Stan Fischler attended his first hockey game in 1939, and he attended his most recent one on Thursday night.
Much has changed in hockey and in the wider world during those eight decades, but one thing has not. Fischler loves hockey, and people, and hockey people most of all.
The man turned 86 on Saturday, but his level of energy and enthusiasm as he worked his last game as a regular on MSG Networks seemed undiminished.
“Somebody wrote this a while ago, and I saved it,” Fisch ler said before the Islanders beat the Rangers, 2-1, at Barclays Center. “Certain people reach a certain chronological age, but they never leave their mental age.
“I feel that in terms of that second part. I’m just about a year after my bar mitzvah. I’m at 14, striving for 15, but not quite being able to get it.”
Still, with chronological age comes perspective. Fischler decided this season would be his last because he has a son and two grandchildren in Portland, Oregon, and a son and three grandchildren in Israel, and wants to see more of them.
So this was it, a grand finale staged in his native borough of Brooklyn.
The fact that the Rangers were the opponent meant even more of his TV friends and colleagues were there to send off the man widely known as the Hockey Maven.
Fischler soaked it all in.
He opened and closed the pregame production meeting with his trademark jokes. Then he appeared on the pregame show, dropped the ceremonial first puck, sat in on the Islanders’ TV call in the second period, went on Rangers radio and finally prepared for one last round of interviews in the Islanders’ dressing room.
As Fischler waited to go onto the ice to drop the puck, Islanders coach Doug Weight walked by and gave him a hug. So did co-owner Jon Ledecky.
“There’s no way we’re going to let him go away altogether,” Ledecky said. “He has to continue to do things for the New York Islanders, because he is a national treasure.
“He should be in the Hall of Fame, and hopefully he will go into the Hall of Fame. With my last breath, I’ll make sure that that happens, because he deserves it. He’s a great American, a great ambassador for hockey.”
Fischler, who has covered hockey for more than 60 years and first covered the Islanders on TV in 1975, plans to stay involved. He already has recorded material for MSG to use next season.
Many of his former interns were on hand for the final night, part of a month-long lovefest since he said this would be his last season. As he walked the concourse at Barclays, fans greeted him and took pictures. “The reaction is far, far, far more than I expected,” he said.
He was particularly struck by the reaction when he was introduced at Madison Square Garden last month.
“I was very, very anxious,’’ he said. “I couldn’t figure how the Rangers fans would react. They know I do Islanders games, and I did the Devils, and in the past there was hostility.
“When they gave me a standing ovation, I thought I was daydreaming. It was bizarre. I thought maybe there’d be a little tepid applause. That knocked me out.”
Fischler’s son Ben, 46, joined him for the finale and was struck by the familial connection with longtime co-workers. The postgame show closed with host Shannon Hogan offering a tearful farewell to Fischler.
“It makes me really proud and happy, and I know he’s moved by it, profoundly,” Ben said. “He’s got a family here that is an extended family.”
Said Stan: “This is much more than I ever thought . . . The reaction was not the way that I figured. These [colleagues] are friends. So you’re buddies and you think that’s it — not this much love. Not this much love.”