Chico Resch is one of the NHL’s most beloved personalities, both as a goaltender and as a broadcaster where he spent nearly twenty years as the color commentator for the New Jersey Devils. Resch is set to be honored by the Devils on October 24th, 2014 for his contributions to the team. In this exclusive interview with AlternativeNation.net’s Sports section, Resch discusses the upcoming ceremony, Mike “Doc” Emrick, the future of Martin Brodeur, Adam Larsson, if he thinks this year is truly “do or die” for Devils coach Peter DeBoer, what the Devils have to do to make the playoffs this season, and more.
On Friday the New Jersey Devils will be honoring your career as a player and a broadcaster. Your playing career spans fourteen seasons; your broadcasting career nearly twenty years. How did you find out that you were going to be honored by the New Jersey Devils?
Well at the end of last season when I made it known that I was going to retire, Lou Lamorello, Scott O’Neil and Hugh Weber who are the day to day operators there said to me: “Hey Chico, we’re going to have a night for you next season”, and I thought, “A night for me? What could this be about?” I didn’t do anything to stand out in any way or did anything that you expect to get a special night for. I’m certainly not a hall of famer as a broadcaster or player. I tried to do a good job each night, come prepared, have fun with the fans and was enthusiastic but nothing that made me an Emmy award winner! I would leave that to Doc Emrick who was picking up all of those Emmys. It was just really overwhelming and I would like to thank those guys very much.
Management and I talked and I told them that they could even make it a pre-season game if they wanted to. I gotta tell ya though, when you look at all the greats that were celebrated by the Devils on the ice like Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer or Martin Brodeur as he will be one day, I’m thinking, “What am I doing down here?” Then I got to thinking, “Well I helped put a lot of guys in the hall of fame with all the goals I gave up!”
So maybe that’s my niche here, that’s where it was at and they decided it would be on October 24th.
Your former broadcast partner, Mike “Doc” Emrick, is going to be at the ceremony, do you still talk to “Doc” at all?
Oh yeah. Mike and I became very good friends. We grew up in the minor leagues together, he was broadcasting in the lowest level of the minor leagues where I was playing. Our wives our friends, Doc and I see the game the same and he really taught me how to be a pro. I knew I was working with the best and thought to myself “Don’t blow it because it’s like you are working on a line with Wayne Gretzky. Recognize what your role is and take the lead from Doc” and I think Doc appreciated that. Doc Emrick is a pretty humble guy and even though we know him as the greatest, he also gives the guy he’s working with a lot of respect.
But yeah, we would hang out together on the road, go to church together and did a lot of things that made us best friends and that’s kind of where we’re at now.
What are your thoughts on your successor in the commentary booth, Ken Danekyo?
Everyone loves the Dano man! Kenny will bring enthusiasm but he really loves the Devils, as do I, but I realize one of the things that I said, and Doc said this also, even though we were Devil announcers first and foremost, he said “we can’t be too much of a homer”. So I have to chuckle when I think of Dano because I’m thinking “Can Dano refrain from being too much of a Devils cheerleader and too much of a homer”? That was just a fun little thing that I was playing off in my mind.
I know Dano and Steve Cangialosi and we’ve talked, Kenny and I have talked quite a bit and gone over some things and I think that Kenny is going to work into it really well. I find with Kenny as well as me that it all comes down to training. This isn’t going to sound “earth-shattering” but there is a timing and meshing process that takes time between a play by play and color man. That means knowing not to step on each others toes and to have a sense of that timing. You know, Doc was brilliant and that’s why he is “The Doctor of hockey”, that’s why they call him “Doc”, I was more quirky, so I could say more quirky and off the wall stuff mixed in with a little bit of mumbo-jumbo while Doc brought it all back into perspective or added humor to it. At the end that’s why we were clicking so well because he knew what I might be saying and he could spin it into something clear or humorous.
So, I think with Kenny, he’s such an enthusiastic guy and he’s going to have to find that balance. He needs to make sure he does his homework, talk to people, whether it be Zamboni drivers or anyone that might have a little insight or interesting story that Kenny could bring to the broadcast but it’s not like Dano is a total rookie out there. After all, he did the sideline reporting for a few seasons, which is now being done by Johnny Maclean and also helped out with Hockey Night Live. I think he and Cangi will be really great out there, I really do. They have opposite personalities but they are terrific people, the both of them.
