Peter McNab, 1952-2022: He lived life to the fullest, but for him hockey was life
“I have one for you“. Whenever Peter McNab said this to me, and he said it quite often in the 27 years I knew the man, I knew I was about to a) Get some good information about the Avalanche or the NHL in general that would be able to use for a story ib) Get additional training in the game of hockey that I knew would be useful in the future.
With the exception of Scotty Bowman and Ken Hitchcock, two people I’ve been lucky enough to know, I personally can’t think of anyone in the business who loves the game of hockey more than Peter McNab.
Peter McNab was taken from us today, after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 70. This is a dark day for the Avalanche and anyone who was lucky enough to know him. And that was a LOT of people. Peter was totally obsessed with hockey and the Avalanche, but he also had a big warm personality. any – anyone – He was ever on the track, on the street, in hotels, anywhere, he always gave a smile and shook hands and had a genuine conversation with that person. And I would really listen to the other person, too. he did you feel like the big one, not him. He had these big hands with bear paws. When he shook your hand, it felt like you just put your own hand in a turn. Hockey players are known for firm handshakes, but Peter’s hands were like granite.
Peter was always a gentleman. That is the word I will always remember him best. He especially loved kids and talking hockey or whatever with them. He met my own son a couple of times, and engaged a lot with him, about his hopes and dreams, etc. One of the first greetings I received in the last years from Peter was always “How is the child?”
People under 35 probably don’t remember Peter McNab, the hockey player, but people over 35 like me, who grew up in New England as huge Boston Bruins fans? We remember very well what a good player he was. I mean, you can’t score 363 goals in a career, like Peter did, and you get your liver. Peter had a great instinct for getting the puck into the goal zones, and when he only had inches of space to shoot, he didn’t miss much.
It was with the Bruins that he had his real heyday as a player, but he also played with Buffalo, Vancouver and New Jersey, and always had great stories about playing with those teams. Peter always he had a great story about his career, or more precisely, about his teammates or opposing players in 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 that back then players rarely saw other players unless they were directly competing against them. Tonight, Peter and many of his Bruins teammates had never seen the Big One play, and before the game there was some teasing about the “over-eager” kid and “how good can he really be, he looks like a broom handle?”
So, in Peter’s telling of the story, this was the talk in the Bruins locker room after the first period: “So the Hall of Fame first ballot or the later ballot?” That’s how quickly he changed his mind after just one period against him.
People forgot that Peter also starred at the University of Denver as a player. He always had great stories about legendary trainer Murray “The Chief” Armstrong, and always kept in touch with his former teammates. In fact, he spent most of his teenager in San Diego and I really learned the game there.
Peter always spoke reverently of peers 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 best friend in the game. But Peter had many friends.
And yet there was a mystique to Peter as well. On the court, he would talk to anyone and everyone. Away from the track? You hardly ever saw him. In the 27 years I was around him covering the Avalanche, I never sat down with him for lunch or a beer or anything. I never saw him do that with anyone else in the Avalanche or the TV entourage. Many of us have called it “The Fog” in this regard. After the day’s work on the track was over, Peter just went where Peter went and did what Peter did, and none of us asked him about it. That was just Peter: magnanimous and outgoing in public, but intensely private away from work. One thing I feel safe in saying that Peter was always doing outside of work, at home or in hotels, was just watching more hockey. He always seemed to know every detail of the rest of the NHL games the night before and would want to talk about it courtside.
Like I said, I know few people I’ve come across in the company who were more obsessed with just the game than Peter. Everyone said he got it from his late father, Max, who was a long time coach and GM in the game. I was lucky enough to be introduced by Peter to Max in a game once, and Peter was the mirror image of him in every way. Max talked endlessly about hockey, but he had the same gentle, gentlemanly air.
However, Peter was also a doting father. Although you didn’t ask him much about his private life, he sometimes brought up his daughter without asking and what he did and always spoke of her with great pride.
Peter was a great analyst for the Avalanche. He was always, always well prepared At skate time or in the morning after, you’d always see Peter scribbling all kinds of things in his ever-present notebook, about special teams lines and formations or researching a million different stats he’d use on the broadcast. He enjoyed sharing these personally researched statistics with his viewers, and even lazy print idiots like me. If you could, on the rare occasion, manage to give him a stat he didn’t already know, his face would light up and he’d use it in the air too.
He also had a lot of energy for work, like he had 50 Red Bulls before every game. He loved being at the rink, watching and talking hockey. We, as hockey neophytes in Denver when the Avalanche they first came here in 1995, they were the beneficiaries of that. It won’t be the same without Peter McNab coloring the games.
And, how much does it say about the quality of his work, until the end, that he Was he the one who saw the puck in the net first, on that big overtime goal by Nazem Kadri against Tampa Bay in the Cup Final, and everyone else didn’t know?
“He went in!” McNab correctly observed, long before anything became official. Here watch out for yourself. This was a guy who was still fighting cancer, who worked radio for Altitude, not TV, and he was still the most prepared and observant guy out of all the media working this game.
I know I speak for many of us who were lucky enough to know the man and consume his work:
Thank you, Peter.
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