|Monday, February 4
Updated: September 23, 10:06 AM ET
From a pool of marinara, a star is born
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
What's the deal with Chicken Parm?
It's not only a question I get, but it's one Atlanta Thrashers captain Ray Ferraro gets himself. Imagine walking through the Denver airport, having just lost to the Avalanche 12-3, and having someone yell, "Hey, how come they call you Chicken Parm??!!"
I gave Ray the nickname in the spring of 1999. It was my first season of hosting NHL 2Night, which meant I was suddenly involved in what was fast becoming an NHL 2Night tradition: Ray's annual migration to Bristol, Conn., to serve as an NHL 2Night analyst for the playoffs.
Most days, the NHL 2Night crew meets around 4 p.m. to talk about the night's show. Ray often shows up in his running shoes and drenched in sweat from his afternoon workout. You would think he'd bring a spray bottle and towel to wipe off the chair after we're done with the meeting, like people do at the gym, but he never does.
After the meeting, Ray and I usually decide on what to do for dinner. If our schedules mesh, we pick a spot. In Bristol, those options are limited. Fortunately, there is a friendly Italian place called DaVinci's, a driver and two 3-woods away from ESPN. We go there often. Sometimes we order take out and eat in the office while watching the games on our wall of monitors. Which is what we decided to do on the night in question.
We both ordered the chicken parmesan dinner. Ray said that spring that hockey players eat tons of chicken parm. Ignoring the melted cheese, it's a good combination of protein and carbohydrates. We brought the parm down to the studio to eat and watch the rest of the playoff games taking place that night. It was kind of a late dinner, about 9 p.m. Because we were going on air at about 10:30 p.m., Ray had already changed into his dress shirt and tie.
You have to understand, when I host NHL 2Night, I put on my shirt, coat and tie about an hour before I go on the air. I'm writing this at work right now while wearing Hilfiger jeans, a white T-shirt I got at Eddie Bauer, and a navy blue long sleeve thing from Structure. I change into my television uniform as late as possible.
However, on this night in 1999, Ray lost his focus and broke the one-hour rule. It's a bad idea for a number of reasons, but especially when one has yet to eat his dinner.
We were both enjoying our parm and watching the games without incident.
Then, it happened.
Ray had just stuck his plastic fork into a piece of parm. As he lifted the parm to his mouth, the unthinkable happened: the parm fell off the fork. I can still see it as if it was in slow motion. The parm tumbled in the spring Connecticut air, like a Martin Gramatica kickoff, and plunged into a small pool of marinara sauce. That caused a tsunami of marinara to go flying out of the dish and splash onto Ray's freshly dry-cleaned and neatly starched white shirt.
Anyone who knows Ray understands THESE KINDS OF THINGS HAPPEN TO RAY. Once, after he pumped his car with gas at a self-service station, he drove off with HIS WALLET ON THE ROOF. His mind is always two steps ahead. That comes in handy when you're compiling close to 500 NHL assists, but it's bad when you are eating parm.
Somehow, Ray was able to conceal the stain on his shirt with his jacket and tie. He learned a lesson and also got a nickname. That incident, as well as our shared Italian heritage and a propensity for parm every spring, led me to start calling him "Chicken Parm" the following season. What started as a simple little shout out to my boy stuck like cheese on chicken. Everywhere he goes, it's not Ray, it's Chicken Parm. The guy scores 400 NHL goals and what he's remembered for most is "Chicken Parm."
This will be Ray's last year in the NHL. Come spring, he'll be back as playoff analyst on NHL 2Night as he begins his second career. As you watch Ray on SportsCenter, ESPNEWS and NHL 2Night, listen to his vast hockey knowledge and savvy, but also look closely for a stain on his shirt. You'll know how it got there.
Gonchar: We are not playing well in our own zone, giving up too many goals. It seems like we are not there for 60 minutes. We have a tendency to relax for a couple of minutes, and other teams take advantage of it.
No. 2: Why are you leading defensemen in scoring this year?
No. 3: Do you think you should be considered for the Norris Trophy?
No. 4: What was your childhood like?
No. 5: What is an interest of Sergei Gonchar's outside of hockey?
No. 6: How much are you looking forward to the Olympics?
No. 7: What does Slava Fetisov mean to you and other Russians?
No. 8: You are a multimillionaire. When you get back home, is there pressure from people to get some of your money?
2. Rob Blake, Colorado Avalanche: When I was typing these words, he was leading defensemen in power-play goals. They just don't make many Rob Blakes, and Pierre Lacroix knew that when he gave up so much to get him. The Avs GM knew getting Blake ensured a Stanley Cup threat in Denver for three more years.
