For want of a nicer day, one of ice hockey’s great characters might have gone on a different career path.
When Stan Fischler was just five years old, his father decided to forego taking him to see the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because of inclement weather. Instead, because it was a closer walk to the subway station than to the movie theater, they took in a hockey game. At first the youngster was extremely unhappy with the decision, but schadenfreude kicked in when his dad’s favored team lost.
Because his parents were such big sports fans — his mother had taken him to his first baseball game even earlier in his development — Fischler, now 82, said in a phone interview, “At some point, I may have gone to see a hockey game, and there might have been a parallel progression of some kind, but as Shakespeare so aptly put it, there is ‘much virtue in if’ and we can ask till the cows come home about what would have happened.”
Fischler — who has also written close to 100 books on hockey and baseball — will discuss the state of the game at the Spring Lake Public Library on Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m.
Fischler began his career as a publicist for the New York Rangers in 1954, as soon as he graduated Brooklyn College. He has been covering hockey ever since, working in every medium from print to TV (he has won five Emmy Awards) to Twitter.
He embraces the new technologies, which gives him a much wider audience than he might have otherwise. It was his son, Ben, who convinced him of the benefits. “I shied away from it at first…. All of a sudden I found I had ‘followers’; I didn’t know what ‘followers’ meant. I thought that was people like Sherlock Holmes. Then I kind of got a kick out of it and then the people at [the MSG Network] pointed out the usefulness of Twitter and tweeting.”
He’s turned into a savvy communicator via that medium. “Sports fans get annoyed very easily if they don’t agree with what you write, so I try not to antagonize them.”
Hockey players “are the nicest guys,” Fischler claimed. “By far. The background of most players back then, virtually every one of them came from Canada. A large number came from rural families and there was a different set of values because of where they grew up. You have a much more rigorous training regimen than you do in most of the other sports. To make it in simplest terms, it’s easier to become a mensch with that kind of background than it is when you’re coddled like so many of the other athletes are.”
The sentiment still holds true today, Fischler said. “If you look at the prima donna quotient between hockey and any of the other major sports, it’s not even close.”
He freely admitted he sheps naches over the handful of Jews in the NHL, including Michael Cammalleri of the NJ Devils, as well as Eric Nystrom, Jason Demers, Trevor Smith, Mike Brown, and Jason Zucker. “It’s very meaningful, ever since I discovered there were Jewish hockey players. One of the guys I was closest to was…Larry Zeidel from Montreal, who played on the [Stanley Cup-winning] Detroit Red Wings in 1950.” He also noted that one of the oldest and most revered trophies in all of sports is named after Dr. David Hart, a Canadian Jew, and is given to the NHL’s most valuable player.
Fischler travels to Israel every summer to visit his other son, Simon, who lives on El Rom, a kibbutz on the Golan Heights. He marvels that ice hockey has been making baby steps in the Jewish state. Two of his grandchildren make the hour’s trip to Metula, a town on the Lebanese border and the site of the nation’s only hockey school. “It’s kind of miraculous,” Fischler said. “Everybody is stunned when they find out there is hockey in Israel.”