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NHL on CBS is a former television program that broadcast National Hockey League games on CBS Sports. CBS was the first American television network to broadcast NHL games.

1956–1960 versionEdit

CBS first broadcast National Hockey League games for four seasons from 1956–57[1]1959–60. CBS aired games on Saturday afternoons[2][3][4][5][6][7] with Bud Palmer[8][9] and Fred Cusick handling the announcing duties, initially. Palmer served as the play-by-play man[10] while Cusick did color commentary as well as interviews for the first three seasons. In 1959–60, Cusick moved over to play-by-play while Brian McFarlane came in to do the color commentary and interviews. The pregame and intermission interviews were done on the ice, with the interviewer on skates. No playoff games were televised during this period and all broadcasts took place in one of the four American arenas[11] at the time.

As previously mentioned, CBS covered the 1956–57 season on Saturday afternoons, starting January 5[12]. For the next three years, they aired continued airing games a Saturday afternoons starting on November 2, 1957, October 18, 1958 and January 9, 1960.[13]

According to the 1991 book Net Worth: Exploding the Myths of Pro Hockey, during the 1956-57 season, CBS broadcast 10 games that were popular with viewers. The four American franchises[14] at the time (the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks,[15] Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers[16][17]) each received $100,000. However, the players themselves, received absolutely zero money from the TV deal. One CBS employee said, "We got a call from a girl in Cincinnati who wanted to start a women's hockey league. We referred her to NHL president Clarence Campbell, who told her hockey was too rough for gals."

Furthermore, according to Sports Illustrated,[18] the NHL dropped CBS because the NHL owners didn't want the fledgling Players' Association to gain a financial cut of the TV deal. This was despite the fact that CBS was at least at one point, getting better ratings than NBC's NBA package from around the same period.

In 1963–64, CBS offered to broadcast a NHL Game of the Week on Saturdays during the National Football League season. By the winter, CBS would move the Game of the Week to Sundays in the same time slot. Ultimately, the NHL rejected the idea, saying it would cause too many schedule and travel problems.



Date Teams
10/18/58 Detroit @ Chicago
10/25/58 Chicago @ New York
11/1/58 Detroit @ Boston
11/8/58 Chicago @ Detroit
11/15/58 Montreal @ Chicago
11/22/58 Detroit @ Boston
11/29/58 Boston @ New York
12/6/58 Detroit @ Chicago
1/3/59 Boston @ Detroit
1/10/59 Detroit @ New York
1/17/59 New York @ Chicago
1/24/59 Chicago @ Detroit
1/31/59 Detroit @ Boston
2/7/59 Chicago @ New York
2/14/59 Montreal @ Boston
2/21/59 Chicago @ Detroit
2/28/59 Boston @ Chicago
3/7/59 New York @ Chicago
3/14/59 Detroit @ Boston
3/21/59 New York @ Detroit

The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't appear on the schedule because they played at home every Saturday night during the season.

1967–1972 versionEdit


For six seasons, from 1966–67[21][22][23][24] through 1971–72,[25][26] CBS aired a game each week[27][28] between mid-January until early-mid May in each of those seasons, mainly on a Sunday afternoon[29], including playoffs[30]. From 1968–69[31][32][33][34] through 1971–72, the intermission studio was called "CBS Control", just like with their NFL coverage.

During the 1967 playoffs,[35] CBS was scheduled to broadcast the April 8 game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. However, an AFTRA strike forced cancellation of the telecast. The strike itself would ultimately end two days later.

CBS started their weekly 1967–68 coverage[36] with the opening game (the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Los Angeles Kings) at the Forum in Inglewood, California on December 30.[37] Then after two more Saturday afternoons, CBS switched to Sunday afternoons beginning on January 28 for the next 10 weeks.[38] Due to an AFTRA strike (which resulted in the cancellation of a New York Rangers-Montreal broadcast), CBS started their playoff coverage with a CBC tape of the previous night's Boston-Montreal game. On April 13, CBS started their three week long weekend afternoon Stanley Cup coverage. The last game of the series was St. Louis-Montreal on May 11. For the playoffs, Jim Gordon worked play-by-play and Stu Nahan worked color. During the regular season, Gordon and Nahan[39] alternated roles each week. For instance, Gordon did the worked play-by-play on December 30 while Nahan worked play-by-play the next week.

