‘Hockey Maven’ Stan Fischler Has Love Affair With Sport — and Israel
(JTA) — As the Boston Bruins buzz the Islanders net throughout the opening period of a game at the Nassau Coliseum, Stan Fischler is standing 10 feet behind the Plexiglas to the left of New York goaltender Kevin Poulin.
Fischler, a hockey broadcaster for four decades, can feel the rattling boards of forechecking Bruins.
There’s no place he’d rather be.
Providing New York-area hockey fans with a bird’s-eye view and expert analysis is what Fischler, 81, has done on broadcasts of Islanders, Rangers and Devils games. He’s had a love affair with the sport since he was introduced to it quite by accident as a 7-year-old growing up in Brooklyn.
The hockey community in New York has returned the fondness, notably when the younger of his two sons, then a teenager, was critically ill with a heart malady.
“The Hockey Maven,” as Fischler has long been known, has a love affair, too, with Israel. He and his wife, Shirley, visit there each summer. And their younger son, Simon, now 35, lives on Kibbutz El Rom in the Golan Heights and blogs on diplomacy while also writing for Fischler’s hockey newsletter.
Simon, not surprisingly, taught the sport to his children at the ice rink in nearby Metulla.
He recalls his father asking him when he was 8 to find Israel on an atlas. The boy couldn’t, so dad pointed it out.
“That was one of my earliest memories: This is our land,” said Simon, who lives on the kibbutz with his wife and three children. “I thank him every day for it because I am extremely proud of my Jewish national heritage. It’s why I live in Israel.”
Fischler says his mother, Molly, losing nearly all her relatives in the Holocaust in the former Czechoslovakia helps explain why his support of Jewish causes “revolves around the security of Israel.”
It was his mother — “Malka Devorah, I love that name; it’s very lyrical,” he says – who introduced 5-year-old Stan, her only child, to spectator sports, a Brooklyn Dodgers game they attended at Ebbets Field.
But two years later it was his father, Benjamin, who would bring Fischler to his first hockey game. They were intending to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” but emerging from the subway into torrential rain at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, where Madison Square Garden then stood, the plans changed.
“Forget it,” said Benjamin, a big-time sports fan, in spurning the film, Fischler recalled. “We’ll go to the game.”
The Rangers’ minor league team, the Rovers, was taking on the Washington Eagles, and the bawling boy was hooked. After each Rovers game, Fischler would write a recap in his souvenir program. A hockey writer was born. Several years later, at 10, Fischler first saw the real Rangers play. A sign in the Garden’s rotunda touting hockey as “The Fastest Game in the World,” along with the magical brew of indoor ice, sticks and skating, “really made an impression on me,” Fischler said.
Fischler would handle public relations for the Rangers, then work 20 years as a newspaper reporter before moving into broadcasting, first for the World Hockey Association’s New England Whalers and then the New York-area teams in the National Hockey League.
The opinionated broadcaster has won multiple Emmy Awards and, in 2007, the NHL’s Lester Patrick Trophy for advancing American hockey.
His love and knowledge of the game are apparent in the pregame and postgame shows he co-hosts for the New York area’s NHL teams on the MSG Network.
His producer, Glenn Petraitis, says Fischler has retained “the passion of a young person.”
“He obviously lives, eats and sleeps hockey,” Petraitis said. “He’s a passionate sports fan.”
Fischler just had his 100th book on the sport published. “We Are the Rangers” is an oral history of the team that tugged at Fischler’s heart as a boy growing up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Some of the books were co-authored with Shirley, with whom he lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (Their elder son, Ben, lives in Portland, Ore.) His subjects have included Hall of Fame players such as Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Stan Mikita and Rod Gilbert. Others have been on coaches, teams, great moments and rivalries.
Fischler also has written well-received books on New York’s transit system and the old trolley lines in Brooklyn.
The epilogue of the new book tells of Simon needing a heart transplant in 1993. Fischler movingly writes of the Rangers’ then-coach and goalie, Mike Keenan and Mike Richter, visiting his son — a diehard fan of the Islanders, the Rangers’ bitter rivals.
Unwritten was what Gilbert told JTA: He also had come to the hospital, where he and Simon, sitting alone, discussed hockey and prayer.
That evening, an emotional Fischler phoned Gilbert, a friend since the player’s debut in 1960, with the news that a donor heart had become available.
“Call it coincidence, call it energy or whatever you want,” Gilbert said. “I was very grateful that he did successfully get a transplant.”
Told of Gilbert’s comments, Fischler says the visit came when Simon’s condition was dire.
“I did attach something positive to Rod Gilbert’s visit. Rod was basically doing some preaching, some talking about getting through his [own] medical experiences,” Fischler said. “When you’re in a situation like that, you welcome any source of hope.”
Another source was praying at the family synagogue on West 110th Street.
The crisis wasn’t discussed on-air.
Viewers tune in to hear Fischler opine and inform on hockey – the sport he adored alone among his childhood pals in Williamsburg.
Fans strolling the Nassau Coliseum concourse during the Islanders-Bruins game stopped by the white picket fence delineating the set where Petraitis, Fischler and the broadcast’s other co-host, Peter Ruttgaizer, ply their trade.
They seek out Fischler to banter, ask questions and pose for photographs.
“You turn on MSG and there’s Stan,” said Kyle Hall, 25, after taking a picture with Fischler. “I only know things are true if Stan says so. He’s knowledgeable.”
Preparing for the pregame show, Fischler says, “It never stops being exciting because you never know what’s going to happen from game to game.”