As told to: Dave BidiniOnce during practice, Islanders coach Scott Gordon asked me if I’d tried the fish sandwich at the Marriot. Because he said it was so good, I went back to the hotel and ordered it, along with a Diet Coke. I was sitting there at the bar when two rookies – Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey – came in and found me. One grabbed my sandwich, one grabbed my Coke, and told me I was going with them.
“Did Bobby Nystrom really hit that guy at the Salty Dog?”
They called down Robbie Schremp, who was also a rookie, and we sat at a table together as they asked questions about the old Islanders: Did Bobby Nystrom really hit that guy at the Salty Dog, and what were Bossy and Trottier like, and was it true that they didn’t hang out together? They wanted to know about the history of the franchise and all of those Cups. It was pretty special, I think, and it hadn’t happened before, or since. These three young players wanted to hear the stories.
STORYTELLING: One of the different things about broadcasting these days is the change in the ability, or way, we tell stories. In 1993, our broadcast meetings were at the same time as the league meetings. We were told about the importance of humanizing players, of telling stories about them – who they were, where they were from, did their dads farm or did they work in the mine? – while, down the hall, owners were figuring out ways to speed up the game. The league and broadcasters were at odds because the pace of game dictates the way you tell stories. We used to have six 30-second breaks, but now there are more, and longer, TV time-outs per period, which means less time for storytelling. Also, a slower game used to mean less action which meant a greater opportunity to follow an idea. Last year, I tried exploring the fact that the Islanders’ Brock Nelson had outscored Edmonton’s Taylor Hall, even though Hall was a much higher draft pick. I simply ran out of time to tell it.
MAGNETIC PUCK: In 1967, I went to work for Jack Kent Cooke in Los Angeles, the Kings’ first year in the league. He wanted me to visualize the game for fans listening on the radio. He’d say, “Mr. MacDonald, there are four corners in an arena: tell me which corner the puck is in!” He also wanted to know things like which players were coming off the bench to give the game that added sense of anticipation. He liked to sit in the dark and listen and judge the play-by-play that way. He was a very imaginative person. The reason there’s a yellow (or gold) line along the bottom of the ice – the kick plate – is because Mr. Cooke said it would help fans better see the puck. It’s gold because it’s a Kings colour. He envisioned the day when there’d be more than one coach on a bench and spent an entire summer experimenting with the idea of putting a magnetic strip around a puck so that, whenever it crossed the goal line, a light would be triggered, preventing disputed goals. He spent thousands of dollars of his own money. This was in the early- to mid-70s, way before these innovations were even part of the discussion.
TROTTIER: In the beginning, I was a missionary for the sport. My job calling games for the Islanders was only available because Steve Albert chose baseball over hockey. I lucked out falling into such an interesting and progressive organization with people like Bill Torrey, Al Arbour, Clark Gillies, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, and Bryan Trottier. The famous story about Bryan is how he wanted to quit Swift Current (in junior, WHL) because the coach had him on defence and he was getting distressed. He came home for Christmas and told his dad, Buzz, about how he felt – how he wanted to quit the team. His dad asked him if he was sure and said he was free to do as he pleased as long as he called the coach and told him. Bryan had grown to hate hockey, so it wasn’t hard for him to quit. He told the coach he was done, and then, a half hour later, Dave “Tiger” Williams showed up at his door. Tiger told him, “You’re coming. You’re coming back to play with me.” Bryan told him no, but his teammate was insistent. He brought him back to Swift Current, was moved to forward, and the rest is history.
FOSTER: I worked at an IGA in Beaverton in the offseason. I saw Foster Hewitt outside the store and so I asked him if he had any advice to a young broadcaster (I was just about to start work with the Kings). He said, “If you’re good enough to work for Jack Kent Cooke, there’s not a damned thing I can tell you.” Danny Gallivan had more concrete advice when I met him in Montreal. He told me: “Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that it takes two teams to play the game.”
DAVE BIDINI is the co-creator of ‘Slapshot Diaries’ as well as a writer/musician/columnist from Toronto and the author of 12 books.
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