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Schwartz: One More For Jiggs, Forever The Islanders' Golden Voice

By Peter Schwartz
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When the Islanders held a memorial service back on Aug. 29 to mark the one-year anniversary of Al Arbour's passing, new co-owner Jon Ledecky stepped to the microphone to not only honor the legendary coach, but also to announce that master of ceremonies and Hall of Fame broadcaster Jiggs McDonald would be afforded an opportunity for a major milestone.

"I just want to give a quick salute to a man who will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a broadcaster this year when he dons the mic for us for one of our games," Ledecky said that day at the Islanders' practice facility.

That game will be this Wednesday, when McDonald fills in for Brendan Burke on the MSG Plus telecast of the Islanders game against Florida at Barclays Center. McDonald's NHL career has included stints with the Kings, Flames, Islanders, Maple Leafs, and Panthers, as well as multiple national outlets.

Imagine doing a job that you love for 50 years!

"I can't really describe it," McDonald told recently. "When I think back and I got the job in L.A. in '67, it was maybe a selfish thing on my part but I felt I had to do it. I needed to prove to others and to myself that I could do it. Fifty years later, yeah, I've finally proven to myself that I can do it."

What makes Wednesday's game so historic is that it could very well be Jiggs' final game behind a microphone for the Islanders.

There's a possibility that Jiggs might get another game or two later in the season, but after a stint as the Islanders' television voice from 1980 to 1995, and an 11-year run as a fill-in broadcaster, this might be the final time we get to hear his dulcet tones describing the action for the team in which he became synonymous.

If Jiggs is feeling nostalgic about this telecast, he's not showing it.

"It's not going to be any different," McDonald said. "While it's going to be special, it's another game. I can't approach it as a swan song, but in my mind I know it could very well be and if it is, so be it. It's been a hell of a run."

Jiggs McDonald
Hall of Fame broadcaster Jiggs McDonald, left, with's Peter Schwartz. (Photo: Peter Schwartz)

It's a run that started in 1967 when Ken "Jiggs" McDonald moved to Los Angeles, leaving behind a radio career in Canada. Jiggs did it all at that 10,000-watt station in Aurelia, Ontario, including hockey play by play, as well as acting as sports director, program director, production manager and, yes, even disc jockey. But hockey was his first love.

"I got into the radio business hoping to be a decent disc jockey," McDonald said. "But play by play was always in the back of my mind."

Instead of becoming the next Casey Kasem or whoever that might have been in Canada, Jiggs set out on a career that would land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990, when he was named the winner of the Foster Hewitt Award.

McDonald's arrival on Long Island was made possible when the Atlanta Flames relocated to Calgary in 1980. The franchise moved, but Jiggs wasn't asked to pack his bags.

"I was told right up front that they weren't moving a broadcaster," McDonald said.

So in June of 1980, the Islanders swooped in and hired their new television play-by-play voice.

"The very first call I got was from Nassau Sports Productions with an offer to come to the Islanders," Jiggs recalled. "What an opportunity. Here's a team that had just won it all and I had an opportunity to join them. It was exciting."

Over the course of 15 years behind the microphone with the Isles, Jiggs presided over a plethora of memorable moments, including three Stanley Cup championships, the "Easter Epic" win over the Capitals in the 1987 playoffs, and the Islanders' stunning upset of the Penguins in the 1993 Patrick Division Finals.

McDonald's tenure as voice of the Islanders ended after the 1994-95 season when his contract was not renewed and he was subsequently replaced by Howie Rose. Ironically, it was Rose who was responsible for Jiggs' return to the Islanders' television chair 12 years later.

As the radio voice of the Mets, Rose needed some time off in October of 2006 because the Amazins' were in the postseason, specifically during the NLCS against the Cardinals. It was Rose who floated the idea to MSG that Jiggs fill in for him.

"I'm really indebted to Howie," said McDonald, who with that appearance was introduced to a whole new generation of Islanders fans. "I was a little shocked, but I said, yeah, that would be fun."

For 10 seasons, McDonald was the primary backup to Rose and now he will fill in for Burke, whom he recommended to the Islanders after the team asked him to listen to the audition tapes of the three finalists in the wake of the end of Rose's tenure.

"I was impressed with (Burke) right from the outset," Jiggs said. "There was just something there. Once the hire was made and once I got to hear him on a regular basis, I said 'oh boy, he is good.'"

There's no question that Burke has been terrific in his rookie season as the television voice of the Islanders. But for possibly one final night, Islanders fans, young and old, will have the privilege of hearing one of the greatest play-by-play voices in hockey history.

Jiggs will do at least one more NHL game when he returns to where it all began on Feb. 9 to call a Los Angeles Kings game as part of their 50th anniversary season. But unless he gets another opportunity somewhere down the line, Islanders fans will need to watch and cherish the telecast on Wednesday.

"Yeah I'm thinking this is my last Islanders game," McDonald said.

I've said this before, but a big part of the reason that I do what I do for a living is because of Jiggs McDonald. Not that I aspired to be a hockey play-by-play guy, but growing up an Islanders fan and wanted to be a sportscaster, Jiggs was always a source of inspiration.

Whether it was meeting him at the old Nassau Coliseum broadcast location in the front of section 302, getting to know him and developing a friendship with him when I became a reporter, or just catching up with him on the phone, Jiggs has been a very important part of my life.

That also goes for each and every fan in Islanders Country. Thank you, Jiggs, for describing so many memorable moments and here's hoping that the Islanders honor you one day with a banner next to the likes of Bossy, Trottier, Torrey and Arbour.

Don't forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan

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