Sal "Red Light" Messina, center, with Howie Rose, left, and...

Sal "Red Light" Messina, center, with Howie Rose, left, and Barry Watkins, right. Credit: Barbara Rose

One in a series of stories catching up with media personalities.

It has been 22 years since Sal “Red Light” Messina was the Rangers’ radio analyst, a term that ended before Matt Rempe was born.

But his decades-long association with the team never is far from his thoughts – or from those of people he runs across in his community in Stuart, Florida.

“We have many people from Long Island, and the older ones that come down say hi and recognize me or talk to me,” Messina told Newsday. “But you have to be a hockey fan to remember me. And you have to be a Rangers fan.”

Fair enough, but Messina is one of the more memorable characters in New York sports announcing history, an Astoria, Queens, kid who became an emergency goaltender with the Rangers, then for 30 years an on-air voice of the team.

Rangers broadcaster Sal Messina from the team's 1994 media guide. Credit: MSG

Now his connection mostly comes through watching every game on television and seeing old friends who live nearby or visit, such as former partner Howie Rose.

“Whenever I think of Sal, I smile,” Rose said. “We shared great times together professionally, watching a very, very successful era of Rangers hockey.

“We’re both New York schoolyard kids. We both like to throw the needle at each other. It made for persistent laughter. When we go out to dinner and revisit those times, we laugh.”

Messina said his days mostly are dedicated to golf and pickleball, and at night, “My hobbies are watching the Rangers and Yankees.”

A 7-handicap in his prime, he has shot his age in golf more than once. “When you’re 85, it’s easy to shoot your age,” he said with a laugh.

That is not quite true. But the sentiment was consistent with his self-deprecating persona, starting with his nickname.

His first partner, Marv Albert, gave it to him. The red light, of course, is what goes on when a hockey goal is scored, and thus is not what any goalie wants to see.

“I was always able to joke around with him,” Albert said. “So I named him ‘Red Light,’ and obviously it stuck.”

Messina was a goalie in various leagues, including a brief stint with the Eastern Hockey League's Long Island Ducks in 1962-63.

But his most interesting claim to fame was traveling with the Rangers as an emergency fill-in in an era when teams did not carry two NHL goaltenders.

“At that time, there were territorial rights,” he said. “And I was the only guy from New York, so they had territorial rights on me.”

Messina never did get into an NHL game, but he came close one day when the starter, Jacques Plante, did not feel well and Messina got the nod for the morning skate. Plante ended up playing.

Messina was working as an off-ice official in the early 1970s when analyst Bill Chadwick moved from radio to TV and Albert suggested Messina to replace him.

The two would work together for about 20 years, after which Albert’s son, Kenny, partnered with Messina.

“He was really excellent, and he got better and better,” the elder Albert said. “He’d never done any broadcasting. He was a real big favorite with fans, because he was down the line. He was very objective, which was great.”

It also helped that Messina was relatable, a local guy complete with a New York accent, which he is proud to still have.

He also had connections. One of his between-periods regulars was King Clancy, a famed hockey character and then a Maple Leafs executive.

“All these people would come on, the huge names that normally might not come on a local game broadcast, because of Sal,” Albert said.

Kenny Albert had known Messina since Albert was a small child.

“He was such a lovable character,” Kenny Albert said. “There would be some malaprops on the air, but he really knew the game as well as anybody.”

Messina tired of the job and left after the 2001-02 season. It is no wonder he was tired, because during his time calling Rangers games he had a day job in sales with an airplane parts supplier in Port Washington, the W.S. Wilson Corporation.

Sal "Red Light" Messina's mask in the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of his induction as a broadcaster in 2005 Credit: Sal Messina

He joined that company out of Long Island City High School in 1957 and still does work for it on occasion.

“My company was very cooperative,” he said. “They understood what I wanted to do.”

He won the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for broadcasters in 2005. An old goalie mask of his is on display there. He also gave the Hall a copy of a contract where he was sold to the Western League’s Los Angeles Blades for $1.

That was even less than he spent attending Rangers games as a teenager in the 1950s, which cost $1.25.

So it has been quite a hockey ride.

“As a kid, I wanted to be in sports, and I ended up in sports and I was so thankful for that, just lucky,” he said. “A lot of people helped me along the way, boy, and I mean a lot of people. . . I don’t know what else to say. I’ve been lucky.”

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