Let's establish what this is at the jump -- it's not an obituary, it's a tribute. Those semantics are important. Barry Melrose isn't gone -- he just won't be working with us any longer, as you heard early this week.
It hits us all hard because Barry Melrose is exactly what you think he is. An all-time beauty. Those suits, that hair, the laugh ... man, that laugh filled every room and studio he was in. The cigars, the love of the game -- you knew all that. You saw it all.
But here's what you didn't see -- the grind. The way he poured himself into it. The passion for the game and to be what he was -- an incredible teammate. The thing I think Barry found in our place that many former players and coaches have is a sense of belonging to a team. Something bigger than you, where everyone is required to pitch in to get the work done.
In hockey the boys talk about "the room." I love how simple it sounds, but I imagine it to be a place where mystical things happen every spring. When teams come together and go on a run, coaches talk about "the room." Where bonds that won't ever be broken are forged.
Barry was awesome in the room here at ESPN. There was one in particular where you could find him most nights. Often alone with a half-dozen TVs on as he kept tabs on all the games that night for his shifts with us. Or for coverage between games. Or "In The Crease" or just in case he was needed on any of the shows ... as he would say: "atall."
I never asked and he never said, but I think he chose that spot just to be out of the way and not cause anyone any bother. I'd sit with him to talk through what we had in mind for our show. See, I never skated in my life. Yet, as I've said here and he knows, the Stanley Cup playoffs have become my favorite playoffs. I think he appreciated that my interest was sincere. I know how much I appreciated how patient he was with me as I was trying my best to learn more about a game that I never played so we could show it the respect on air it deserves and get things right. He took me from Hockey 101 to more graduate level understanding with kindness, not judgment.
There's a cliche about people in hockey -- that they are the most down to earth, for lack of a more elegant way of saying it, "normal" people in sports. I've found it to be true. No matter how far the game takes you or whatever you eventually become, the humility, decency and foundation that's born on a farm in Saskatchewan, that rides buses around Canada chasing a dream, is always who you are.
It was, and is, in Barry Melrose under those spectacular suits and the mullet. He's adored in the game and by all of us here. I ache for Steve Levy and John Buccigross as well, who worked so closely with him and just like Barry, are the kind of teammates you dream of.
You're the very best, Barry Melrose. I know you hockey guys don't ever want a fuss made about you. So if you hate all of this -- well, good. Because we love you, we're thinking of you and we'll drop our gloves and fight with you. Please know that your presence and your laugh will echo here ... always.