In 1968–69,[40] CBS broadcast 13 regular season afternoon games and five Stanley Cup playoff games.[41][42]. Dan Kelly did play-by-play while Bill Mazer did color and intermission interviews.[43][44]

The same pattern continued through the 1971–72 season. CBS did manage to televise the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals clincher on a Tuesday night and the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals clincher on a Thursday night. In 1971, CBS was not scheduled to broadcast Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but showed the prime time contest (the first ever occurrence of a NHL game being nationally televised in prime time in the United States) between the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks almost as a public service. Ironically, the game was not telecast by the Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM-TV due to Blackhawks' owner Arthur M. Wirtz policy of not telecasting home games. While Dan Kelly once again handled all of the play-by-play work, Jim Gordon replaced Bill Mazer[45] in 1970–71. For the CBS' Stanley Cup Finals coverage during this period, a third voice was added to the booth (Phil Esposito in 1971 and Harry Howell in 1972).

One trivial note however, on January 23, 1972, Jim Gordon was not in Boston for the Buffalo-Boston game. Therefore, Dick Stockton filled-in and did the game with Dan Kelly.

During the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, CBS took a rather calculated risk in not televising Game 5 of the Final on Tuesday night (CBS aired Hawaii Five-O in that time period). This was despite the fact that Game 5 was a potential clincher with the Bruins up 3 games to 1 on the Rangers. CBS ultimately lucked out (since the Ranger won Game 5 3-2), and televised the clincher (Game 6) on Thursday night.

Stanley Cup playoffsEdit


Round Series Games covered Play-by-play Color commentator(s)
Quarterfinals Boston vs. Montreal Game 2 (joined-in-progress; CBC tape) Danny Gallivan Dick Irvin
New York Rangers vs. Chicago Game 4 Jim Gordon Stu Nahan
Semifinals Minnesota vs. St. Louis Game 2 Jim Gordon Stu Nahan
Chicago vs. Montreal Game 5


Round Series Games covered Play-by-play Color commentator(s)
Quarterfinals St. Louis vs. Philadelphia Game 4 Dan Kelly Bill Mazer
Semifinals Boston vs. Montreal Games 2, 4 Dan Kelly Bill Mazer

In relation to the 1967 NHL expansionEdit

CBS' next go around with the NHL came at just about the time when the NHL's Original Six franchises were to be joined by the league's first expansion class of 1967–68.[46]

Although, the San Francisco Bay Area was not considered a particularly good hockey market, the terms of a new television agreement with CBS called for two of the expansion teams to be located in California. Hence, the California Seals and Los Angeles Kings joined the National Hockey League at the behest of CBS. (The Seals were renamed the Oakland Seals during their first season and then were rechristened the California Golden Seals when purchased by Charlie O. Finley in 1970–71.)[47]

CBS was hoping that they would grow with the NHL by persuading them to go coast-to-coast (Montreal to Los Angeles) in a similar fashion for which they had grown with the National Football League (beginning in 1956).

Memorable momentsEdit

Perhaps, the most memorable moment came on Mother's Day of 1969–70 (May 10), when Bobby Orr's[48] winning goal in overtime of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals gave his Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1941, as they swept the St. Louis Blues at the old Boston Garden. Immediately upon scoring, Orr caught his skate in the defenceman's stick and was sent flying onto the ice. The "flight" was captured by a news photographer and is one of the iconic images in the history of sports.

