Mark Gross has sought out and fielded plenty of calls since ESPN won the rights to the NHL in March. On Tuesday, the network’s Senior Vice President of Production and Remote Events saw the first major step accomplished as the announcers and analysts for the upcoming season were announced.
The 24 announcers, analysts and reporters include a diverse set of backgrounds along with names that will be familiar to most hockey fans.
“The biggest thing that jumps out is that we hired good people,” Gross said. “I’m thrilled where we landed. There are a mix of different thoughts and backgrounds along with lots of diversity.”
Sean McDonough will be the lead announcer and will call the Stanley Cup Finals. McDonough has previously called hockey on ESPN and is back in a prime spot on one of the network’s lead packages after he called “Monday Night Football” in 2016-17.
Steve Levy will also announce games but will be the studio host for the big games and the playoffs. He will be joined by Chris Chelios and Mark Messier.
Gross said the analysts who will be paired with McDonough have not been determined. Ray Ferraro, Brian Boucher and Kevin Weekes could be under consideration as all have experience working on the top teams at NBC, TSN or NHL Network.
Network hockey stalwarts John Buccigross (play-by-play), Barry Melrose (analyst) and Linda Cohn (“In the Crease” on ESPN+) will also have roles.
“They deserve credit for keeping hockey coverage alive in Bristol (Connecticut) and making sure that hockey had some sort of presence on ”SportsCenter” and other shows. It is great they are all still at the network and to see that they will be an integral part,” Gross said.
Leah Hextall and Bob Wischusen are the other play-by-play announcers while Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Ryan Callahan, A.J. Mleczko, Rick DiPietro and Hilary Knight were named analysts.
Blake Bolden, currently a scout and growth and inclusion specialist for the Los Angeles Kings, is joining ESPN as an in-game reporter. Bolden became the first Black woman to play professional hockey when she joined the NWHL’s Boston Pride in 2016. Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski will also have reporting roles.
Games on ESPN Deportes Will be Called by Kenneth Garay, Eitán Benezra, Carlos Rossell and Antonio Valle
Fans on social media were disappointed to hear Gary Thorne was not being brought back, but Gross said he has had discussions with Thorne’s agent and that the door hasn’t closed on a possible reunion.
ESPN’s coverage of next season begins on July 21 with the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft on ESPN2. Two days later, ESPN2 will have the first round of the NHL Draft. The first games on ESPN will be a doubleheader on Oct. 12.
Under the seven-year agreement, the Stanley Cup Final will air on ABC in four of the seven years, beginning next season. It also includes the All-Star game and 25 regular-season games, with the likely breakdown being 15 on ESPN and 10 on ABC. ESPN will also produce 75 national games per season that will stream exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu.