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STAN ‘THE MAVEN’ FISCHLER: A FRIEND AND A MENTOR

April 18, 2019

If you’re a hockey fan, you’re sure to know the name Stan Fischler, who is referred to as “The Hockey Maven,” and who served as the resident hockey expert and broadcaster for MSG Networks since 1975.  He is a 7-time Emmy winner and is a true historian of the game of hockey.  You’ll probably know, too, that Stan has written more than 100 books, mostly about hockey, with a few tomes about NYC subways (his hobby) and a couple on minor sports, like baseball.  And, you are sure to know that Stan, the best-known non-player name in the world of hockey, has recently retired and moved to Israel, where he still tweets his views on the game he loves.

 

That is, if you’re a hockey fan.

 

I’m not!

 

But I’m a Stan Fischler fan. We go back a long way, so, I’d like to tell you a few things about Stan that are not included in the numerous biographies about “The Maven.”

 

It all began in 1962 when I landed a full-time position as assistant reporter at the New York Journal-American, while studying journalism at New York University in the evening. I was assigned to the suburban desk (Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island) with a team of talented journalists edited by John W. Newton where Stan, fresh from his graduation from Brooklyn

College and a short stint at the legendary newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle, was a reporter, feature writer and sports columnist.  I greatly admired his writing style, if not some of his subjects – seven out of 10 columns were about hockey. One day I asked him about his fascination with the sport, where grown men don ice skates, grab a three-foot long stick and set out to beat their opponents into submission. Of course, Stan wasn’t pleased with my description of his favorite game, and tried his best to convert me from baseball. Finally, he decided the best way to win me over was to see a live hockey game. (Old joke: I went to a boxing match last night and a hockey game broke out).

 

Together with our dates, we ventured out to the Long Island Arena in Commack (pre-Nassau Coliseum) where a minor league team, the Long Island Ducks, played its home games. We had front-row seats, behind a low wall-fence, literally inches from the ice, with no protective netting, as you can see in the photo. Of course, there was the prerequisite amount of stick-a-cuffs, but we were unprepared for what happened next. Suddenly, a six-ounce sphere of vulcanized rubber, traveling at well over a 100 mph, slammed into the shoulder of Stan’s date, sending her back several rows. Miraculously, nothing was broken, but a good portion of her skin tone became black-and-blue. I don’t know if she ever dated Stan again, but she probably never went to another hockey game. I know I never did (go to another hockey game, I mean).

 

In those days, hockey wasn’t the only subject of Stan’s writing. He was a top-ranked general assignment reporter and exceptional feature writer on a myriad of subjects, and I studied his writing style assiduously. In fact, my journalism professor at NYU, knowing I was working at the J-A, commented on how well I was grasping the fundamentals of the profession. I told him it was probably because I had two instructors – himself and a co-worker named Stan Fischler.

Another of Stan’s favorite subjects is “Jewish humor.” After all, Brooklyn is the birthplace of Jewish humor, producing such legendary funnymen as Mel Brooks (Melvin Kaminsky), Woody Allen (Allan Konigsberg) and Alan King (Irwin Alan Kniberg), among many others.  One of my more memorable experiences was to witness Stan’s interview of a young comedian named Alan King, who had just gotten his big break by being booked into the prestigious "Town and Country" club on Flatbush Avenue. King visited our shared office in the J-A building on lower-Manhattan’s South Street and for the next hour and a half I sat mesmerized as the in-depth interview was interlaced with one-liners, with Stan standing toe-to-toe, or mouth-to-mouth, with the wise-cracking comedian, like a warm-up act at Grossinger's  in the Catskills’ Borscht Belt.

         

          Why do Jewish divorces cost so much?  They're worth it.

          Why do Jewish men die before their wives?  They want to.

 

In addition to his inspired reporting in those days at the J-A, Stan tutored me in the use of “a reporter’s best friend” – the official press card. Better than Diner’s Club, since you never received a statement, the press card allowed me, on my meager salary not much over minimum wage, into the best places in New York City and beyond. With his guidance, I was soon dining at places like Delmonico’s and The Four Seasons, attending every concert at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden and being invited to the film industry’s world premiers and private screenings, as well as getting free weekends at sporting resorts like Mount Snow.  But, it was Stan who pulled off the grand slam of “freebies.” Since bicycling was one of his hobbies, Stan decided he wanted to ride a bike through Europe. After manning the phone for several hours, Stan managed to get a custom-made touring bicycle, passage for himself and his equipment on an airline to Europe and several other accommodations, all “charged” to his press card. And, to top it off, his final call was to Boy’s Life Magazine,” where an editor purchased a forthcoming article of his adventure. Of course, I don’t think “freebies” are so important to Stan these days, since his current net worth is estimated at about eight million dollars.

 

For almost 60 years, in addition to the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Journal-American, Stan has written for many other publications, including The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Sport Magazine, Newsweek and Hockey Digest, and his writings have also been selected for inclusion in the book Best American Sports Writing of the Century, published in 1999. While the bulk of his written words have been about hockey, among his more than 100 books are several about trains and the New York City Subway System, including The Subway and The City, Uptown, Downtown and Confessions of a Trolley Dodger From Brooklyn.  In January 1999 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani designated Stan a Centennial Historian of the City of New York.

 

When the Journal-American became “defunct” in 1966, Stan went on to pursue his career in hockey in earnest, first by writing for The Toronto Star, the old stomping grounds of another writer named Ernest Hemingway.   The beginning of his broadcasting career came in Boston in 1973 for the New England Whalers, then, in 1975, he joined SportsChannel New York, finally MSG+, where he covered metropolitan area NHL teams the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders until his retirement in 2018.  

 

In spite of Stan’s chosen career, and my negative feelings for the sport (see The Deadliest Season, a 1977 film starring Michael Moriarty and Meryl Streep), we have been friends for over 60 years. Unfortunately, it became a long-distance relationship when I moved to Crete in 1985, but we stayed in touch. Our last face-to-face was over lunch in 1997 in an eatery in (where else?) Penn Station, directly under Madison Square Garden, where he presented me with a signed copy of his latest book at the time, Confessions of a Trolley Dodger From Brooklyn, and I gave him some train memorabilia from my days at the Long Island Rail Road. In fact, he later went on to publish a book about the LIRR, which was billed as an illustrated history of the oldest American railway operating under its original name and the busiest commuter railroad on the continent. But, now that he is a neighbor again by moving to Israel, a short hop over the Mediterranean from Crete, perhaps we’ll be able to play “catch-up” over another lunch someday.

 

 

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