NEW YORK -- Noah Blankenship sat inside a studio in the NHL offices in Manhattan before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday pumped and ready to go.

"Control, are you ready?" Blankenship said in American Sign Language.

An emphatic "yes" came from members of a production crew that was more than primed and ready to get the latest broadcast of "NHL on ASL" on the air for deaf and hard of hearing fans.

The first of its kind broadcast, available on ESPN+ in the United States and Sportsnet+ in Canada, features deaf broadcasters providing real-time play-by-play coverage and color commentary of each game of the Final. The crew will be together again for Game 6 on Friday.

It's the latest collaboration between the NHL and P-X-P, which has provided ASL interpretation for signature evens like the Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, NHL All-Star Weekend and Stadium Series, and Commissioner Gary Bettman’s State of the League address.

But this is an entirely different undertaking that’s been an on-the-fly learning experience for the broadcast's deaf talent, which had almost no sportscasting experience previously, and for the NHL productions crew that had little experience working with studio analysts who don't speak.

"We've essentially had to reinvent the wheel of it on production in terms of workflow," said Rachel Segal, NHL vice president, social impact and strategic integration, and an "NHL in ASL" producer. "Usually the producer is in the talent's ear relaying facts and figures through the night, ins and outs of commercials, timing updates."

Instead, Matt Celli, vice president and coordinating director of NHL Productions and "NHL in ASL" director, relies on P-X-P founder and CEO Brice Christianson and Megan Thorp to interpret their directions to Blankenship and broadcast partner Jason Altmann.


"We had to insert our interpreters between the control room and the talent to relay both ways," Segal said. "They're not only signing what the control room is providing, notes for the talents, they are also interpreting back to the control room so that the producer and director can accurately depict on screen what the talent is talking about, and vice versa."

The directions came fast and furious during the Oilers' 5-3 win at the Panthers on Tuesday. Like a conductor with an orchestra, Celli, through Christianson, directed Blankenship and Altmann through a fast-paced segment highlighting each Edmonton goal from its 8-1 win in Game 4 on Saturday.

Celli and Ray Jacobs, senior coordinating producer for NHL Productions, alerted the on-air talent through Christianson when to bring in NHL referee Wes McCauley, who was in the studio Tuesday, to offer his take on penalties called during the game.

"You see the officiating team, you just let the game come to you," McCauley said in response to a question by Altmann that was interpreted for him by Christianson. "Some nights there's [conformity], and some nights, as we've seen tonight, the standard calls have been there, the crosschecking, slashing, interference."

The studio broadcasters and directors also navigated a remote interview during the first intermission with Keivonn Woodard, a deaf youth hockey player from Bowie, Maryland, who received a 2023 Emmy Award nomination for his role in the HBO hit series "The Last of Us."

"Over the course of the games we've made improvements and there's more of a synergy," said Altmann, who is P-X-P's chief operating officer and is the third generation of his family to be deaf. "And we also have a fantastic production team with Ray Jacobs and Matt Celli that makes our job easier. The countdown, the pacing that leads to the promos, leads to the entire production. The first game was getting our groove … and over the course of Games 2, 3, 4, and now 5, we've gotten incrementally better."


To the point that Blankenship and Altmann say they've developed a rapport inside and outside the studio.

"We hang out outside of rehearsal, we talk about life, we talk about work," said Blankenship, who works in the Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships under the City of Denver.

The broadcast has had an impact in the deaf community. Kevin Delaney, president of the American Hearing-Impaired Hockey Association, said more than 100 people attended an "NHL in ASL" watch party for Game 3 on Thursday during the organization's Stan Mikita Hockey School in Chicago.

"They loved it," Delaney said. "I think it's definitely something that should be continued. It gives access to people that are deaf to watch sports other than reading the captions. It's meaningful."

About 30 million Americans age 12 and up have hearing loss in both ears and about 2-3 of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. There's an estimated 357,000 people in Canada who are culturally deaf and 3.21 million who are hard of hearing, according to the Canadian Association for the Deaf.

Renca Dunn, a deaf influencer and content creator, said, "Seeing this being available to the deaf community is like music to my eyes.

"Often times we miss out on announcements, side comments, or do not fully understand what is going on because maybe the caption is delayed or maybe the caption did not pick up on some words or maybe some words we do not fully understand. Deaf people are usually the last to know information, so having this opportunity gives deaf people an equal platform of knowing information at the same time as other hearing and able-bodied people. I would hope to see this happen again, and it's a milestone to celebrate.

"This does not just impact deaf hockey fans but also impacts those who are still learning or want to learn more about the sport when we all can watch the same accessible game."