This afternoon, ESPN2 will broadcast its first-ever Kontinental Hockey League game as Dynamo Moscow faces off with HC Lev Praha in a matchup that pits one of hockey's most notable European forwards, Alex Ovechkin, against its top European defenseman in Zdeno Chara.
The 1 p.m. broadcast will feature a little slice of hockey's past, as fans will get to hear ESPN's Steve Levy call play-by-play for professional hockey for the first time since the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. Levy will be joined by Barry Melrose, ESPN's go-to analyst for all things hockey (source: ESPN).
Before the 2004-05 lockout that led to the end of the NHL's relationship with ESPN, Levy was a major contributor to NHL 2Night as well as nationally broadcast hockey games. Since the NHL was taken off of ESPN and relegated to the then-Outdoor Life Network (now NBC Sports Network), Levy has been one of the few ESPN anchors to continue to acknowledge and support hockey as best he can, a burden he bears with ESPN vets John Buccigross and Linda Cohn.
Today's game will feature an element of nostalgia for fans who grew up watching hockey on ESPN during the '90s and early '00s, but the real story of the broadcast is about the future, not the past.
Likely jumping on the opportunity to get a cut of the pro hockey pie, ESPN negotiated a broadcasting deal with the KHL (via Boston.com), which is the most significant active pro hockey league for as long as the NHL lockout lasts.
Most of the games will be available via streaming through ESPN3.com, but today's ESPN2 broadcast could be an experiment in testing national interest in the Russian-based hockey league. Committed hockey fans may be interested in following their teams' star players, and thus small but significant numbers of viewers in Washington, D.C., Boston and beyond could tune into this afternoon's contest.
ESPN's timing is not based solely on the NHL lockout and notable names playing overseas. As international sports become more accessible via the Internet and the expansion of television, there is a noteworthy possibility that the KHL could generate genuine interest among passionate, albeit small groups of hockey fans.
Lovers of the sport could conceivably find themselves following the NHL and KHL simultaneously when both are active, as long as overseas games are reasonably accessible.
Soccer in the United States has benefited as much (or more) from the availability of the English Premier League on American television as it has from the presence of the U.S.'s own Major League Soccer. This Yahoo! Sports article reported that the final day of this past EPL season was watched by a staggering 1.35 million Americans.
Sports fans no longer look for their game in their own backyard. In the digital age, high-quality contests and exciting players can be watched from around the globe, and ESPN may be onto something by broadcasting the fast-growing Russian league.
Today's significant broadcast will bridge the nostalgic past of hockey in the United States to its future around the world.
Dan Kelley has been a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist since 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @dxkelley