Whether you know him as a pesky, intense, point-grabbing center or a polished broadcaster between the benches of a national broadcast, or analyst up in the studio, if you're a hockey fan, you definitely know Ray Ferraro. While it's been 18 years since Ferraro wrapped up his impressive 18-year career in the NHL, the now 54-year-old hasn't missed a beat in the hockey world.
"This will be my 18th year broadcasting full-time and I played for 18 years," Ferraro said. "It's hard to believe the same length of time. When I broke in at 1984 to the way the game is played now, it barely looks the same. Everything is different. It's been really cool to be around it and to see the changes, the way the game has grown, to see the struggles along the way and how things are trying to evolve and advance. I lived my dream and I got to keep living it."
During his impressive 18-year tenure in the NHL, the left-shot center had 898 points (408G, 490A) through a whopping 1258 games. Ferraro suited up for the Hartford Whalers, the Los Angeles Kings, the Atlanta Thrashers, the St. Louis Blues and was a member of the beloved 1992-93 New York Islanders squad.
The Trail, B.C. native arrived on Long Island in 1990 following what he called an unsettling trade - and the first of his career. At the time, Ferarro didn't know much about life on the Island, but upon settling down it became a place that he still adores nearly 30 years later.
"The only thing about Long Island we knew as players was the Coliseum, the Marriott Hotel and a cab ride driving around the immediate area to try and find a restaurant," Ferraro said. "But once I actually moved to New York I couldn't believe how beautiful it was or how different it was. You had access to the water right there and [New York City] was just a train ride away. There's so much it has to offer. [Ferraro and his family] lived in Huntington, I loved it. I loved living in New York and living on the Island."
During Ferraro's second season with the Isles, he put up a career-high 40 goals (80 points) in 80 games. Just as Ferraro was playing some of his best hockey, the collective group began to click. During the 1992-93 season, the Isles clinched their first playoff berth in two years after finishing the regular season with 87 points and a 40-37-7 record. They were a Cinderella group that beat Washington in six games and proceeded to knock out the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in the second round. Their run was halted 4-1 during the conference finals at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champions the Montreal Canadiens. That playoff run reignited the deep passion of Islanders faithful.
"As a team, we were kind of searching," Ferraro said. "Our season was up and down. I broke my leg in December of that year getting shoved into the boards. I broke my leg and dislocated my ankle and missed three months. I came back just before the playoffs...We were massive underdogs against Washington, but it all just sort of clicked in that series. We played with emotion. We had emotion from a guy like [Darius] Kasparaitis. We had skill from Pierre Turgeon, Derek King, Benoit Hogue and Vladmir Malakhov. [Glenn] Healy gave us goaltending that we just hadn't had. I got hot and all the sudden everything sort of fit. It was so fun to feel the Coliseum like it was. During Game 4 against Washington, I scored in overtime and the guys jumped on me and I still remember that feeling of the entire place shaking as we got up and skated off the ice."
Ferraro and the Islanders made playoffs the following season but were swept by the New York Rangers, whom Ferraro signed with as a free agent in 1995. As Ferraro's career moved on, he broke into the broadcasting mix while still an active player during the 1997 playoffs at NHL 2Night alongside Barry Melrose and Bill Pidto. He continued commentating as an active player up until his retirement in 2002. Ferraro joined the TSN team in 2008 and has also had stints with ESPN and the NHL on NBC.
While Ferraro is now well-seasoned within the broadcasting realm, it wasn't the easiest immediate transition adjusting to the bright lights, production crew and television studios, but once the initial nerves passed he was a natural.
"There were three cameras set up and one had the red light," Ferraro explained. "So, you're supposed to look at the one with the red light. Easy enough, right? Well, I just remember being so nervous and I kept getting the camera mixed up. After shooting when I took my jacket off there were sweat stains…It's such a rush being on air and going live."
Ferraro received the nickname, "Chicken Parm" by John Buccigross after a visible pre-show dinner accident was apparent on his attire while on air. A small stain hasn't put a damper on what's been a long and successful broadcast career and an even longer life in hockey.
"The game of hockey has given me the ability to live out my dream," Ferraro said. "When I was a little boy in the first grade, I wrote on a little paper what I wanted to be when I grow up and I wrote an NHL player. That's all I ever wanted to be. I gotten to live out my dream and then my dream ended. I woke up and I still got to do it again, but I'm not playing. I'm still here. I'm broadcasting, but I'm in the rinks, I'm around the guys, I talk to the coaches, it's everything but play. It's my life, it's my life's work and I'm incredibly lucky and fortunate to do it."
While on the road for up to 80 days a year from the end of September until July as a broadcaster, Ferraro still gets chills every time he has a trip back to the Island and gets to visit the Coliseum.
"Even though it looks different and it's all fancied up or whatever, it's still the Coliseum," Ferraro said. "When I stepped through the doors of the concourse for the first time it was so easy for me to picture all of those things that were really special. The building didn't change even though it's newer. I loved being back."
As Ferraro reflects on the unique parallel of his broadcasting career reaching the same milestone as his NHL career, he's grateful for the livelihood hockey has given him on and off the ice. From his days as a player, to his transition into the booth, sharing his passion with his sons and even his second marriage to former U.S. women's ice hockey team captain Cammi Granato, Ferraro and the sport are intertwined.
"When you're in it, it's so consuming," Ferraro said. "If I had one thing that I could change when I was playing would be to look around a little bit more. All I thought about was the next practice, the next practice and the next game. It's so all consuming. I wish I would have just taken a half a step back and maybe just enjoyed a little bit more. I try to do that more now. But I loved it, every minute of it. I wouldn't trade any of it."