What people don’t realize is that in the booth, you have a lot of tension going on. You can have some really big egos and I don’t know if it’s hockey as much as the other sports but I worked with a couple of guys with big egos and while you can work together is that it’s just not the same warmth that develops because you are constantly in competition. I don’t see that with Cangi and Dano though and I think they will be great.
I’m not sure not too many people actually know where the “Chico” name comes from but it was actually given to you by one of your former Islanders teammates in reference to a sitcom in the 70s called Chico and the Man. What were your thoughts the first time you heard you’d been given the nickname ‘Chico’ and what do you think of it now since it’s become such a huge part of your legacy?
You know, I gotta tell you Mike, I remember the first time the crowd chanted it. I grew up in a small town in Canada and never thought for one second that I would play in the NHL. I never thought that once. Well, it was in my rookie year, I’m in the NHL which is overwhelming enough and my teammate who told a funny story about not only the relationship with Chico and the Man but also about how I was trying to learn Spanish. So when they started chanting that on a Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum I got chills. I just couldn’t believe it and if I could do it all over again and I didn’t have a nickname I would give myself a nickname. People never forget a nickname and people warm up to you because you have a nickname. You go, “Hey I know this guy, his name is Rocky or Bandit or whatever the hockey names are these days.
My nickname just fell in perfectly with what I was trying to accomplish, because, I knew early in my career that I wasn’t going to be a Hall Of Fame goalie so I thought that this is such an incredible blessing and opportunity. I found that because of the nickname fans and writers wouldn’t just rip me when I played poorly, and they couldn’t. The nickname spun-off into a lot of positives in different areas of my life and I think the only one that doesn’t call me Chico anymore is my wife, my five sisters and their families. To them, I’m just “Uncle Glenn” but to everyone else and including friends that I’ve known since way back call me Chico. That’s OK though because I like the name!
One of the segments you were most known for during your years as a member of the broadcast team for the Devils was Chico Eats, where you would greet fans and savior some of the local fare surrounding the arena and inside of it. What was your favorite thing that you ever consumed during those Chico Eats skits?
Oh boy, favorite thing? I eat so much. Well, if I could spin it off into something, it was a lot of pressure. Every night I had to come up with a different idea. One time we were doing pizza and I got to flip the pizza and put it into the oven with that…what’s that thing called with the long handle and the round end?
A Pizza peel?
A pizza peel! Well I used that pizza peel as a goalie stick and did some things but one of the things that sticks out to me, one night we were eating and I have a big sweet tooth, now, what was the food, it’s fried dough and you dip it into sugar…
Zeppoles! That’s it! We did the Zeppoles, it was freshly fried dough and at the time LeBron James or one of the basketball players had this commercial where they would put white powder in their hands before he would play and fling it into the air, I did that with the sugar of the Zeppoles and that segment was fun because of the sweet tooth and the connection to LeBron James. Every one of those were really fun. The Mucho Nachos, which was one of the first ones we did was really memorable.
That’s the one where you are holding the nachos up like it’s the Stanley Cup right?
That’s it! That one was good. The problem though, was that I never got to eat the stuff! We would do the segment and I would take a bite of the food but then you would have fans wanting autographs and I would be conflicted on whether I sign for the fans or stuff my face with all of this delicious food. I would just give it away but it was fun because the fans were always lying around and watching. My producer actually came up with the idea. You look at NFL games or MLB games and it’s amazing how many other people picked up on the food thing and we were proud to be one of the first. Unfortunately we just ran out of restaurants.
Speaking of Chico Eats, the Prudential Center has revamped their entire selection of food stands this season. Could we possibly see a special edition of “Chico Eats” during that same game as your ceremony?
(Chico laughs) That’s a good one! I don’t know, You know, Dano has a pretty big appetite and a much bigger body then myself and he could probably do it for years in a row without getting heavy. I don’t know what they will do with that but tell me this, I heard, and I haven’t seen it but I heard the new look of the arena is kind of cool but how about the food? Did you notice a change?
