“Have I got one for you“. Whenever Peter McNab said that to me, and he said it quite frequently over the 27 years that I knew the man, I knew I was about to a) Get some really good nugget of information about the Avalance or the NHL in general that I would be able to use for a story and b) Get a further education in the game of hockey that I knew would serve useful down the road.
With the exception of Scotty Bowman and Ken Hitchcock, two people I’ve been fortunate to know, I personally can’t think of anyone in the business who loved the game of hockey more than Peter McNab.
Peter McNab was taken from us today, after a lengthy fight with cancer, at 70. This is a dark day for the Avalanche and anyone who was fortunate enough to know him. And that was a LOT of people. Peter was totally obsessed with hockey and the Avalanche, but he had a big, warm personality too. Anybody – anybody – he ever met at the rink, on the street, at the hotels, wherever, he would always give a smile and shake hands and make genuine conversation with that person. And, he would really listen to the other person, too. He made you feel like the big shot, not him. He had these great big, bear paw hands. When he shook your hand, it felt like you had just put your own hand into a vise. Hockey players are known for firm handshakes, but Peter’s hands were like granite.
Peter was always a gentleman. That’s the word I’ll always best remember him. He especially loved kids, and talking hockey or whatever with them. He met my own son a couple of times, and really engaged with him, about his hopes and dreams, etc. One of the first greetings I got in recent years from Peter was always “How’s the kid?”
People under, say, 35 probably have no memory of Peter McNab the hockey player, but those over 35 like me, and who grew up in New England as big Boston Bruins fans? We well remember what a damn good player he was. I mean, you can’t just score 363 goals in a career, like Peter did, and be chopped liver. Peter had a great instinct for getting the puck in scoring areas, and when he had just a few inches of space to shoot, he didn’t miss much.
It was with the Bruins that he had his true heyday as a player, but he also played with Buffalo, Vancouver and New Jersey – and he always had great stories about playing with those teams. Peter always had a great story about his career, or more precisely, about teammates or opposing players from his career.
One of my favorites was when he and the Bruins were playing in Edmonton the first year Wayne Gretzky played there in the NHL. Don’t forget, back then players rarely got to see other players if they didn’t directly compete against them. On this night, Peter and many of his Bruins teammates had never seen the Great One play yet, and before the game there was some scoffing about the “overyhped” kid and “how good can he really be, he looks like a broomhandle?”
Then, in Peter’s telling of the story, this was the Bruins locker-room chatter after the first period: “So, first ballot Hall of Fame or later ballot?” That’s how fast their opinion changed after just one period against him.
People forgot that Peter starred at the University of Denver as a player too. He always had great stories about legendary coach Murray “The Chief” Armstrong, and he always kept in touch with his ex-teammates. He actually spent most of his teenage years in San Diego and really learned the game there.
Peter always spoke reverently of teammates such as Terry O’Reilly, Stan Jonathan, Gerry Cheevers, John Wensink and many others. I think O’Reilly, who he always called “Taz”, was his closest friend in the game. But Peter had so many friends.
And yet, there was a mystique to Peter as well. At the rink, he would talk to anybody and everybody. Away from the rink? You almost never saw him. In the 27 years I was around him covering the Avalanche, I never once sat down with him for a meal or a beer or anything. I never saw him doing that with anyone else from the Avalanche or television entourage. A lot of us called him “The Fog” in that sense. Once the work day was over at the rink, Peter just went where Peter went and did what Peter did, and none of us questioned him about it. That was just Peter – magnanimous and outgoing in public, but intensely private away from the job. One thing I feel confident in saying Peter was always doing away from the job, at home or in the hotels, was just watching more hockey. It seemed like he always knew every detail of the rest of the games in the NHL the night before, and would want to talk about it back at the rink.
Peter was such a kindly gentleman to everybody and had perfect manners. But my favorite Peter McNab was the guy who would lean in closer to your ear and tell you what he really thought about anything and everything. The thing is, if you wrote any of it, you would get a look that would kill, and in my earliest days I learned that the hard way. If he really trusted you, too, he would talk in real hockey-speak, which means: lots of profanity. For him, that was a sign of endearment.
As I said, I know of few people I’ve come across in the biz who just were obsessed by the game more than Peter. Everybody said he got that from his late father, Max, who was a longtime coach and GM in the game. I had the good fortune of being introduced by Peter to Max at a game one time, and Peter was the spitting image of him in every way. Max talked hockey nonstop, but had the same friendly, gentlemanly air to him.
Yet, Peter was also a doting father. While you didn’t ask him about his private life much, he would sometimes bring up his daughter, unprompted, and what she was doing and he always spoke with a lot of pride about her. And, of his grandkids.
Peter was a great analyst with the Avalanche. He was always, always well prepared. At or after the morning skate, you’d always see Peter writing all kinds of things in his ever-present notebook, on the lines and special teams formations or researching a gazillion different stats that he’d use on the broadcast. He loved to share those personally-researched stats with his viewers, and even to lazy print schmucks like me. Hence, the “have I got one for you” reference. If you could, on the rare occasion, manage to give him a stat that he already didn’t know, his face would light up and he’d use it on the air too.
He had so much energy for the job too, like he had 50 Red Bulls before every game. He just loved being at the rink, watching and talking hockey. We, as hockey neophytes in Denver when the Avalanche first came here in 1995, were the beneficiaries of that. It just won’t be the same anymore without Peter McNab doing the color to the games.
And, how much does it say to the quality of his work, right up to the end, that he was the one who saw that the puck was in the net first, on that huge Nazem Kadri overtime goal in Tampa Bay in the Cup Final, and everybody else didn’t know?
“It DID go in!,” McNab correctly observed, well before anything was made official. Here watch for yourself. This was a guy still battling cancer, who was working on the radio for Altitude, not TV, and still was the most prepared, observant guy of any media working that game.
I know I speak for a lot of us who had the good fortunte of meeting the man and consuming his work:
Thank you, Peter.