Beyond the Bruins wins, one of the nicest hours I spent in the last week was across the street from the Garden at the Fours Restaurant with New England Sports Network’s Rob Simpson and the New England Hockey Journal’s Matt Kalman.
You see, I spend so much time with some of the writers, reporters and newscasters in the Bruins training facility and the press box at the TD Banknorth Garden, but it is hard to get to know them personally, or even professionally, because of deadlines, travel, schedules, etc.
I figured I should try to change that.
So, I cornered Matt and Rob during the week preceding the premiere of Simpson’s new show, and tried to figure out what makes the NESN reporter tick.
I know Kalman, we talk frequently, are both Boston University grads (’97) and I just owed him a lunch -- on the Garden, of course!
Simpson, a rink-side reporter during Boston Bruins broadcasts, is Mr. Everything for the network during B’s games -- chasing down interviews and stories, delivering commentary and just being entertaining.
Rubber Biscuit, his brand new show, is an up-close and personal look at the Bruins players, coaches and fans. It debuts Sunday, November 26th at 9:30 -- or tonight, on NESN.
So I asked Rob how he ended up in Boston?
"I was working for the Leafs, on Leafs TV," said Simpson. "I did a weekly TV show for four years…and I interviewed for [NESN]."
The show that he did for Leafs TV was called “Maple Leaf America” -- a program he created.
Prior to that experience, he worked as a play-by-play, color and sideline reporter for several sports networks covering hockey and soccer and also spent two seasons as the voice of the ECHL’s Boardwalk Bullies in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Simpson sees many similarities between the Leafs faithful and the Bruins fandom.
"In my regard, they are the same," said Simpson. "I think you see the same frustration in both of the towns right now.
"And the Leafs have waited longer," he said, talking about Toronto’s last Stanley Cup in 1967, in contrast to the Bruins Cup win in 1972.
"Boston is the closest thing in the US to Toronto in terms of hockey."
Simpson’s hockey pedigree is red and white, by way of Detroit, so his saying that about Boston means a lot -- especially from a guy whose favorite hockey player is Gordie Howe.
"The kids all play," explained Simpson of the Boston area. "I was just at a rink the other day and there were six sheets of ice. It was just non-stop hockey."
And there was always some Black & Gold lurking in the NESN star.
"I’m an Original Six guy; I always pulled for the original six teams anyway," said Simpson.
He thought for a second and added, "Except the Canadiens, I really never rooted for them."
"But the other five, yes."
"So I followed the Red Wings, got to work for the Leafs, and now the Bruins," he said. "It’s like heaven."
Kalman, on the other hand, claims that nobody watched hockey in his hometown of Staten Island, New York.
"Hockey in New York, where I lived, was nonexistent," said Kalman, the editor of the NEHJ and a Bruins beat writer. "The thing that got my friends interested in hockey…was playing NHL on Sega Genesis.
"My high school didn’t even have a hockey team. My friend had to go play for another school."
Thinking about all of Simpson’s on-ice experiences, from the time he was a young boy, Kalman mused that he had played a little roller hockey in the schoolyard and that there was only one ice rink in all of Staten Island while he was a child.
"It’s a big place and only has one ice rink, so that’s all you need to know about that," he said.
As far as his team growing up, Kalman answered, that he "was a Rangers fan until Phil Esposito traded away all my favorite players."
"Then I became a Buffalo Sabres fan," he said. "I was the only kid in school to like the Sabres and when it was cool to have a Starter jacket, I had a Sabres one."
"Everyone asked me who the Sab-rays were," explained Kalman, laughing.
Matt, who named Pat LaFontaine and Domenic Hasek as his favorite NHL players growing up, was asked about his favorite Boston University Terrier.
"Kenny Rausch," said Kalman, naming the current Umass-Lowell assistant coach and former Terrier walk-on.
While Kalman came to the game rather late, Simpson started playing hockey when he was five, and started doing play-by-play for a high school team when he was 16.
Simpson moved on to Central Michigan University and ended up in Ft. Myers, Florida as a reporter for WINK and then "toiled" in Honolulu, Hawaii at KGMB.
What did Simpson do in Hawaii?
"[I was] a weatherman," said Simpson. "It was ridiculous -- Hawaii. It was stand-up comedy."
"They had it for the hurricane season. But the other nine months…you’re talking about 78 degrees and trade winds."
"It was fun for a year, but I had to get out of it…so I went back to sports."
Makes sense in a way, that a guy with a TV show called Rubber Biscuit, used to be a weatherman in Hawaii.
Can’t wait to see what he has in store for tonight on NESN. Good luck Rob!
Check out Matt Kalman and the New England Hockey Journal at www.hockeyjournal.com.