The most commonly seen video clip of Bobby Orr's "flight" is the American version broadcast on CBS as called by Dan Kelly. This archival clip can be considered a rarity, since about 98% of the time, any surviving kinescopes or videotapes of the actual telecasts of hockey games from this era usually emanate from CBC's coverage. According to Dick Irvin, Jr.'s book My 26 Stanley Cups (Irvin was in the CBC booth with Danny Gallivan during the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals), he was always curious why even the CBC prototypically uses the CBS replay of the Bobby Orr goal (with Dan Kelly's commentary) instead of Gallivan's call. The explanation that Irvin received was that the CBC's master tape of the game (along with others) was thrown away in order clear shelf space at the network.

On May 24, 1980, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, Bobby Nystrom scored the game winner at 7:11 of overtime on national television throughout the United States to secure the first Stanley Cup in Islanders' history. Nystrom was part of the first NHL team (1979-80 New York Islanders) to win a Stanley Cup with Europeans on its roster.[49]

As part of The CBS Sports Spectacular (1979-1980)Edit

1979 Challenge CupEdit

1978–79's Challenge Cup replaced the All-Star Game. It was a best of three series between the NHL All-Stars against the Soviet Union national squad. In the United States, Game 2, which was on a Saturday afternoon, was shown on CBS[50] as part of CBS Sports Spectacular.[51] The network, the show, and their sponsors had a problem with the rink board advertising[52] that the NHL sold at Madison Square Garden, and refused to allow them to be shown on TV. As a result, CBS viewers were unable to see the far boards above the yellow kickplate, and could only see players' skates when the play moved to that side of the ice. Games 1 and 3 were shown on the NHL Network,[53][54] where the advertising was no problem.

1980 Stanley Cup FinalsEdit

CBS would only air one other NHL game following Game 2 of the 1979 Challenge Cup. That would take place on Saturday, May 24, 1980, with Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders.[55][56] The game was won in overtime by the host Islanders, who captured their first of their four consecutive Stanley Cups.

By that time, Dan Kelly[57] was joined by former NHL on NBC commentator, Tim Ryan. Dan Kelly did play-by-play for the first and third periods as well as overtime. Meanwhile, Tim Ryan did play-by-play only for the second period. Minnesota North Stars GM Lou Nanne was the color commentator throughout the game.

Game 6 pulled a 4.4 rating on CBS. [58] Afterwards, except for the New York City and Philadelphia affiliates, CBS dropped the telecast and went to The CBS Sports Spectacular as scheduled.

As previously mentioned, Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals turned out to be the last NHL game (to this date) to be televised on CBS. It was also the last NHL game on American network television until NBC televised the 1990 All-Star Game.

Failed 1994-95 bidEdit

CBS was in the running for gaining National Hockey League rights beginning in the 1994–95 season only to be outbid by Fox.[59]


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  2. Wilkin, Bob. "Bruins Eye TV, Rookies, Ponder Starting Switch", August 2, 1956, p. 10. 
  3. Wilkin, Bob. "Boston Bruins To Try 7:30 Starting Time For Sunday's Exhibition", September 19, 1956, p. 11. 
  4. Wilkin, Bob. "Bruins Tie for Second Place; Play Exhibition Game at Barrie Tonight", February 14, 1957, p. 10. 
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  6. United Press. "Hockey Captures New Fans With Televised Games", December 22, 1957, p. 6D. 
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  21. Westhead, Rick. "Wirtz dusts off sale sign", April 20, 2007. 
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  26. Deeb, Gary. "NBC wants to get out after messing up NHL telecasts", June 3, 1975, p. C3. 
  27. Associated Press. "NHL Lists Security Campaign", March 10, 1970, p. 28. 
  28. United Press International. "Athletics' Owner Finley May Buy Oakland Seals", May 20, 1970, p. 48A. 
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  38. "RANGERS TO PLAY CANADIENS TODAY; End Best Regular Season in Battle at Garden", Mar 31, 1968, p. S2. 
  39. "Oakland Meets Minnesota on Ice", February 4, 1968, p. 5G. 
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  43. DelNagro, Mike. "Sporting A Whole Lot Of Sport", April 20, 1981. 
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  53. Eskenazi, Gerald. "Soviet Six Now Taking N.H.L. Series Seriously; Million-Dollar Gate", February 8, 1979, p. D18. 
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