You know they have this boardwalk theme going on when you go up the stairs and it’s pretty cool. If you decide to do Chico Eats again, they have a boardwalk stand and you talk about a sweet tooth, they have fried Oreos and it’s the most decedent thing you could ever have. They also have a bucket filled with fried seafood. Talk about a meal that you could lift like a trophy!
Haha, yeah that sounds good.
Looking back at 1982 and the founding of the Devils, what was the excitement and fanfare like for NJ hockey fans and did you think, after seeing the team go from Kansas City to Colorado and now to NJ, that the move was going to be permanent?
Well, we quickly knew it was going to be permanent because we got to meet Mr. McMullen and see his commitment. John obviously had the finances and was a New Jersey guy but you know Mike, as I try and write my speech, what people don’t really realize is that I was really “fan aware” and tried to be fan friendly because it’s the fun thing to do. Fans are fun. I never looked at them as being an “obstacle” or people that I couldn’t trust, being out to get me or anything like that. I knew it was going to be a challenge though because back then there wasn’t a lot of hardcore Devils fans and I knew we would have to win them over.
The way I look at it, we had some Flyer fans, we had Islander fans and I thought, the Islander fans have to go a long way to Long Island and the Flyer fans have to go all the way to Philly and that should be our target audience because we could win them over. The Ranger fans, and I still see it today, they were never coming over to the Devils no matter what we did, even though they lived in New Jersey. I think that’s why we would average around twelve to thirteen thousand and that was the bulk of the Devils fans, because we couldn’t get the third of hockey fans in New Jersey.
I wasn’t worried; I was only frustrated that for the first couple of years we just weren’t better than we were. Of course, the big thing was when we had the chance to get Mario Lemieux. I remember that year, we were awful and remember thinking, “if we get Mario Lemieux, those fans, including those Rangers fans aren’t going to be able to say no to the New Jersey Devils because Mario was just that dynamic. Marshall Johnson was the head scout at the time and said “Chico, you gotta see this guy!” That was a bit of a heartbreaker and not that it’s anything against the man we did draft that year, Kirk Muller, he was great. However, you go through the legacy and it’s Gretzky then Orr then Lemieux. Every 15 years or so that “phenom player” comes along, we saw it with Sidney Crosby, but the Devils had the chance to get Mario but it just didn’t work out.
Which lines (offense and defense) in your history with the Devils were your favorites to watch out on the ice, be it the chemistry, grit, poise…etc?
Oh my goodness, it’s a no brainer for me, the “A Line”! (Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora) That line when it was cookin’, I couldn’t wait to see each shift because those guys would dominate. Those three had a love and respect for each other. You gotta remember that there was a lot of clutchin’, grabin’, hookin’ and you had the trap going on as well. There were a lot of defensive obstacles to get through and these guys would just crisscross, change positions and on the power play you would have Jason who had that big shot. You know, Slava Fetisov was there, great Russian coach and he was running the powerplay and the guys were saying “Geeze, we got three or four different breakouts on the powerplay” and to me it was just a magical time for the Devils.
Of course, on the back end you had Scott Stevens who we all loved and respected, you’ll never see another Scott Stevens and of all the defensemen that I played with or against and I’ve been around the NHL for forty years now I can say that Scott Stevens was the toughest defenseman with that amount of skill. I’ve seen other tough defensemen, like Denis Potvin who had more skill then Scotty but if you evaluating tough defensemen and go down that list you would have Ray Bourque, Larry Robinson, etc, Scott Stevens with his level of toughness and his intimidating factor, and he did it cleanly was in another class.
Who I really marveled at was Scott Niedermayer because you saw him skate and knew he could pass and while you wish he took more risks offensively I would watch him, and of course I was doing the games, the broadcasts, I’m sure it must of happened at one point in time Mike but I cannot remember one time defensively where I would say “Oh Nieder, why did you rush out of position?” or “Nieder, why did you make that decision?” or “Nieder, how could you let that puck go through your feet or through your stick?” The guy was amazing, how he never let two on ones or passes out of the corner. To me, this guy was the most brilliant defensive defenseman, although he wasn’t really considered that. I’m sure, being a goalie, Marty Brodeur would tell you, Niedermayer was a locked gate on the back door where no one was getting there.
