By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
The NHL is reporting an increase in viewers in the first year of its television contracts with ESPN and TNT. Part of that is unparalleled growth in female and younger fans. According to NHL research, 37% of hockey fans are female and that includes 26% growth since 2016. Most of those new fans are likely within the coveted 18-49 age demographic. During the regular season, Wednesday regular-season games on TNT saw a 44% jump in viewers compared to previous years, when the games were aired on NBCSN.