Commentary

The hockey road less traveled ... to 'Jonesy'

Updated: December 4, 2007, 10:52 AM ET
By John Buccigross | ESPN.com

If I had never worked a day at the World Wide Leader, hockey would have still taken me to enough places to make it a satisfying skate.

My earliest hockey memories are of listening to games on AM radio with my dad while he fiddled and diddled with his stamp collection. (Wow, there are two things that have died a slow death -- AM radios and stamp collections.)

From there, it was collecting hockey cards (praying for a Topps Bobby Orr and his 1970s game-show host hair); playing mini-stick hockey in the living room using two chairs as nets; ramming the skull of my Super Jock Hockey dude and firing off shots at the soccer-like net. A real net! My blue Super Jock right-hand shot is a first-ballot Hallway Hall of Famer. Career goals: 4,489. All unassisted.

[+] EnlargeBoston Garden
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaOne of Bucci's greatest moments? Getting one last look at the Boston Garden.

At age 10, when my Uncle Jimmy gave me a full-size net for Christmas, I felt like I had really arrived. One Mylec goalie stick and baseball glove later, I was Tony Esposito and we had real neighborhood games in the driveway. And, sometimes, the family room. Before Sunday mass. One time, I made a save as my sister Christine was screening me. She tripped and broke her arm.

Any twirl on actual ice was just short of heavenly. Growing up in Pennsylvania and Ohio, I did not have ready ice. Any discovered sheet was truly a moment of bliss that would literally last hours. I can remember times when I would spend five-six hours on a sheet outdoors. I think that's why I have a backyard rink. Weather permitting, it gives me ice, 50 feet from my house. I'm bewildered when my kids come in after only a half hour or so. Of course, I forget they practice and play twice a week from October to March on perfect indoor ice. But, it is different because they can't wait for that first outdoor skate with no coach's whistle and no cones. Complete freedom.

My first job in television was in Cape Cod and my first boss was the daughter of Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Fred Cusick. Mr. Cusick told me to change my name. So, I asked his daughter, Martha, if I should. If she would have said yes, I would have done it. I was only 23, poor and just out of college. But, she said no and Buccigross it has been. Had she said yes, I could have been John Loob, John Neely, Johnny Ballgame or John Shoebottom.

During my stretch there, I interviewed Bobby Orr by myself at a local bank he was working for at the time (BayBank). I held the camera and microphone and asked the questions. It was television's version of hitting for the cycle. I also covered a high school player named Eric Nickulas[cq], who led Barnstable High School to a state championship and was later drafted by the Boston Bruins. I also covered NHL old-timers games and charity golf events hosted by NHL players.

After five years of poverty wages in Cape Cod, I was hired by WPRI-TV in Providence, R.I. I covered college pucks and the AHL. I also interviewed Orr again, but this time I had cameraman.

Then, I had one of my ultimate Hockey Night in America moments -- covering the final hockey game at the Boston Garden, a preseason contest against the Montreal Canadiens. They actually let the media scrum on the ice after the game, along one end of the boards, and I witnessed all of the emotional moments of that final Boston Garden hockey game. Normand Leveille going for a skate with Ray Bourque. Boston journalist Clark Booth's introductions; seeing all of the players leave the ice and Orr taking the final laps on the Garden ice before it was later demolished.

So, if the ice melted at that point, I would have been content. But in a bigger upset than Team USA beating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, I was hired by ESPN and soon after hosted the only nightly, U.S.-based NHL highlight show at the time. That show brought me to All-Star Games, Stanley Cup finals, interviews with Maurice Richard and Wayne Gretzky, and other players, coaches, commissioners and ice girls. Most important, it brought me to this column and you.

Along the way, hockey has also given me relationships with hockey people who worked on "NHL 2Night" through the years -- Barry Melrose, Ray Ferraro, Jim Schoenfeld, Darren Pang and Keith Jones. Talking hockey with them was like Christmas morning every time. All of them could write a book on their hockey lives, but for my first attempt as an author, I chose "Jonesy."

