McDonald Ready to Start New Chapter in Life|
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Sunday, October 29, 2006
Hockey fans in the New York area would never believe that Jiggs McDonald, the former play by play voice of the Isles from 1980-1995, would ever have a reason to doubt his own ability.
However, after a few years separated from full-time broadcasting duty, McDonald, one of the most respected broadcasters in the hockey history, was asked to cover the first seven games of the Islanders 2006-07 NHL season, producing a myriad of emotions that left him unsure if he could perform the way he used to.
“I had mixed emotions,” said McDonald, regarding his return to the Island after an 11-year absence. “[I was] nervous and frightened. I didn’t want to embarrass anybody, especially myself. I haven’t done that many games over the past three years; I hadn’t done any games since last January. It’s almost like the mentality of a player; not knowing if you can get back up to speed or if you’re in game shape.
“I didn’t know if I could get up to speed with the Islanders and what was going on with them or be able to reach the standard that I set for myself over the years. I didn’t know if I’d be able to achieve that immediately. There’s something in our makeup or in the back of the mind that drives us to be our best. Some people think it’s a sign of professionalism, [trying to maintain that level] but I just didn’t know if I could or not.”
During the seven games however, McDonald did a remarkable job filling in for Islanders play-by-play man Howie Rose and introduced himself to millions of young hockey fans all over the world that never had the opportunity to hear the Hall of Famer call a game. He also reconnected with millions more that missed the sound of his voice and the professionalism and candor he brought to every telecast during his career.
“Getting back into the coliseum was really special,” said McDonald, who has called over 3,000 games in a 40-plus year broadcasting career with the Islanders, Kings, Maple Leafs, and Panthers. “I really appreciate the way people went out of their way to show their feelings towards me. It was a great trip down memory lane.”
For Islander fans however, McDonald’s voice holds a warm place in their hearts for many reasons. The last Isles play-by-play announcer to call a winning playoff series, McDonald’s voice reminds fans of players like Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and the 1993 Isles team that beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in a thrilling seven-game series without their leading scorer, Pierre Turgeon.
To this day, McDonald still remembers a lot about that ‘93 team and was especially candid when describing some of the thing that happened during that very special year on Long Island.
“The memory of Dale Hunter coming across the ice and nailing Pierre [Turgeon] after he scored that goal and going to Pittsburgh without him comes to mind,” said McDonald. “I remember asking Al Arbour, ‘If the league said you could replace Pierre with one player from the team you just eliminated, who would it be?’ He just looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Dale Hunter.’ Hunter had the heart of a lion, he wanted to win at all costs and Al recognized that.
“It just seemed that the Islanders had Washington’s number in that series, no matter what circumstance they found themselves in, they were always able to bounce back. The Capitals had a very good team that year as well, but Pierre was a tremendously talented player and [Glenn] Healy kept the Islanders alive and charged. I can’t say that there was one particular guy that stuck out on that team, instead, there were several very special personalities.”
Despite the great memories he had while on the island and all over the world, covering Hockey for over 40 years, McDonald believes that his relationship with his wife, Marilyn, to whom he has been married to for over 40 years, was the biggest factor in why he was able to have any success in broadcasting.
“You have to have a very special relationship with home to be successful in this business,” said McDonald. “In any guy’s case, the wife becomes the person responsible for raising the family. It doesn’t weigh in as much when you’re in the New York market, but teams like Dallas travel more than anybody. In New York, we were home when we played the Rangers, the Devils, Philadelphia and even Hartford when they were in the league; we were home after the game. But when you’re living in Atlanta or Los Angeles, as we were when I started doing this after just moving from Ontario with two small children, you need to have a very special partnership and I did.”
Now at the age of 68, McDonald has taken a step back from broadcasting and is ready to settle down, living in Florida with his wife, where he enjoys fishing, bocce and spending time with his grand children and friends. This may not be as exciting as the life of an NHL broadcaster, but you won’t hear McDonald complaining any time soon.
“It’s different, it’s been an adjustment for both of us, but it’s been relaxing,” said McDonald, who boasted when mentioning a three-week trip to Europe he recently took with his wife; something that would have been harder to do if he was still broadcasting full-time. “I know eventually though I’ll need to find a hobby or get a job at Wal-Mart or something like that.”