Needless to say, I was shocked, pleased, grateful and shocked again when I learned that this Maven of yours would be inducted into the US. Hockey Hall of Fame.
I got the call last June - at first, I thought it was a gag - and the verification that it was not a joke a day later.
On December 9th, the actual induction took place in Denver, Colorado. Among the hockey notables sharing the dais with me were ex-NHLers Paul Holmgren and Tony Granato, among many U.S. hockey notables.
My former Devils colleague on TV broadcasts, Peter McNab, was another HOF recipient but, unfortunately, illness kept him away from the ceremony. Peter was one of my favorite New Jersey TV analysts - and pal.
Friendly faces from my distant past emerged and produced endless smiles and hugs.
"It was like the good, old days," said my old buddy, Lou Vairo, once the Devils assistant coach when Doug Carpenter was the club's bench boss. "Reminds me of how we put the team together for Doc Mac."
When he mentioned "Doc Mac," Vairo was referring to the man who bought the franchise that would become the Devils. The Colorado (Denver) Rockies were up for sale and Dr. John McMullen was the guy who had faith in NHL hockey selling in The Garden State.
And it was my schmoozing with Lou that reminded me of my days and nights in East Rutherford and how covering the Devils played as much as anything for my getting into America's Pantheon of Hockey.
The following are just a handful of major Devils events I covered that enhanced my resume and inspired the U.S. HOF committee to include me among the 2021 recipients.
* THE SUCCESSFUL HOMESTRETCH RUN: Late in the 1987-88 season, New Jersey seemed destined to miss another NHL playoff berth. But late additions that included coach Jim Schoenfeld and goalie Sean Burke made a huge difference. They pushed the Devils closer to the Rangers just ahead of them in the postseason race. I was part of the SportsChannel team that covered Schony's wunderkinds right down to the melodramatic final game of the season.
* BEATING OUT THE BLUESHIRTS, SPRING 1988: Even though the Rangers defeated Quebec on the final night of the '87-88 campaign, the Devils had an opportunity to gain the postseason with a win at Chicago Stadium. In one of the most exciting games ever played by any New Jersey team, the Devils rallied to tie the Blackhawks and then win the contest on John MacLean's overtime goal. I did analysis on the unexpected victory that night on Bill Mazer's "Sports Extra" show.
* JIM SCHOENFELD VS. DON KOHARSKI LEADS TO YELLOW SUNDAY: Coach Schony's verbal clash with referee Don Koharski led to "Have Another Donut" headlines and an ensuing strike by officials on Mothers' Day, May 5, 1988. Off-ice officials Jim Sullivan, Paul Macinnis and Vin Godleski replaced the NHL zebras and did a creditable job under severely challenging circumstances. The beauty part is that Schony's heroes won the critical playoff game and I covered it from start to finish. I considered that one of the most bizarre events of my TV reporting career.
* BEATING THE NASHVILLE THREAT: While a juicy, 1995 Nashville offer tempted Dr. McMullen to leave New Jersey and put his franchise in Tennessee, Doc Mac's Devils went on a winning rampage. Although they were underdogs in each of the first three playoff series, the Devils defeated Boston, Washington and Philadelphia in that order. In the process, a New Jersey superstar was born; goaltender Martin Brodeur. The more Jacques Lemaire's skaters won, the better the Devil chances to delete the Nashville temptation. It was during that run I did some of my best reporting on McMullen's battle with the New Jersey Sports Authority.
* STANLEY CUP FINAL 1995 - THE UN-REAL BECOMES REAL: Facing Detroit in the Final Round, New Jersey was considered such an easily-defeated underdog that some "experts" predicted that the Red Wings would sweep the series in four straight. Led by the likes of Claude Lemieux, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Brodeur, the Devils won both games in The Motor City and then eliminated Detroit in four consecutive games. For the first time Lord Stanley's mug arrived in East Rutherford! Having covered the entire Cup run, I considered the finale a captivating coda on my late 20th Century career.
* NEW HEROES LEAD TO A SECOND TITLE: With general manager Lou Lamoriello at the helm, there was no such thing as a "rebuild." Lou believed that a Cup could be won every year with the right replacements.
During the 1999-2000 season newcomers such as centers Jason Arnott, Scott Gomez and John Madden as well as defenseman Brian Rafalski provided a new core to complement previous Cup vets such as Stevens, Niedermayer, Brodeur and Bobby Holik. Arnott tallied the heart-throbbing OT Cup-winner at Dallas on a magical pass from a young Patrik Elias. Matt Loughlin and I enjoyed every minute up to Arnott's clincher at American Airlines Arena.
* A THIRD CUP IN 2003 INSPIRES 'DYNASTIC' TALK: Nothing could be more exciting than a Game 7 at The Meadowlands with another Stanley Cup on the line. Anaheim's Mighty Ducks proved a tough opponent but a pair of goals by Jeff Friesen and one by little-used Mike Rupp proved decisive along with Brodeur's airtight, 3-0 goaltending, For stars such as Marty in goal, defensemen Stevens, Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko, the term "dynasty" fit them like a hockey glove. Plus, covering the three-Cup enhanced the credits that eventually led to my Hall of Fame induction.
* BEATING THE BLEATING BLUESHIRTS: The 2012 playoff vs. the Rangers has gone down in hockey annals as one of the most bitterly-contested series The Game has known. Not only was it player against player - goalie Brodeur challenging Henrik Lundqvist - but also coaches John Tortorella and Peter DeBoer came perilously close to having fisticuffs on the bench. In the end, little Adam Henrique's overtime goal in Game 6 at The Rock gave New Jersey the Met Area hockey bragging rights.
I covered every one of the above episodes and am certain that my working with those marvelous Devils sextets played a part in my being named a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer. For that, I have only one more thing to say:
THANK YOU, NEW JERSEY DEVILS!