Andy Brickley Brings More to the Booth Than a Thick Boston Accent and Witty One-Liners


Sep 15, 2010

Andy Brickley Brings More to the Booth Than a Thick Boston Accent and Witty One-Liners Twice in a span of about ten minutes, Dennis Wideman leapt up,  gloved down a puck, made the play, and landed perfectly. It was a pretty impressive display of athleticism.  I’m trying to find the right words on the fly, and I hear my partner ask, "Who says Wideman can’t jump?"

Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes immediately pop into my head in the middle of an NHL game and there I am, laughing on the air again. Hard. It happens all the time and it’s part of what makes me say I’m the luckiest man who ever lived. I get to work with Andy Brickley.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I’m pretty sure I’m close to the mark. A Boston writer once penned that Brickley had so much athletic ability that you could give him a gutta percha ball and a garden hose and he would shoot par. He plays left-handed, by the way. And that makes a lot of sense, because Brick sees things at an angle that very few do.

He’s all business yet he has a tremendous sense of humor.  He’s a cut-up after games but looks positively professorial in the lobby lounge in a DC hotel the next morning. Wearing suit and tie, one leg crossed over the other, reading glasses on the end of his nose, a cup of coffee his sentry on the table as he slams through a crossword puzzle in the newspaper folded in his grasp.

He demands everything of himself and — without saying so — demands it of everyone else. But he doesn’t take himself too seriously. There was a moment that I got kind of excited last season (imagine that!) and just as I finished talking, I got a frog in my throat. So Brick picks it up seamlessly, and in the middle of his first sentence his voice just cuts off the air completely. I had pushed a cough switch (a button that allows you to clear your throat without blowing people’s speakers at home and killing the audio guy in the truck) — the only problem was that I had pushed Brick’s cough switch instead of the one on my control box. He gave me a look as if to say, "You’ve been at this business for 31 years. Try to figure it out soon, okay?"  But we moved on, no grudge. In fact, a few belly laughs later on. And on. And on. I’m sure I’ll hear about it for years.

If you’ve been a loyal listener, you know a lot of Brick’s story. He grew up in a big family in Melrose, right across the street from a park. Good thing, because the Brickley boys were playing out their dreams and legacies in every season: baseball, football, hockey, basketball, you name it.

They came by their talents and desires pretty honestly: their grandfather George (born and raised in Everett) was Bo before Bo. He was a pre-NFL professional football player and also played outfield for the Philadelphia A’s. By the way, George went right from Everett High School to the roster of the World Series champions at age 18. And if you look into the online history of Everett, you’ll find a photo that looks a lot like the guy I stand next to every game.

Great uncle Charlie scored 237 points during one schoolboy football season in Everett. He never lost a game while playing at Harvard. Talk about the stuff of which legends are made: he was Jim Thorpe’s Olympic track and field teammate in 1912.

Their dad, John, was an outstanding baseball player well into middle age (you may have heard Brick’s references to hitting to the opposite field that he learned from him). John was a firefighter and retired with the rank of captain from the Malden FD. Tragically, he died of a heart attack while attending a game in which one of Brick’s brothers was playing in 1988.

Andy Brickley Brings More to the Booth Than a Thick Boston Accent and Witty One-Liners The stories must have been pretty good around John’s kitchen table, because that comes through on air every game. There’s a purpose behind Brick’s every sentence, a choice behind every word. And more often than not, there’s a lesson in each thought and you can hear the twinkle in Brick’s eye that makes his observations so memorable and enjoyable.

A lot of finding happiness in life, I think, is finding out where you belong — discovering what you like doing best and how to get someone to pay you to do it. Andy Brickley was put on this Earth to teach hockey.

He learned the game from his four brothers (and probably some hard knocks from his two sisters, too) in the driveway, on the tennis courts-turned-street-hockey-rinks across the street, on ponds and local ice sheets. He learned subtleties from all the other stuff he played, taking athletic lessons across sporting boundaries. 

Brick didn’t own a new pair of skates until he had walked on to UNH’s nationally ranked team. New Hampshire’s legendary outside-the-box coach, Charlie Holt, finally let Brick skate in a non-conference game around Christmas of his freshman year. I may be off by a point, but I recall that Brick had a seven-point game. 

What happened over the next three years was a marvelous melding of eager young talent and a wise mentor in an All-American career. Charlie encouraged his players (and student broadcasters) to think and to give him feedback. Although Brick’s skating skills are frequently the target of one-liners, he was plenty fast enough to play for a team on Snively Arena’s big sheet — and his head helped him get to the right spot before the puck and his opponents got there.

Lou Lamoriello certainly noticed. The Providence College coach and athletic director/cofounder of Hockey East nabbed Brick for his New Jersey Devils and their miraculous run to the Conference Finals in 1988 (beaten by the Bruins). 

Brick played 14 full seasons of professional hockey, a bunch of them for the Bruins — including a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1990. You aren’t going to find his name on the list of all-time scorers, but he averaged about 18 goals per 82 NHL games in his career (the B’s could have used that last year, eh?).  And he played through injuries I’m not going to describe because your breakfast wouldn’t be good for your keyboard. Or, "key-bohhd" as he would put it.

Andy Brickley Brings More to the Booth Than a Thick Boston Accent and Witty One-Liners Ah, yes. The Boston accent. It’s who he is, and I’m convinced that it’s the only reason some suit has decided that Brick isn’t the lead color commentator on U.S. television for the NHL. My advice to the suits (sorry, but outside of Jim Thistle at Channel 7 and the NESN execs in Watertown, they never have listened to me): Get over it.

My toes and fingers still get cold during morning skates because I stayed out so long as a kid skating on the Oyster River and local ponds in New Hampshire. For well over 40 years, I have followed hockey passionately, listening to hundreds of men (and a few women) describe the game we all love so much. Never have I learned as much, as often, as I do by listening to Brick.

He sees the game with intensity, creativity, depth and humor. He doesn’t get bogged down in jargon, yet his technical explanations are understandable to casual fan and NHL player alike. His terms are trigger points — you’ll often hear Naoko Funayama use Brick’s very words to provoke insightful answers from players between periods. And the man makes us all laugh. A lot. See, learning is a blast when you have a great teacher.

Every regular season, the first time we appear on camera in an NHL arena, we begin by saying, "Welcome to another year of the 'Who-has-more-fun-than-us World Tour.'"

Who has more fun than us? Nobody. And there’s one big reason for that.

Thanks, Brick. I’ll try not to hit your cough switch this year.

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