Stadium Publishing

Internship paved way to pros

The Washington Capitals eliminated the New York Islanders Monday night in the seventh game of their opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series. The match took place in Washington and the result means the Islanders’ Game 6 victory marked their final match at the venerable Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders will open next season at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, joining the Nets in a state-of-the-art facility. The proximity to Manhattan will certainly change the fan base and status of the Islanders.

Stan FischlerFor me, the Nassau Coliseum will always be a special place. It’s where I started an internship with hockey writer/broadcaster Stan Fischler back in 1984.

Acquiring the internship required a bit of guile on my part. I decided to attend Fordham University because of its reputation for placing its graduates into media jobs and Fischler taught a journalism course. Familiar with Stan’s work, I wanted nothing more than to learn from a man who served as the most prolific American hockey author of the era.

However, during my sophomore year, I learned that Fischler would be leaving Fordham to teach at Columbia. My dream of learning from him in my Junior year evaporated before my eyes, so I called him, explained that I was a sophomore, a hockey player and someone who came to Fordham specifically to learn from him. Sophomores weren’t supposed to be pursuing internships, but Stan invited me to his uptown apartment and I was soon re-typing columns – on an electric typewriter with carbon paper to make copies – in his office library.

Stan trusted his interns, particularly Sam Marchiano. She would often accompany him to Islanders games and assist on his broadcast work. I wanted nothing more than to attend a game and assist.

Within a few weeks I received my invite. The Quebec Nordiques, an excellent hockey club at the time, were in town and Stan handed me my first mission: “Here’s Michel Bergeron’s phone number at the hotel, call him and ask him to come on the show for the pre-game.”

Butterflies welled in my gut. Bergeron had earned the nickname “Le Petit Tigre” for his fiery temper. I remember making the call from the press box, perched above a pristine ice surface. Le Petit Tigre answered the phone with his thick French-Canadian accent. I politely requested his presence on the pre-game. He agreed and we hung up. Business as usual for him, I guessed.

For me, first interaction with a NHL personality: complete.

The second step, landing Islanders for between-period interviews. I can’t remember who Stan had requested, but this team had just won four straight Stanley Cups. Their coach, Al Arbour, was nothing short of hockey royalty. They had players such as Denis Potvin and Billy Smith who had interesting relationships with the New York media.

But what I learned is that even the dynasty Islanders – somewhat sheltered from the glare of Manhattan and the attention foisted on the rival Rangers – were friendly, professional and easy to deal with.

My next game: The Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe. For this match and a few others afterward, I would literally be shaking as I approached players.

Again, my mission was to line up talent for on-air interviews and grab quotes. And here was this young, brash hockey club arriving at the Nassau Coliseum – a place where the Islanders almost never lost – in completely loose fashion. They blasted music in the hallway outside the locker room and I remember watching Fuhr dance in the corridor before the game half dressed in his goalie pads. My gosh, I thought, have the Oilers no fear of the Islanders?

Turns out Edmonton feared little as they ended the Islander dynasty later that spring.

Nassau Coliseum

Dressing for a charity game at the Nassau Coliseum

But the lesson for me in those early days: Keep your cool and be a pro. Working hard and listening turned out to be the best approach.

The internship provided an opportunity to work my way into the New York pro sports scene. People watch how you behave and interact with others. Eventually you earn respect. But there’s no doubt that having this experience helped me land a job as a hockey writer shortly after graduating from Fordham. I spent a short time as a local sports reporter at The Bergen Record and moved on to cover pro sports at a Gannett-owned newspaper in White Plains, NY.

I’ve always thanked Stan for his friendship and mentoring during those days. He’s a generous and warm man who loves the sport of hockey. He’s helped many an intern earn their stripes throughout the years.

My advice to college students seeking internships – find one that’s going to fit your ultimate career goals and absorb every scrap of information you can. No task is too big or too small for an intern. Exit the internship with a solid reputation and network.

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