|Renowned journalist/broadcaster Stan Fischler has been sharing opinions and anecdotes with NHL fans for over 50 years.
Stan Fischler, aka "The Hockey Maven," has done just that for more than 50 years — so, not surprisingly, there were dozens of people on their feet applauding Wednesday when Fischler received the Lester Patrick Award in recognition of outstanding service to hockey in the United States. Fischler joined veteran NHL defenseman Brian Leetch, former Rangers and NHL publicist John Halligan and Cammi Granato, a member of the 1998 U.S. Women's Olympic gold medal-winning team and the first individual woman to receive the award.
If you are an American hockey fan, the odds are that Fischler contributed to a significant part of your understanding of the sport and its history. He did beat coverage of the Rangers in the 1950s for the Brooklyn Eagle and New York Journal-American. He was the New York bureau chief for the Toronto Star from 1966-77. He has also been a key member of Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils telecasts after breaking into broadcasting with the WHA’s New England Whalers in 1975.
Fischler has authored 90 books, the overwhelming majority about hockey — but he’s also done a few about his other passions, New York City and its transportation system.
Fischler, 75, was asked what generated his incredible, lifelong fascination with hockey. After all, he grew up in Depression-era Brooklyn, when there was only one skating rink in the borough.
"Accidents will happen," Fischler joked, but it sounded more like a case of, to paraphrase Mae West, his father was supposed to take him to see the movie Snow White, but he drifted.
"We came out of the subway at 8th and 50th, it was raining hard and the movie theater was six blocks away," Fischler remembered. "But the old Madison Square Garden was right across the street, so we went in to see the Rovers of the old Eastern Amateur League play the Washington Eagles."
Fischler's dad took him to see Snow White the following Saturday, and the next day they went to a Rangers game.
"Lester Patrick was my idol," Fischler said of the former Rangers GM and coach. "The team was en route to its third Stanley Cup that 1939-40 season. I was also there in December 1947 when they held Lester Patrick Night at Madison Square Garden and many members of that team, including the Cook brothers, returned to help him celebrate."
Fischler has taught journalism at several New York area colleges, including Queens College, Columbia University and Fordham University. Some of his students have learned a lot of what they know about hockey by working in his publishing business.
Former Fischler interns at the luncheon included NHL Group VP of Media Relations Frank Brown; Associate Counsel Jessica Berman, NHL.com Vice President, Editorial and Production Rich Libero; NHL.com Night Production Desk Manager Brian Schiazza and NHL.com Copy Editor Adam Schwartz. Other prominent Fischler grads include Newsday features editor Joe Dionisio, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette entertainment editor Sharon Eberson, Sports Illustrated editor Paul Fichtenbaum and veteran writers Allan Kreda and Michael Berger.
Fischler had a lot of names to remember and people to thank, including Eddie Gottlieb of the defunct Long Island Press, who gave him his first sports writing job, and Jack Zanger, who got him in the book business when Fischler was working in the Rangers' public relations department.
"Jack was doing books for Grosset and Dunlap and he gave me the assignment to do a book about Gordie Howe, my favorite player," Fischler said. "The book sold well, and I was very happy until I got an envelope, very official-looking, with embossed letters. The letter claimed I had no right to write a Howe book and further action was forthcoming. I was worried and turned it over to my publishers, who laughed and said ‘don't worry about it.’ You know who signed the legal letter? John Ziegler, who years later would become NHL president!"
Brown had a much better reaction to seeing a book with his name published.
"Stan taught me one of the most important journalistic lessons," Brown recalled. "I was working in his office, cutting out clips when Stan handed me a number and told me to call Gordie Howe and do an interview. ‘Wow, Gordie Howe, will he talk to me?’ Stan replied; 'You're a reporter, he's supposed to talk to you.' When the book Hockey Stars of 1972 was published, there was my name: 'Research Editor: Frank Brown.' I was so excited to see my name in print, I felt like I'd hit the lottery."
"Stan taught me how to write," Berman said. "I already loved hockey, and Stan brought my passion to a new level. He also taught me the business of hockey. I was going to the University of Michigan where I was manager of the hockey team. The hockey sports information director, the late Brian Fishman, another Fischler alumnus, contacted Stan and got me a summer job.
”Stan is the most loyal person I know, and he never forgets a friend. After I worked for him and before I worked at the NHL, he would call me to see how I was doing and offer encouragement. We've organized an alumni dinner for Stan later this month. Stan Fischler loves hockey more than any person I know."
"Stan Fischler is a prolific writer and speaker with so much enthusiasm and vitality, championing hockey, its players and its history," said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey, in his remarks at the luncheon. "His no-nonsense style and wit have inspired others to the game."
Fischler's "no-nonsense style and wit” were much discussed at the luncheon. Fischler has been known to express an opinion, often with a sharp tongue, as when he said Jaromir Jagr was playing like he had "halitosis of the brain."
"Stan understands the medium of television," explained John Davidson, the former Rangers goalie and TV analyst who’s now president of the St. Louis Blues. "He's one of the few who transcended print media and television. I admire the way he has kept up his energy over the years, and he still has a passion for the game. Stan may ruffle some feathers — rather, he will ruffle feathers — but he's a big pussycat on the inside."
It was obvious Fischler can take a tease — and just as obvious that his friends like to deliver one. Broadcaster Mike Emrick, a Lester Patrick Award winner in 2004, introduced a biographical video by saying; "Against our better judgment, let's learn more about Stan Fischler."
Later, he was chided by longtime friend Halligan, who reminded him; "Don't forget the first rule of public relations, Stan — that a five-minute speech is three minutes too long!"
No one begrudged Fischler his moment in the sun. Leetch told him beforehand: "Take two minutes of my speech time for yourself, Stan." After he was introduced, Leetch said, "I told Stan to take two minutes of my time, he took it all. Thanks, y'all," but then returned to give a very nice speech himself.
Fischler's interviewing techniques were also ribbed. One close friend dared me to ask; "Stan, your thoughts?" — a Fischler trademark phrase.
The flip side of that, though, is the interviewer who takes five or six sentences to frame a question, generally resulting in a "You're right, Bob," answer.
"Stan has an attorney's wisdom in allowing a 'witness' to tell his story," Brown said. "He doesn't frame a question so as to get the responder to say what Stan wanted to say."
Former NHL defenseman Joe Micheletti has worked with Fischler for the past 11 years while serving as a TV analyst for the New York Islanders and Rangers. Micheletti came to New York after broadcasting hockey in St. Louis and Minnesota, and said Fischler gave him considerable help when he joined the broadcast team.
Stan was great to me when I joined, like he is to everyone" Micheletti said. "That's why he has so many friends."