Our sensibilities and stories mesh, and I believed it gave me the best chance of not blowing my opportunity of writing a book. Melrose coached Wayne Gretzky. Ferraro scored 108 goals as a 19-year-old in Junior. Schoenfeld has the hardest hand shake in North America. And Pang grew up with Steve Yzerman. I wanted no part of that lineage for my first effort in Barnes and Noble Land.

"Every man" Jonesy was the most comfortable way for me to start. The more I talked with Keith, the more it became apparent this would be fun -- the right way to start a possible side career in writing books. Jonesy's story is interesting, irreverent, illogical and funny. So is the man. Hopefully, you will read "Jonesy" and feel like you know him. For those of you who have bought the book and read it, thank you.

Keith Jones (and sometimes me) will answer your e-mails.

Jaromir Jagr
Frank Franklin II/AP PhotoKeith Jones is wondering why Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr has only seven goals in 26 games this season.

Question from Bruce (Massachusetts): Hi, John and Keith. As a "used to be" avid Bruins fan of the '80s and '90s, I was obviously a big fan of the Ray Bourque/Cam Neely duo. My question is for Keith. How did it come to be that Bourque wrote the forward for "Jonesy?"

Answer from Keith Jones: My good friend John Buccigross made that happen. I had no input whatsoever and, in fact, I'd love to meet Ray some time! I've never met the legend.

Answer from Bucci: Bourque was the most famous person in my cell phone, so he was asked to write the forward. Runners-up were Dave Poulin, ESPN's John Anderson, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt and Disturbed drummer/Blackhawks fan Mike Wengren.

Question from Jason A. Ciastko: John or Keith, I read your book in one sitting at the downtown Borders in Chicago. My wife works at a large hotel downtown (a pastry cook, no less) and I had time to kill before she got off work and we headed to a Hawks game. Good book and a fun read. I've started my second read of it so I can savor it more.

Jones: Thanks so much, Jason. It's great to hear responses like that, and for the most part, that's what I've gotten. It's really a good feeling that people enjoyed the book.

Bucci: There was more information to use and I'm seriously contemplating doing an independent film based loosely on the book. A coming-of-age hockey film.

Question from Jason Scheeneman (WMU grad, 1998): What are your favorite memories of Western Michigan University? While I know our hockey program was never a consistent power, it pains me that the administration doesn't provide more support. Have you ever been contacted by WMU to play a role in the program and/or coach? Please come back, we need you!

Jones: My favorite moment from Western Michigan is the first time we had strength training there (read below). They've never contacted me about coaching, but they do call for money for the alumni association. I think I've done the dressing room four times over.

Question from Terry Charlton (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.): Your book must be selling well because Bucci has had more "last chances for blatant self-promotion" in his column than Ozzy Osbourne has had farewell tours. Seriously, it was a great read. My question: Is it hard to give honest criticism of a local team you are broadcasting for, like the Flyers, since you travel with the players? I imagine it would be hard to say "Derian Hatcher was officially recognized as a new monument in Washington tonight as Ovechkin and Co. blew past him numerous times," only to run into him the next morning at the buffet line.

Jones: You have to be more creative. There is a way to give criticism in a way that isn't as gut-wrenchingly honest as it might be for an opposing team. I think that is just human nature and it's good business. We see these people all year because we travel with them.

Question from anonymous (Westerville, Ohio): What is your scouting report on the Flyers this year?

Jones: Well, 22 to 24 of the teams are .500 teams. There are four elite teams and there about three or four are above average. I'd put the Flyers in that above-average category. The four elite teams are Ottawa, Carolina, Detroit and Anaheim (once they get Scott Niedermayer back). The Rangers are in the class of the Flyers. I'm not sure how much Jaromir Jagr has left in the tank. He looks disinterested and that's a big concern.

