BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
John Muckler was a “Hockey Lifer.”
That is the only way I could describe Muckler, who died a week ago, late Monday night.
For over half a century Muckler played, coached, managed and advised hockey. He did it at the amateur, minor and major league levels of hockey.
His hockey adventures took him coast-to-coast on two North American countries. And when his hockey career finally came to a close, Muckler settled down in Buffalo.
Despite all his travels, Muckler always seemed partial to New York State, especially the Buffalo and New York City areas. More on that later.
I first came in contact with Muckler when he was an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers. What few conversations I had with him at that time left me with the impression of Muckler always being serious and never smiling.
With five Stanley Cups under his belt, four as an assistant coach and one as the head coach of the Oilers, Muckler came to Western New York and the Sabres, first as Director of Hockey Operations, then as head coach and finally as general manager.
It was during these six seasons (1991- 1997) is when I got to know Muckler a little better. He could and he was rough on members of the Western New He could and he was rough on members of the Western New York media as well as members of the Sabres PR department.
More than once during post-game press conferences or following a team practice, Muckler would challenge a reporter if a question asked didn’t agree with him at that moment.
But once Muckler got to know you, the challenges became less and less. He understood that the media had a job to do as did he.
And there was another side to Muck that many didn’t see, one that was warm and smiling. My wife, Janet, even managed to snap a posed shot of him smiling (the same photo used for this article).
During a one-on-one interview with Muck he admitted to me that he thought that the Buffalo media was more easy going than other media he had dealt with over the years.
“There was pressure on us all the time in Edmonton with the Oilers,” commented Muckler. The Edmonton media was tough and so was the media in cities like Toronto, Montreal and New York.
“Buffalo media are much easier to deal with.”
And if you brought up Muckler’s time spent in New York City as a player/coach with the Rovers or Long Island Ducks, a smile would come to his face.
“Those were great years and teams,” remarked Muckler. “The fans were great. A lot of good memories.”
In the end Muck settled down in Western New York. He loved baseball and was a frequent visitor to Buffalo Bisons games.
Western New York was home to him. It was a place that made him smile.