Whether it’s the Mets on WFAN, or the Islanders on MSG, Howie Rose is one of New York’s busiest play-by-play voices on radio and television, if not the best. FishbowlNY caught up with Rose Tuesday, first on the phone, then at the Nassau Coliseum (see video clip below discussing the future of WFAN 660 and the Mets).
His 2013 started out a bit rocky with the latest NHL lockout. The abbreviated season started January 19. But Rose says the blueprint was in place.
“Probably everybody’s design from the beginning including the NHL’s [was] once the lockout ended everybody was going to hit the ground running,” Rose tells FishbowlNY. “I think it was instructive that there had been two previous lockouts.”
The first lockout in 1994-95 mirrored this season with 48 games played.
“The league kind of pounded its chest and they had this ‘Game On’ slogan. They made all these references to being back, and really drawing attention to the fact that they were away,” Rose says.
However, Rose, the lead Islanders voice since 1995, says the league made an error in judgment at the start of the 2005-06 season.
“When they came back from the full-season lockout they made a huge mistake, which they thankfully did not duplicate this time by putting that Thank you, fans on the ice,” Rose admits. “Because it just came off as disingenuous. Fans didn’t feel that they were thought of one iota by either the owners or the players.”
To avoid another marketing miscalculation, Rose, a graduate of Queens College, says the execution needed to be different.
“Everybody’s agenda this time around was let’s open up when we open up and it’s business as usual,” Rose says. “Our ratings are significantly up from last years.”
Now that the season is full steam ahead, the Islanders are playing well. It’s been a drought for Long Islanders, no playoff appearance since 2007 and, of course, no Stanley Cup since capping four straight in 1983.
“You have to understand. The culture of the Islander fan is such that he or she is so starved for winning that the slightest little glimmer of hope becomes magnified, cherished, and nurtured,” Rose says. “The Islander fan base wants nothing more than a reason to feel that their team has turned the corner and they are competitive.”
Rose, though, says the Isles faithful must root with their head and not just their heart.
“Whether that turns out to be true or not is going to require more than a two-week sample,” Rose says. “But I think that the early signs are fairly promising.”
Unlike his Mets work on radio, calling the entire regular and post-season, if the Islanders go deep in the playoffs, they’ll be going there without Rose.
“It’s only the first round on TV [MSG],” Rose admits. “That’s kind of disappointing but it’s the reality that we’re all aware of.”
He says the last time a local team had broadcast rights through the Stanley Cup Finals was in 1994 when the Rangers won.
That year, Rose was playing his swan song with the Rangers as lead radio play-by-play. It also allowed legendary MSG-based sportscaster Marv Albert to finally call his Stanley Cup.
“Marv was wonderful to me,” Rose recalls. “Technically, I was his backup but there were so many conflicts in those days that I ended up doing significantly more games in the regular season than he did.”
The conflict continued into the playoffs, and especially in the finals, Albert was at the mic for the Knicks’ finals run on NBC.
“Even though I was certainly lined up and ready to go for Game 5 and Game 7 [against Vancouver], which Marv did not think he would initially be able to do… they gave him special dispensation to leave the NBA on off days to do the Rangers’ games.”
A funny thing happened as the Rangers’ main voice got in position for history at the Garden.
“Really just out of the goodness of his heart he insisted that I have a role also,” Rose says. “So he said that he would allow me to do the second period play-by-play, which was just fantastic. I got a chance to broadcast the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s very few things, I would say in broadcasting, would give me a bigger thrill than that.”
Arguably, an equal “thrill,” was in the previous playoff round, as Stephane Matteau‘s double overtime winner lifted the Rangers past the Devils. Rose had a call for the ages: “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau. There’s one more hill to climb, baby, and it’s Mount Vancouver!”
“It’s [my] most recognizable call. The most remembered call,” Rose says.
“I’m not going there, man. I’m with the Islanders for 18 years. I think the work I’ve done here speaks to the committment I’ve made here,” Rose says. “I’m the Islanders play-by-play voice. I’ve actually done it longer than anybody in the franchise’s history. My goal is to do every last hockey game of my career for the Islanders. It’s really a tired subject, I think.”
Beyond one stirring moment, on his short list of possibilities to eclipse that June night from 19 years ago involves his childhood favorite.
“Well, I’ll let you know if I ever get to make the final call of the Mets winning the World Series,” Rose admits. “I still think that’ll be the topper for me.”
He did have the call of Johan Santana‘s no-hitter in June, a historic first for the Mets. But with the franchise in some capacity since 1987, the Fall Classic for Rose is, indeed, a whole different ballgame.
“That would be the opportunity for me that would really be the icing on the cake of my career,” Rose says. “More than just the icing, it would be the taste, the flavor, the substance, everything if I actually got to announce the Mets are World Champions.”