Before I even knew who Jiggs McDonald was, I wanted to be Jiggs McDonald.
He broke into the NHL at 27 years old. He found a home as the television voice with the Islanders in 1980 and called the final three Stanley Cups of one of the greatest dynasties in sports. He has called thousands of NHL games and he landed in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. And that’s only the CliffsNotes of his incredible career.
What aspiring broadcaster wouldn’t sign up for that?
In August, I landed my dream job as a television broadcaster in the National Hockey League (three years older than Jiggs in his debut, but I’ll take it). Tonight, I am getting kicked off my own broadcast … and I couldn’t be happier about it. Early in the first period, I will take off my headset and happily hand it to Jiggs.
Just as long as he happily hands it back to me at the end of the night. I don’t want to fight Jiggs McDonald, but I will.
For many Islanders fans, their greatest hockey memories are narrated by his unmistakable voice. Mike Bossy’s 50-in-50, John Tonelli’s late goal for the Isles 15th straight win, upsetting the Penguins in ’93, that’s all Jiggs. It might not be anything so specific, it certainly doesn’t have to be. His voice just sounds like hockey. It sounds like hockey for a generation of fans and tonight that familiar baritone will be at it again.
When I got the job over the summer, Jiggs was one of the first to offer his congratulations. I was upset that day because I hadn’t been able to answer the phone when he called. Now I am actually happy that I will have that voicemail forever. Not too long after that phone call, my family and I found a place to live in Brooklyn. On a typical game day, I walk to Barclay’s Center for games.
Today, however, I will be boarding a train directed to Hempstead just so I can turn back around on the same train to head back to Brooklyn.
Why? Because on that return trip, I will have a seat next to Jiggs. Part of our conversation will be used on the broadcast tonight; more of it will even wind up online, right here on msgnetworks.com. But all of it will end up in my memory bank as another one of great things that this job has afforded me.
Current Isles play-by-play man Brendan Burke talks with Jiggs McDonald about his legendary broadcasting career with the Islanders while riding the LIRR to Barclays Center.
I really enjoy calling hockey games, but I also enjoy watching the best at their craft. Once he takes over the broadcast, I get to be a fan and I will be taking notes. Since I got this job, I’ve watched many of his broadcasts. I’ve watched them from the 1980s and I’ve watched them from last season. He may not call games on a regular basis anymore, but he’s still one of the greats.
Tonight is a night to celebrate the remarkable career and man that is Jiggs McDonald, but don’t confuse that for saying goodbye. We know for certain that this will not be his last NHL game. He’s scheduled to call the Kings vs. Panthers game (filling in for Bob Miller) on Feb. 9.
But the big question is: will this be his last Islanders game broadcast?
Ask my son. He’s due on Feb. 22.