMG called him between periods to subtly remind him the game was on ESPN2.
2:00 p.m.: "You said something that sounded like 'Yakupov', and Nail Yakupov was the rookie of the week in the KHL." Best. Segue. Ever, Steve Levy.
2:03 p.m.: For the record, Melrose likes the "Prague" jerseys more than the Dynamo jerseys. Also for the record: Melrose has given up trying to call HC Lev Praha anything but "Prague."
2:06 p.m.: "I wish Mrs. Mikuš would tweeter or twitter something about her son to us. Or both mothers." Barry Melrose, a man and his Mikuš.
2:08 p.m.: "That sounds like a law firm! Mikuš, Mikuš and Klepis!" Once again confirming Barry Melrose outsources most of his legal work to Zagreb.
2:11 p.m.: Remember before when I said it was cute that Melrose and Levy were taking the piss out of European Hockey? I take it back. I take it all back. It's degenerated into Barry Melrose's Funny-Sounding Names Pun-tacular. Our breaking point was turning Yuri Babenko of Dynamo into a Vegas-inspired "You can Babenko on it" stretch of Mr. Fantastic proportions.
2:13 p.m.: Ovechkin's inept play on the man advantage made me look to the blue line to see if Dennis Wideman had turned the puck over. Pavlovian response. Won't happen again next season. Sorry Calgary.
2:18 p.m.: As lockout talk continues, Levy mentions that every NHL home game brings in about $1 million to the local economy. Which we assume means it brings in roughly $3 million per game across the League and the Islanders bring down the average.
END OF SECOND PERIOD: And we're still scoreless, as the KHL captures the hearts and minds of American fans with tedious play, little physicality and nothing on the scoreboard. In other words: hockey in October.
2:38 p.m.: We begin the third period with a scintillating discussion of Barry Melrose's Twitter habits and a call for John Buccigross to follow the broadcast with KHL tonight (huzzah!)
2:39 p.m.: So here's a KHL goal — Ovechkin scores after the referee refuses to allow the Lev goalie to freeze the puck. He mishandles it, as a KHL goalie is wont to do. Ovechkin then shovels it in while inside the crease. So, in ESPN summary: "OVECHKIN'S BRILLIANT GOAL GIVES DYNAMO THE LEAD; CROSBY SOMETHING SOMETHING."
2:44 p.m.: Despite having the KHL create an exception so he could be paid more than any other NHL import in Russia, "it's not about the money" for Alex Ovechkin, according to Melrose.
2:45 p.m.: Melrose blasts the union members that jetting to Europe for millions while "80 percent" of the players are back in North America. Strong stuff. "If we're in a lockout, we should all be in a lockout." Wonder what Donald Fehr thinks of that?
2:48 p.m.: When the action picks up and Levy and Melrose are calling it as it happens, this feels like a real pro hockey game. When Melrose interrupts that flow to declare he's identified a Chevrolet logo near center ice, it feels the Sklar Brothers are watching a lumberjack competition, minus the jokes.
2:51 p.m.: "You wouldn't think a guy like Chris Simon would be needed in the KHL." Yes, why ever would they need someone of Simon's unique skills set?
2:53 p.m.: Legit LOL when Melrose said he'd call the booth to get a replay and ask for "Ivan." (Levy and Melrose are calling the game off the TV, in case you didn't know.)
2:55 p.m.: Melrose predicts that the NHL will have ads on jerseys.
2:58 p.m.: Levy notes that it's the fifth anniversary of the KHL (hence, the No. 5 in the logo we've seen after every replay) and asks Melrose if he ever played against some of the former Super League Russian stars. Melrose says yes. Levy, deadpans: "Summit Series?" A hearty laugh was shared.
3:01 p.m.: Ovechkin doesn't come out immediately for the power play, leading Melrose to opine: "Uh oh, Dale Hunter's gonna have to explain why he hates Ovechkin."
3:04 p.m.: If this game was any more tedious, it would qualify for the NHL preseason.
3:09 p.m.: Ovechkin on the ice for the final seconds of the game. Do Russian fans care about padding goal totals with empties?
3:10 p.m.: Levy asks Melrose to evaluate the 1-0 win for Dynamo, leading Melrose to realize he had just watched a hockey game.
3:10:30 p.m.: Melrose and Levy end the broadcast with lockout talk, with Melrose again reiterating that the Winter Classic will be the great obstacle to a cancelled season.
3:11 p.m.: "Now stayed tuned for NASCAR NOW" in lieu of a postgame show. Which is weird, because ESPN has never pushed hockey aside awkwardly for another sport ...