Speaking of Martin Brodeur, Marty has been a question mark this year. It’s obvious that he wants to still play and not ready to hang up his skates. What do you think is the fate of Martin Brodeur? Do you think a team, is going to take a chance on him, if so, who? Especially with other quality veteran goaltenders looking for work such as Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas?
Yeah, Marty is going to be a tough one. I hope someone gives him a look but I’m not too optimistic and I’ll tell you why. How old is Marty? 40? 41?
I believe he’s 42 years old.
At 42 years of age, inactivity really comes into play when you’re older. Look at Jagr, he did so well last year because he was in a rhythm, he got twenty minutes a game and so for Marty to try and stay sharp it’s going to be hard. You had people saying last year that he was going to be moved at the trade deadline and I’m thinking “are you kidding me?” You think at 41-42 Marty is going to jump in and play the whole season? Even Marty will tell you that he’s had to get some games under his belt, flow into the season and that’s gonna take him about a month. The other thing that Marty has going against him but is why he is one of the greatest of all time is that he’s not a butterfly goalie and he’s not going to go out, stand there, drop and get hit with pucks. Marty is a reactionary goalie, he sees the puck, makes a move for it and makes the save. It’s a very exact thing. I think the window for Marty; I would say is a month into the season. I think if no one signs him by then it’s going to be tough, unless he agrees to go to Europe and play, to get in shape and to just play somewhere! To just sit around and have no game or activity, I don’t think it looks promising.
I’ll say this about Marty. Both he and his agent said that he wants to get to 700. I’m sure most people are thinking “he’s at 688, what’s the difference?” Well, I can tell you that as a goalie, the 700 club is pretty amazing. I don’t begrudge Marty for wanting to do it, who cares! I personally thought that the team that should have been in on Marty was Buffalo. It would be a story, it would create interest, they’re a team that’s not going to make the playoffs so why not have Marty? Let him play! It just makes sense. You have a story; a legend playing that would help sell tickets. If I am a general manager though and I’m thinking about “team”, I’m going to wonder if I want a distraction where Marty Brodeur’s march to 700 is going to be documented and that march to 700 will be a story. Every time he plays he’s going to be a bigger story then the team and I think that’s what general managers were afraid of, the cost of bringing on an icon with a personal goal as much as the team goal, which is really the truth. I just don’t know who is going to take that risk.
As a goaltender yourself, what are your thoughts on the butterfly revolution, the large pads and the ability of a tall goaltender to cover the entire ice?
Good for the goalies, bad for the shooters. I mean, it’s not as pleasing to look at and again I’m thinking about entertainment. I’ll tell you what it is about butterfly goalies; they all think they’re the same! In some cases they are but the ones that are going to separate themselves are if they can play the butterfly, challenge, pivot and move laterally because they’re going to be the best. What happens is, goalies that are butterflies, the ones that remain average are the ones that think that they can just play in the crease, drop down for every shot and get hit. That is not going to get you there and that’s why I’m always amazed at the big goalies that are mobile and can pivot, turn, get back to the post, challenge, etc. There isn’t a lot of shooting area on those guys and it is what it is. Goaltending now is about size and I want to see how goal scoring around the league goes this year. Personally, I think they should do something with the nets, make the nets a little bit bigger but not too much.
What was one of the funniest pranks ever pulled on you by a teammate?
Well, when playing with the Devils I collected a lot of memorabilia, I have a lot of great sweaters (jerseys) and I even have a Glenn Hall from when he won the Stanley Cup in 1961. I have a lot of NHL equipment from goalies so I was really fortunate that stuff was coming out of the woodwork in the 70s and early 80s. One night, I go into the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens, I’m going into the dressing room and Tim Higgins who was a funny guy said “Hey Chico! A guy was just in here, one of the ushers and he’s got an old net and some old sticks and stuff from the 1930s and he’s lookin’ for ya!” So I went “Where? Where is he?!” Then Higgins said “I don’t know I think he’s at the other end of the rink now, he said that’s where he’s going to set up.”
