September 16, 2009
(Ed. Note: The Boston Bruins community and fans across the NHL mourned the loss of radio and television voice Fred Cusick this week, who died at age 90. Scott Pianowski, a blogger on Roto Arcade and an occasional contributor to Puck Daddy, remembers a hockey legend.)
How do you say goodbye to an old friend that you never really met? That's what I'm going to try to do today as I remember Fred Cusick.
If you were born in New England during the late 60s or early 70s (I jumped over the boards in the winter of 1969), hockey came with the package, no questions asked. Our dads slapped skates on us as toddlers, our moms schlepped us to practices and games, and our sad little televisions had the rabbit ears arranged just right so we could get a reasonable picture on TV-38 and watch the Big, Bad Bruins do their thing.
Ernie and Bert, Brady Bunch Reruns, and Fred on the Bruins, that's what I was raised on.
Cusick already had a national reputation by the time I came on board (his amazing career started in the 1950s; he landed with the Bruins in 1971). He was known for his legendary "Score!" call, but to truly appreciate anything in sports, you need to see the everyday work.
Cusick always had his finger on the pulse of his game, a master of deftly adding commentary to his play-by-play call (try doing this in your living room, it's basically impossible). He would become more animated when the Bruins scored or played well but this was no homer; when the Bruins stunk, he'd say so.
I was a little too young to appreciate the Bobby Orr era but there were plenty of Bruins highlights through the 1980s. Ray Bourque landed in The Hub and carved out a legendary career. Harry Sinden stole Cam Neely from the Canucks. The team was excellent every year, of course (two trips to the Finals; in the midst of a 29-year playoff run). And Derek Sanderson landed in the booth next to Cusick, a perfect pairing, the wild man and the straight man.
Throw in cable television, and you had a grand slam for Bruins telecasts in those days. Fred's classy and elegant call, always in control of the game. Derek's keen eye and off-the-wall comments, which somehow meshed perfectly against his more-conservative partner. The cable hookup finally offered a perfect picture (goodbye rabbit ears), and the camera angle at the old Boston Garden was a perfect perch.
Forget Cosby and the gang at Cheers -- Thursday nights during hockey season belonged to the Bruins.
Cusick's words didn't fade away after a game ended, they were forever portable. Our street hockey blood wars came seasoned with our favorite Fred-isms. Krushelnyski with that long reach . . . The Stastny brothers, they are tricky . . . Save Tugnutt -- how many times can you say it? Back in the day, the video games didn't come with an announcing feed; you had to make up your own commentary track. Fred Cusick was always our guy.
Cusick stepped away from the Bruins mic in the early 1990s and coincidentally or not, my interest in the team dipped a bit. I couldn't get used to the new voices. Some talked too much, some got too excited when it wasn't merited. Maybe I wasn't a fair grader in those days. Anyone who takes the call after Fred Cusick is going to pale in comparison.
As coincidence would have it, I briefly met up with Fred about 10 years ago. He was doing some play-by-play work for the AHL franchise in Lowell, I was a correspondent for the Lowell Sun. We were walking in the press area and our eyes met. What do you say to someone you've admired -- heck, idolized -- for most of your formative years? Do you shake his hand? Introduce yourself? Just leave the guy alone?
In the end, I offered a nod of acknowledgement and walked on by, no reason for the cub reporter to bother the broadcasting legend. He smiled. We were both there to do our jobs. No need to get personal in the press box.
I couldn't think of the right thing to say then, but it's clear to me now. Thank you, Fred. We turned the TV off years ago, but we‘ll always be able to hear you.