It’s Hall of Fame week in Toronto.
Being inducted is a group of players who were certainly some of the game’s greatest. Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Brian Leetch will be honoured next Monday night, as will New Jersey architect Lou Lamoriello. Between the five, their names are inscribed on the Stanley Cup 11 times. For the past two decades, these greats have left their mark.
Also being honoured will be Pittsburgh writer Dave Molinari, who will be the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award. Dave’s talent as one of America’s finest hockey writers, and driest senses of humour, is well documented within the game.
And winning the Foster Hewitt Award is John Davidson.
With apologies to the five inductees and Molinari, I will admit my bias on JD’s award.
I first met John during the 1979 Stanley Cup final, as he and his Rangers teammates tried to stop the Canadiens from winning their fourth consecutive Cup. Only minutes after the decisive Game 5, I was conducting an interview with JD in the Rangers room. Only this was a little different. John was standing in the shower, shaving off his playoff beard. I was standing just outside of the stall, wearing my Hockey Night in Canada light blue blazer, with the right arm and the microphone in the shower, soaking wet. The topic of the interview wasn’t the series. It was an upcoming summer trip some NHL players were making to the Yukon with some of our TV talent. My job was to get some sound bites to use on local Whitehorse radio. John was polite, positive and excited about the trip. I walked out of the room amazed that this man would have the time to talk period, let alone not lament the loss to Scotty Bowman’s Canadiens.
Fast forward four years. I was living in Calgary as HNIC’s western producer. My cohorts and I convinced John to move back to his hometown to be our western analyst. What John did there was rewrite the manual on how to become a television announcer. No one worked harder and longer at the art of broadcasting. He understood what to say and, more importantly, how to say it so that any hockey fan could understand it. He had the innate ability to break down a play anywhere on the ice. And he did it with a smile on his face, fully knowing he had a second chance to be around the game he loved.
It wasn’t too long before not only were the viewers tuned into John, but also the general managers and coaches. On any given night at the Davidson home, the phone would ring with some of hockey’s biggest decision makers asking for the latest breakdown of a team’s play, or an unbiased view of a “player to be named later.”
By the late 1980s, John, Diana and their girls (Lindsay and Ashley) had moved back to New York and John had established himself as the game’s best announcer and in my opinion, its greatest ambassador.
We brought JD back to Canada in 1994 as a regular member of the original Satellite Hot Stove. His storytelling and humour made Saturday night second intermissions a necessary watch. His sparring with Red Fisher and Al Strachan was unforgettable, and his ability to break stories live on the air became the blueprint for our business. Anyone who has worked with him would describe him as a “giving” partner, a great teammate.
Proof of his knowledge and leadership is the success that has followed him in St. Louis with the Blues. The true impact, however, he has had on the game (and therefore deserving of the Hewitt award) can be measured by all the fans in both countries that have grown to enjoy the game because of his work.
And while the others will deservedly receive most of the attention next weekend, I wanted all to know how important John Davidson has been to the growth of the game and the NHL.
And how proud I am to call him my friend.