Updated: October 3, 2013, 9:51 PM ET

Here comes the Hockey Life

By John Buccigross | ESPN.com

This "blogumn," as I sometimes refer to it, was born in the fall of 2001. It has evolved as the Internet, the game and I have evolved.

I have been an NHL fan since birth. My dad, Ed ("The Big E"), was born poor during the Depression. Tough and smart, he went to college on a GI Bill. (Mom was all those things too, except the GI Bill part.) He was a maskless high school hockey goalie in the late 1940s. Hockey was natural for him to watch because it was similar to watching life on the streets of South Boston, where he was raised. My dad was an Italian in a sea of Irish. (And he married Mary Donovan. Ed will get his own column this year.) He had to be tough.

I don't remember not being able to skate. Two of my most indelible childhood memories include living room hockey using chairs, SuperJock Hockey in the hallway and listening to games on the radio, while my dad fiddled with his stamp collection. Ed kept meticulous statistics in a notebook of all of the games' goals. If Mom and Dad went out to dinner, I listened to the game for him and left the goal scores next to the old, large-dialed radio.

Kitchen hockey before Sunday Mass once resulted in my sister Christine breaking her foot after she "tripped" over my Mylec street hockey goalie stick. I started collecting hockey cards and have every set from the '70s, '80s and '90s. My uncle Jim provided the epic Christmas gift of a steel street hockey net when I was 11. It lasted 25 years.

My dad slowly worked his way up to a Sears store manager after starting in the auto service area changing tires while in college. That meant two things: (1) We moved every seven years as he was slowly promoted to larger stores; (2) Everything in the house was from Sears because of the employee discount. This included Toughskins jeans, which were a cardboard box with pant legs. But, it also meant I was the first on Olive Street with Pong.

One of those family stops was in Steubenville, Ohio. Hockey was not a part of the culture. No one skated and there was nowhere to skate except frozen ponds. That's what made the organic, no-parents, Saturday-morning, gymnasium-street-hockey league composed of 16- and 17-year-olds so satisfying. Friends who discovered street hockey in that little four-team league remain hockey fans to this day -- Rocky, Riff, Flax, Willie, Gibby, DiBart and John "Suitcase" Costlow, who played for every team. Twice.

As I was graduating from Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University) in Tiffin, Ohio, my dad was ending his career with Sears and announced he was moving to Plymouth, Mass. I hitched a ride in the Buick LeSabre.

Upon arrival I began to look for a job in television news, the same way, I'm sure, Bob Costas, Joe Buck and Jim Nantz did: I looked in the phone book. Having no connections and being a stranger in a strange land, I found a station in the phone book located on Cape Cod, about 30 minutes away: Channel 58. A UHF station (look it up, kids) in Hyannis, Mass.

John Buccigross
Courtesy of John Buccigross John Buccigross started working at Cape 11 News in 1989. Contrary to rumors, he was not a member of Wham! at the time.

I called the sports department and said I would work nights FOR FREE, while working at the mall during the day. They thought that was an excellent idea. While I was at Channel 58, they let me construct a résumé tape of some anchoring and a couple of stories I edited. I took that tape to an even smaller operation in the next town over called Cape 11 News.

The news director at Cape 11 News was Martha Cusick. Her father, the late Fred Cusick, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, served as the Boston Bruins' TV play-by-play man from 1971 to 1997. He was 78 when he retired. The new NHL arenas were too big, the view too high to try to identify the numbered ants below. My dad was a Bruins fan, so in the interview I could name the Bruins' roster from the past 18 years. I knew who Dallas Smith was! Martha was VERY impressed. She must have had a thing for stay-at-home, balding defensemen.

Martha Cusick hired me in August of 1989 ($15,000 a year), and I haven't missed a paycheck yet. Each time, I secured a bigger job -- local TV in Providence, R.I. (a state rich in hockey history), in 1994, and ESPN in 1996. I worked at my old job Friday and started my new job on Monday. I've been very lucky. My life has been an American dream brought to you by a Canadian game. (Dad's mom was raised in Newfoundland.)

On Cape Cod, I interviewed Cam Neely on a driving range, interviewed Bobby Orr by myself (I set the camera on a tripod and hoped Bobby didn't move) and covered a charity golf event where Bruins players wore tuxedos in 90-degree heat. With a wife and two kids and now making $16,500 a year, I was identified as poor and received some free cheese at one point. Really. My biweekly check was $589.00 and my monthly rent was $500.00. I was at Cape 11 News for five years. I was poor and that stinks, but I was a happy person and I had a blast.

In Providence, my salary skyrocketed to $30,000 a year. I got to cover the Frozen Four in 1995, and I've been a college hockey fan ever since. I also covered the final hockey game at Boston Garden (preseason Bruins-Canadiens game) and reported a "24/7"-style, three-part series on life on the road with the AHL Providence Bruins. Rhode Island has great high school and college hockey as well.

For some reason, ESPN decided to hire me in 1996 despite me looking like the third member of Wham! Two years later, I was named full-time host of "NHL 2Night."

Three years later, my "blogumn" was born on ESPN.com. I felt there was an opportunity to provide the hockey fan with a new, fresh, national (and as it turned out, international) young voice. And by that I mean immature, sophomoric and idealistic.

I was the perfect guy. I was one of the first to put my email address at the end of my column to engage the fans. It was social media before social media.

You had to have thick skin to advertise your email, but it was a mosh pit of emotion that I loved and it made my skin Toughskins thick. The Email Bag, fan pictures, baby naming, Ken the Otter, lyrical season previews, we've been through a lot together and watched the Internet exponentially explode together.

Suddenly, it is 12 years later. I'm the voice of the Frozen Four (#cawlidgehawkey!!), a backyard rink owner, a hockey dad, a certified USA Hockey coach (door opener/back slapper) and an ESPN.com NHL blogsmith. It is truly a hockey life and that's how I wanted to rebrand this destination. I want this to be a place to tell all kinds of hockey stories from youth, high school, college, NHL, international, men and women.

Last year, I tweeted my weekly "BucciMane Top 10 #cawlidgehawkey Power Rankings." I will now unveil those here and put this link on Twitter for those of you who expect it there. That link will take you here. I will have more college hockey content on here than ever before. It's a great, affordable, intimate product. Played and coached by great people.

My life has become "A Hockey Life" because the people in the sport are passionate, fun, silly, caring, serious, competitive and talented people. Those are the kind of people I like being with, talking with and people watching. Who doesn't like to people watch? And when you think about it, that's what sports are -- people watching. Hockey has the most interesting people and that's why we choose to watch. Eyes forward. Game on.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.


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