What were your reasons for taking the analyst position for the Buffalo Sabres?
HN: Well, I’ve done it for 21 years I think for Hockey Night in Canada and for the Toronto Maple Leaf broadcast. I used to think all the time when I came to Buffalo to do a game for the Leafs, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I could do 40 of these and go home after the game instead of driving from Toronto back here.' The travel was an issue I’ve thought about.
I’ve know Rick Jeanneret for a long time and I’m a big admirer of him and the way he does the games. To get a chance to work with him for at least two years, and I think I’m going to try to talk him into the third, is a big reason why. And I must say I am leaving some good memories and good friends behind but I know a lot of the Buffalo people living here for as long as I have so it’s not as if you’re going to a brand new place.What is your broadcast philosophy and how do you approach the job?
I try to make sure that I have prepared myself so if the camera goes to any player on either team I have something to say about him. Not his weight and height, but something that’s a little more interesting.
I don’t think it’s nuclear physics we are trying to get across to the fans. I think you can have some fun and you can have some laughs as well as try and do a good technical job of showing replays and showing the fans why things happen. They all see what happened, but I can tell them why it happened. That’s kind of been my modus operandi for my job.What is your broadcast style?
I think spontaneity might be one.
I do a lot of preparation. I don’t trust my memory anymore. I write everything down. And then if I don’t use it, I save it, so I have quite a file over the years of comments or observations. I often thought if I can make the television fans think they’re sitting beside me maybe at a bar watching the game, I can tell them all kinds of things about that game that they don’t have a chance to learn because they don’t have my job. If that’s how the people feel after watching me and listening to me then that’s perfect.What is your favorite hockey-related memory?
Every Stanley Cup presentation brings out the envy I have after coaching and being in the Finals one year to know the routine they have to go through to win it. It’s the most difficult trophy to win in I think in all of the major professional sports here in North America. It almost brings tears to my eyes when I see the reaction of the winners and the disappointment of the losers, because in 1982 I was with the Canucks when they lost to the Islanders. Every Stanley Cup presentation brings a flow of feelings to me.What is the strangest thing you have seen in the sport?
I remember we were doing the finals in New Jersey the year that referee Don Koharski quit and they had to use local referees. Bob Cole and I for Hockey Night in Canada had about a 30-minute fill and we had to go up to the top of the rink in kind of a corridor. We were trying to talk about it while the host Ron MacLean was running back and forth trying to find out who was going to do the game.
I guess I kept stepping on the cord that went to Bob’s headset - I didn’t realize it- but finally he turned to me right in the middle of what we were trying to say and said ‘would you please get your [expletive] foot off my cord.’
I’ve often thought about what the fans thought of that.What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a general manager and head coach?
I think if you’re coaching or managing you’re going to do some things that when you’ve done them you wish you hadn’t. I think the thing to do is remember you’re dealing with the top people in their business in the world and they deserve that kind of treatment. When you have to get mad at them you try to make sure that they realize you’re just trying to do you’re job and it’s not personal.
I can’t think of a player of all the ones I coached and all the ones I met in this business that I didn’t like. Some of them I didn’t like when they were playing because they scored goals against us, but it is full of great people at the player level, and the coaches and the manager level, and that’s the attraction for me.How did you get from the front office to the broadcast booth?
Well, I kept losing my job as a general manager.
The day I got fired in Detroit, the head of Hockey Night in Canada phoned and said, ‘Would you like to be involved with TSN as a color commentator?’
They were just coming on the air in Canada. I said, ‘Yeah.’
That was a Thursday and he said be in Montreal on Saturday. I was and got started and after my first broadcast and I still can’t understand why they ever asked me back for the second one. It’s kind of learning on the job how to do it and it’s not as complicated but it takes some getting used to and it takes some discipline and it takes some research.You've worked the Olympics and 20 consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. What stands out most in your mind from that span?
That I’m still working probably. I can’t think of any one thing now. As I said the Stanley Cup presentation brings tears to my eyes. As a Canadian, watching the Canadians win the Olympics in Salt Lake City was a great moment for us, the Canadian broadcast crew.
The treatment that the players have given me over the years. Sometimes I have to make critical comments about them because they make an error on the ice and show the replay three times. Sometimes I know they weren’t too happy with me when their moms said, 'Mr. Neale cut them up on the television.'
I really admire the players, I really do. They’re critical to my job as I told them, whether it’s a good play or a bad play.What are your opinions/expectations of the Buffalo Sabres this year?
I think they’ve got a good chance. I don’t know whether they can duplicate finishing first overall, but they are one of the two or three top teams in the Eastern Conference in my opinion.
In this day and age in the NHL, just to get a ticket to the lottery - the playoffs - and if you’re healthy and going and playing well you’ve got a chance to do something. Buffalo has been close to the door of the Stanley Cup finals for two straight years and I don’t see why they can’t do it again.