Brendan Burke traveled to Wednesday night’s Panthers-Islanders game on the Long Island Rail Road, seated next to a guy old enough to be his grandfather and who was about to take his job for the night.
But he could not have been happier about it.
For Burke, 32, the night on which MSG Networks and the Islanders honored Jiggs McDonald, 78, was a reminder of the announcing lineage he joined this season, including the man who filled the job between them, Howie Rose.
“The fact that I am a very small part at the end of a long sentence with those two guys at the front of it is incredible,” Burke said before the game. “To a certain extent Howie was always filling Jiggs’ shoes and I’m filling both of theirs.
“It’s still [McDonald’s] chair and it always will be. He’s the iconic voice of this franchise, and that’s never going to change.”
Perhaps, but time marches on, and so far Burke has received mostly strong, favorable reviews from Islanders fans, which is unusual in this era of cynical social media – especially given that the team has struggled early in Burke’s tenure.
Speaking of which, have the team’s on-ice failings taken anything away from the experience?
“Nope, nope, nope,” he said. “You know what, if they’re going to have a down year it can be this year, because I’m having fun every single day. Ask me [again] in 10 years if they’re having a down year, but absolutely, I have a smile on my face every night, no matter if they win or lose.”
MSG was looking for a young voice who could grow on the job and potentially be in place for decades, and that is what Burke hopes and plans to be.
If he makes it to 50 NHL seasons, as McDonald did Wednesday, he will be honored during the 2065-66 season, when every current NHL player other than Jaromir Jagr will be decades into retirement.
Hiring Burke was MSG’s decision, but his candidacy was cemented last summer when he joined new co-owner Jon Ledecky at Citi Field.
“I love Brendan,” Ledecky said before Wednesday’s game. “Because we have a great broadcast partner in MSG, I was in a position to take Brendan to a Mets game this summer, so we spent four hours together and it was wonderful.”
Ledecky said he wanted to see for himself whether Rose’s positive take on Burke was on target.
“It was great to sit there at a game and just talk sports and I thought, ‘Wow, Howie is right, this is a fabulous guy who has a great future and we should get him on board,’ ” Ledecky said. “I think fans have reacted very positively to Brendan.
“He’s following in the tradition of Jiggs and Howie, so it’s a position that in the sports broadcasting world is highly sought after. Being the Islanders’ TV broadcaster is a position that people aspire to.”
Burke, who had been the voice of the Utica Comets of the AHL, said, “It was a dream come true when I got the job, and it gets better every day. I mean, it’s everything I could have hoped for. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been very rewarding and this is a great crew that I just kind of plugged myself into, so they’ve made it very easy.”
Fans have reacted well, too, which is a good thing given that there is no hiding from them at the Barclays Center TV location, which is not in a booth but rather in an exposed area of the lower bowl.
“Everybody has been quite nice to me, whether they’re just doing that for my benefit or not,” he said. “We’re out in the open here, so if fans want to come talk to me they can. There’s no way to stop them. And that’s fine with me. They’ve gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and say how much they enjoy my broadcast, so it’s been really fun.”