Stan Fischler saw his first hockey game in 1939 and will see his next on Friday night when he covers the Islanders’ home game against the Canadiens for MSG Networks. But come the end of this season, he no longer will be a regular presence at New York-area NHL rinks.
Before Friday night’s game, the man known for decades as “The Hockey Maven” plans to announce his retirement from television to spend more time with his two sons and five grandchildren, who range in age from 9 to 15.
His eldest son, Ben, lives in Portland, Oregon. His youngest, Simon, lives in Israel. So commuting to Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden will not be an option.
“I have more energy than I probably had 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Fischler said, but with his 86th birthday looming March 31 — the same birthday as Gordie Howe and Pavel Bure, he quickly noted — he decided to move on.
“It’s time,” he said. “It’s a need that I feel. I really feel very excited. I feel as passionate about hockey as I did when I was bar mitzvahed. So that’s there, and that’s part of the regretting part of the whole thing. But it’s family.
“I always tell my kids the two most important things are health and family, on the same line. Health and family. And I’ve been very fortunate that I generally can outrace most of the reporters from the Islanders’ dressing room to the coach’s postgame. I still can ride my bike and intimidate cabs on the Manhattan streets.
“So I got the health part. But the family part has been a very perplexing thing. That’s what it came down to.”
Fischler, a prolific author of books about hockey — and New York City subways — intends to continue keeping tabs on the NHL from the Pacific Northwest and Israel, where he plans to split most of his time, and write about the sport.
Among other things, he has a newsletter called “The Fischler Report.” He writes historical features for NHL.com and would like to continue writing for MSG’s blog. He also plans to start working on his memoirs. “But I certainly can’t be at Islanders home games doing television for MSG,” he said. “They can get a better-looking guy than me.”
Fischler made the decision before this season began that it would be his last. Soon, he will be off to Israel, where he can watch NHL games on TV and watch in person as Simon’s children, two girls and a boy, play on the regulation-sized rink in Metula.
“They play about three times a week, and they often play as a line, and they’re known as ‘The Flying Fischlers,’ ” he said. “They’re very good.”
Fischler started his career in hockey as a Rangers publicist, was a print reporter in New York and Toronto, began on TV in 1973 and since 1975 has worked for MSG.
“Stan is a real treasure, and we would like to thank him for his decades of reporting, storytelling and friendship,” said Andrea Greenberg, president and CEO of MSG Networks. “Wherever Stan is in the world, he will always be a part of the MSG Networks family, and we wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.”
Now his primary role, in addition to grandpa, will be as a witness to eight decades of hockey history.
“My basic strength post-retirement is being able to tell historic stories that nobody else knows, because nobody else in the business started watching hockey in 1939,” he said.
First, there will be a few weeks for him to say goodbye to colleagues and friends.
“When my wife Shirley died [in 2014], I didn’t have any family as such,” he said. “I have cousins, but I didn’t have any real family to lean on in the whole area except one family, and that was my colleagues at MSG, at the network. And I had the [hockey] teams.
“That’s the family that sustained me emotionally after my wife died, not only emotionally but artistically, creatively, the whole thing. It’s been them, and to leave these people is going to be very tough, very tough. But what are you going to do? That’s the way it is.”
Fischler will address his retirement from TV during Friday’s pregame show. For the rest of the season, MSG will show vignettes of him talking hockey history during Rangers, Islanders and Devils telecasts.
While he is looking forward to his next chapter, he is in no hurry. If the Islanders make the playoffs, they can extend his run. “That would be sweet, believe me,” he said. “Very sweet.”
He said one of his favorite things about the setup at Barclays Center is that the MSG studio is in the open, allowing fans to interact with announcers.
“I’ve been surprised at some of the spontaneous comments of fans, mostly guys or women who are over 30, 35 who remember me from when the Isles won the Cups from 1980 to ’83, who say, ‘We appreciate that,’ ” he said. “And I say to that, ‘You appreciate it? I appreciate it.’ It’s like the vice and versa. We both appreciate.”
When Newsday’s report about Fischler was posted online Thursday afternoon, it sparked a wave of tributes on social media from fans, the hockey community and some of the many interns and others whom he mentored. Typical of the response was a tweet from ESPN’s Linda Cohn that read, “Legend. The Maven will be missed. Incredible journalist, hockey historian, and person.”
Fischler’s passion for the sport, as well as his youthful, energetic outlook, has helped keep him going this long.
“I get excited with every single game,” he said. “I don’t know anything about medicine, but if the movement of adrenaline has anything to do with keeping somebody younger, then the games and the rush to write a story are the things that I credit and I say are responsible.
“I try at certain moments in the game to delete the emotion, particularly during power plays, and it lasts maybe 10, 15 seconds, at most 20, and then it’s back to the same electrical feeling. If somebody was to hang a sign over me, it would be ‘batteries not included.’ ”