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Happiness After Hockey: Jim Fox

After playing in the NHL for 10 years, Fox has made a name for himself in broadcasting and winemaking

by LA Kings @LAKings / LAKings.com

After a decade of playing for the LA Kings and almost three decades as a TV color analyst, Jim Fox is a household name in Los Angeles. 

Though his career ended abruptly due to a knee injury, looking back now, it was one of the best things that happened to him. Because as he will tell you himself: Timing is everything.

Being forced to leave the game at the age of 29 set the stage for his now 29-year broadcasting career.

"It was a unique circumstance," Fox said. While rehabbing his knee, he asked the Kings if he could help their community relations department before getting back out on the ice.

"I was still hoping to play again, but I had that year to learn and come into the office every day," Fox said. 

Fox did return to the Kings lineup for the beginning of the 1989-90 season - he even scored the game-winning goal on the road in St. Louis in the Kings 6-4 win over the Blues - but the Ontario-native realized his body was signaling it was his time to hang up his skates for good.

He rejoined the community relations department full-time, but little did he know, the Kings had other plans for him.

"It was around the time that Wayne Gretzky joined the team, and he was opening up doors, so the Kings were being asked to do more things, including hire additional broadcasters," Fox said.

"Previous to that, there was a simulcast in broadcasting, meaning the radio and the TV went out on the same signal, so you only needed two announcers. Bob [Miller] and Nick [Nickson] were there, and you really didn't need anyone else. But since I had recently retired… they asked me to do it," Fox recalled.

Though he didn't really grasp the full breadth of the role at the time, there was no hesitation on Fox's part to commit.

"I think there was a complete lack of understanding of what it would take, because I was still doing community relations. I was in the office from 9:00 until 5:00, and then pre-production for broadcasting started at 5:00, so I jumped right into that," Fox said.

"At first, it was embarrassing to me because I knew I was really bad. I didn't really have a chance to watch a lot of practices, because I had other duties that took away my time. In the first three years, at the end of games, I didn't even know what the score was. I was just lost," Fox admitted.

"The technical aspects of what's going on, and replays, and people talking in your ear. I just really struggled with it."

The tides started to turn a few years later as he became more comfortable in the booth after working with a media consultant. But internally, he was struggling to cope with the fact that he wouldn't be returning to the ice.

"When it did end as a player, I jumped right into the office, so there wasn't any real time off," Fox said. "I was able to stay busy and I think that helped a lot, not having a gaping hole of, 'What am I going to do?'"

"But then it hit me two years later. I was 31 years old, and already had done what I always wanted to do. When you realize it's over… that's a life-changing moment."

Fox has always been eager to learn new things, which helped him adapt to not only one, but two additional post-playing careers.

"I was always the type of guy that was taking classes and seminars," Fox said. "The Players Association was just starting to get into post-career planning, so I did all those things."

One particular area that piqued Fox's interest was the wine industry.

His fascination began at the Bottle Inn restaurant in Hermosa Beach, where over the years, the waitstaff helped him learn to appreciate different types of wine.

"There's a process, there's a science, but there's also a feel to it. There's an artistry to it, which intrigued me," Fox said. "All the questions will never be answered."

Being a player, most people would say his personality is fairly black and white, but both wine and broadcasting have provided Fox with something completely different; an opportunity for interpretation and creativity.

Tweet from @JimFox19: A quote from founding father Benjamin Franklin. "Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance." Happy Indepedence Day! pic.twitter.com/7ZXsIWO7XJ

With his broadcasting career flourishing, Fox set out to become a winemaker.

Though the winemaking business has one of the top failure rates in California, that didn't scare him from developing one of the most difficult wines on the market, a Pinot Noir.

"It's a finicky grape. It's not as predictable as some of the other ones, but maybe that's the intrigue," Fox said. 

With the help of his elementary school sweetheart turned wife Susie, business partner Dean Nucich and winemaker Mike Smith, Fox created Patiné Cellars.

Patiné is a nod to Fox's hockey career, and means "to have skated," with the bottle featuring a rubber puck-like fixture and lines that look like skate marks on ice.  

"Balance is a huge factor in skating and the balance of a wine may be the most important element. Patiné strives to provide new-world fruit characteristics, while balancing all the other factors such as earthiness, acidity, oak, tannins, as well as any old-world characteristics, which seem to develop in Patiné as it ages," Fox said. 

Patiné's grapes are sourced from three vineyards: Gap's Crown and Sun Chase Vineyards in the Petaluma Gap AVA (Sonoma Coast) and Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

"Winemaker Mike Smith takes a purist approach to allow the fruit to fully reveal itself, while showcasing the personality and terroir of the vineyards. We feel very fortunate to have Mike taking the lead with Patiné," Fox said. "Wine is scored, but it's not a win or a loss. I think there's always something positive you can take out of it. Even when something goes wrong, it's about constantly learning." 

And that's what Fox aspires to do: Always continue learning.

Though he may never fully retire from anything, he and his wife Susie aim to spend more time in Northern California, getting their hands dirty at the vineyard and gaining first-hand knowledge about the process.

Until then, after a busy week of broadcasting for the Kings, you can likely find him unwinding where it all began - at Hermosa Beach's Bottle Inn, sipping on a fine wine. 

Ideally, Patiné.

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