Question from Carl Allen (Winnipeg, Manitoba): The unbalanced schedule is out. Is that a good thing?

Jones: Not for me; it means I have to travel more! I'm sure the players will like it. You get tired of playing the same guys over and over again in the division. It's refreshing to play cities and teams where there isn't quite as much built up in the bank in terms of hatred. As a player, I would like it. As a media member, I love it the way it is because I don't have to travel as much.

DiGirolamo/Getty ImagesAre bigger nets the answer? Keith Jones says yes.

Question from Ryan Steve: Explain the difference between the hockey markets in Washington, Colorado and Philadelphia.

Jones: Washington is a great place to start your career because you have a lot of time to get your game developed without the pressure of looking at your numbers and having your goal slumps written about in the paper. It was beneficial for me to start there and build a foundation for the rest of my career.

I loved playing in Colorado. Hockey was really hot when I was there. They had just won a Cup the season before; there was a great buzz. The weather was really good, always sunny. Plus, Denver had just really great hockey fans. That was a really cool place to be. You are much more appreciated when you are playing well.

In Philadelphia, it was a perfect fit for me because they liked that style of play of giving the perception you were working hard on every shift, even if you were not.

Question from Kevin Wilson: Should the NHL have bigger nets and why?

Jones: Yes. The goaltenders' equipment used to be smaller. But the bigger difference is the equipment used to have holes in it where the goaltender could get hurt if the puck hit him in that place. So, goalies used to make themselves smaller to protect themselves from the brunt of the impact. Today's goalies have bigger equipment, but there are no unprotected spots on their bodies. So, they make themselves bigger, like a blowfish, instead of being more compact and exposing more net. That is why the nets need to be bigger.

Mini-Me Mailbag

Last Tuesday, we ran this e-mail in the column and we like to deal with it from time to time:

John,

Is there any legitimate way to watch NHL via PC, other than the exorbitant Center Ice online? I ran across some info about Comcast broadcasting for free, but it showed no games scheduled. Any info you know of would be greatly appreciated. I travel extensively and am really missing watching my Ducks.

Mark Manwaring
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Plenty of you responded. Here is one:

Bucci,

I too travel for a living. Tell Mark to cough up $129 bucks for a Slingbox. It's the best invention since the VCR and is a godsend if you have DirecTV and the Center Ice package. There is even a HD version.

Best regards,
Dave Rivard (Bruins fan in R.I., suffering since 1975)


Bucci,

I'm just starting to get into Radiohead a little bit. What is their best CD, and which CD should I buy first to build on?

Aaron Hinton
Casper, Wyo.

Nearly every music fan should own Radiohead's "OK Computer." The song "Optimistic" from the album "Kid A" is in my Radiohead top five.


John,

The 1971 Leafs-Wings in-game blog was great reading. I love seeing those vintage games on the NHL Network. The variety of goalie masks, if worn at all, is pretty neat to see. I also enjoy seeing the players have a legitimate chance of scoring without the need of a massive screen shot or a one-timer that has the goalie moving. Great reminder that the goalies back in the day had a lot more net to cover with minimal equipment than today's Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-like netminders.

Lonnie Proechel
Minnetonka, Minn.

I got a lot of good reaction from the vintage blog from last week. Thanks, as always, to everyone for reading. We will do another one soon when the right game catches my eye. In honor of blogging that game last week, here is this week's fan photo.

John,

Would I mess with this man? No! Would I politely ask for an elbow for my son Kris? Of course!

Enjoy,
Bruce Hammond
Big Rapids, Mich.












There's more mailbag where that came from! Check out Bucci's Mother of All Mailbags every Thursday at ESPN.com.

John Buccigross is an anchorman for "SportsCenter" and ESPNEWS. For questions, comments or crosschecks, e-mail him at john.buccigross@espn.com. To check out his new book, "Jonesy: Put Your Head Down & Skate," click here.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.