So I go rushing out there and I’m asking “Hey do you know who the usher is?” and I exhausted all of the places this usher might be. Well, I go back into the dressing room and the boys are just howlin’! There was no usher that had anything, they just thought they’d play a trick on Chico!
The New Jersey Devils have missed the playoffs now for the last two out of three years, which is historically very uncharacteristic of them. The last time, before this drought took place that the Devils missed the playoffs were in 1996. At what point, if you are Lou do you look at the results produced by Coach Deboer and go “Pete, we have to go in another direction.” Do you think this year is “do or die” for Peter Deboer?
I can only go by Larry Robinson, who is now the assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks. Larry talked about Todd McLellan and Pete DeBoer and gave them both rave reviews. Adam Oates said the same thing. I’ve talked to players privately as well. I know the fans can get on the coach but the players aren’t as of yet pointing any fingers at Pete. I think when the players are disgruntled, and I don’t think that’s the case yet but this is a pivotal season for the Devils and in terms of where this team is heading within the next few years.
I just don’t know, before I could answer that question I would need someone to answer how good are the Devils? Break down all down all of the teams in the NHL, where are the Devils at? You see, we follow our own team, it doesn’t matter who it is, and you tend to see the good points but quite honestly? I think what Lou Lamorello will have to evaluate is if the talent is good enough? I mean, last year should we have made the playoffs? Look at last season with the shootout which was horrendous for this club, is that a coaching thing? I mean really? It could be if the coach is aggravating the player in other ways but that’s not the case and I think Pete has done a very good job with Jagomir Jagr who is kind of a temperamental player but Jagr doesn’t have a problem voicing his opinion or showing his frustration but he’s really liked what Pete has done.
So, I just don’t know. I know, as fans we always like that quick solution, it’s the coach, it’s the player or this or that but I think this is a question that we should re-visit say around February or March. I don’t know how good this team is and I don’t think that they know, they made a lot of changes. Some really good! You have to score three goals a game in the National Hockey League to win. I’ve said this for years, you score three consistently, you win, you score two consistently, and you are on the wrong end of the playoffs.
Having said all of that, being around the game for around forty years, having played it, there are some times where you have to move a coach. Whether that means that you just need a new voice or whatever the case may be. I would say, in fairness to Pete, he has three other coaches and they’re rackin’ their brain, they’re watching and trying things and I sum it up based on the last year’s shootout record, if two thirds of those games were winners then we’re in the playoffs. Even if it was 50% it would have done wonders for the team both in the standings and psychologically. Can you really pin that on the coach? I hear fans go “Why didn’t he pick that guy? Or why didn’t he pick that guy?” and you have to realize that Pete picked just about every guy that he could. If anyone had gotten hot then Pete would of had him in there. I can’t really say though. I think what really hurt the Devils more then anything was Kovy leaving and a few of our recent draft picks haven’t turned into the impact players that Lou, the scouting staff and coaches thought they would and that leaves a big hole.
Regarding the impact of those recent draft picks, what are your thoughts on defenseman Adam Larsson?
I don’t know why [the coaching staff] are so down on Larsson. I don’t know and I’m not second guessing because I’m sure they have reason but I just don’t know. He’s such a nice kid, he wants to try and do so well, I just don’t understand what they don’t see in Adam.
Lastly, what are your expectations for this New Jersey Devils hockey club as we move forward into the 2014-2015 NHL season?
I think this team has some assets. I think the goaltending is rock solid and I think the youth on defense has potential to be a really strong core with a balance of offense and defense. The question mark is the age and to me the question mark is that a lot of players who have had success with other teams, and even here in New Jersey, how many of them can restore the offensive scoring ability that they had in the past? You have Cammalleri who has scored well, but how many are you realistically going to get out of Havlat? How many are you going to get out of Jagr this year? Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias? You are going to need some goals from the third line, Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe are going to have the produce. To me, it’s completely unpredictable but if they can score three goals a game, if their powerplay can be powerful enough that they can score some timely goals and if they can win some shootouts then they have a shot on getting back into the playoffs. Let’s hope they are because if they’re not? Then I just don’t know what to say.