3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: Defending titlist. His team just doesn't need him to go full throttle. He's just ol' dependable St. Nick. Never misses a game. Never a minus. Never takes a dumb penalty. One of the classiest players in the league. Maybe the classiest.
4. Kim Johnsson, Philadelphia Flyers: A 25-year-old who keeps getting better. Bobby Clark knew he had to get someone like him for Eric Lindros. If Toronto would have given up Tomas Kaberle, Lindros would have been a Maple Leaf. But Pat Quinn also knows the value of these guys. They make any team better. Dallas, Boston and Pittsburgh would love to have one.
5. Al MacInnis, St. Louis Blues: He turns 39 in July, yet he's a good puck mover, plays chippy and owns a shot that can be heard around the world. If he stays healthy and stays on this list, the Blues will be tough in the playoffs. Although the Wings outclassed them last weekend on their own ice.
How our conversation began: "I was on my couch watching NHL 2Night last year and you did one of your "what John Ondrasik is to Five for Fighting, Dominik Hasek is to the Buffalo Sabres," and I fell off my couch, man. I gotta tell you, I've had a lot of cool things happen to me, but that's pretty close to the Grammy nomination."
How hockey became a part of his life: "I was one of those three people going to Kings games BEFORE Gretzky came to town. I watched (Marcel) Dionne and (Bernie) Nichols and (Luc) Robataille when he was rookie. Then I got to see Gretzky those years. When it came time to name the band, I thought of Five for Fighting. The music business can be like a hockey fight and I thought it was appropriate."
Early hockey memories: "Watching the Miracle on Manchester on television and people still talk about that. I remember Dave "Tiger" WIlliams getting in a few scraps. I've seen Gretzky at concerts because he's a big music fan. His wife, Janet, used to take voice lessons from my voice teacher, so I used to run into her, and I'd see Wayne backstage at Elton John concerts and stuff. In '93, when the Kings were in the Western Conference finals, me and my buddy took a red eye to New York, took a hopper to Buffalo, drove to Toronto, bought tickets from a scalper and got beer poured on us from the balcony when the Kings won. It was like the greatest experience of my life. So, to sing at the All-Star Game in L.A. with all my friends and getting to meet some of the players was amazing."
What's up now in the studio?: "I'm actually cutting a song for a Mel Gibson movie called When We Were Soldiers, and I'm doing a song for the soundtrack. I cut a little piano vocal and they loved it. "Superman" is on the "Bandits" soundtrack, but this is the first time I've written a song specifically for a soundtrack."
Did you know "Superman" was going to be a hit?: "My God, are you kidding me?!! This is the age of 'N Sync and Limp Bizkit. It's not the age of songwriters. I grew up on Elton John, Billy Joel, U2, Nirvana and The Who. So, for me, I was shocked that the song found itself on the radio. It's such a climate of boy bands and rap. It's tough."
All-Star Game performance uniform: "I was going to wear a U.S. Olympic sweater, but considering the game was aired in Canada, I didn't dare do that or we'll never sell a record there.
I should have brought a Chicken Parm Ray Ferraro 1,000th game, game-worn L.A. King sweater for you: "You know what, if you brought it, I would have worn it!! There are only a few guys who can talk as well as they play hockey and he's one of them."
I tuned in to your broadcast last week only to be shocked by the no-glasses look. Was it one of those sweeps weeks? Maybe you just left the glasses at home. I'm very concerned about this development.
Steve, I'm trying contacts. I got them in that day. The next day, I tried to get them in and I lost both of them. I thought I dropped them. A week later, my optometrist took them out of my eyes. They were curled up in a ball and lodged in my upper eyelid for a week. Can you find me a good laser surgeon?
Goat Punishment is an alias band name for Weezer when they have played live in the past. Get a CD of the stuff if you can. The rink? You mean pond. Melrose had the Speedo on doing backstrokes yesterday. Pool or a pond. A pond would be good for you.
Barry and I talked about Francis extensively during the intermissions of the Red Wings-Blues game last Saturday night. Barry called Francis one of the best players of all-time. As far as the Whaler thing, I never call them that, but you're right, some here do, and they should stop.
My guess is Messier will retire. The Hall says it won't waive the wait anymore. They proved that with Raymond Bourque.
I still think you're a dork, Greg.
Blame it on Rio.
Me, 10 babes from Rio and a vat of suntan oil, driven around Brazil in a convertible 40-foot Hummer limo by Thomaz Alexander while Duran Duran's "Rio" is screaming from the Bose speakers. That and free beer.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Tuesday-Saturday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.