Our game lost another giant on Sunday, October 1st -- just three days before the opening of the 2017-18 NHL season -- even though he never tied on a pair of skates or steped on the ice to play in a hockey game at any level, when my great friend and colleague of almost four decades, Dave Strader, passed away in the presence of his family and his wife of four plus decades, Colleen, in his lifelong home town of Glens Falls, NY, after a courageous 15 month battle with bile duct cancer. He was just 62.
Dave "The Voice" Strader
February 24, 1955 - October 1, 2017
When I first met "Strades" in 1979, he was a tall and lanky 24-year old former local championship high school basketball player with an ambition to become a professional college or NBA basketball announcer. His career path changed radically, however, when it was announced that the just opened new city owned Glens Falls Civic Center would become the home of the NHL Detroit Red Wings' new American Hockey League farm team, the Adirondack Red Wings, and would need to hire a broadcaster to call their games on local radio.
Despite Strader's having "zero" background in hockey, he applied for the job and so impressed the expansion club's GM Ned Harkness with his enthusiasm, fine radio voice, and perhaps most important the "economy" of the price for his services at the time, that he was hired as team PR director and broadcaster even though he had not only never called a hockey game in his life, he had also never even seen one live!
“Mr. Harkness said he was paying me 11 grand to do one job,” Strader recalled recently, "and said ‘I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you a second job, and if you cut my grass, you can call the hockey games too.”
A young Dave Strader at the mic
"I was wondering how this guy with no hockey experience got the job," noted Jim Brennan who was assigned to do color with Strader before that first game, "and thought he probably got it because he was related to Harkness somehow." It didn't take Strader long to prove that the new "rookie" was up to the task, however. “It took maybe 30 seconds," says Brennan. "I was stunned. Dave was on the play, got the terminology, and had the cadence in his voice. My original sensation of potential gloom and doom for his work disappeared right then.”
In the 38 years since that first broadcast, "Strades" went on to become one of the greatest and best known American hockey broadcasters in history joining the elite likes of Mike "Doc" Emrick, Bob Miller, and the late Gene Hart, among others, as the most honored and iconic voices of "our game".
"I have nothing but smiles in my recollections of Dave," Emrick wrote to me on learning of our long time friend's passing. "Our first time meeting was at a game in Glens Falls in 1979 when I was with the AHL Maine Mariners. He was not only already a teriffic young announcer then, but in the years since he has always been a wonderful guy to chat with about the present and past. Whenever I would ask Dave about the many hockey people in Glens Falls from the 1970s, he would always know all about them.
"Dave never forgot -- or left -- his home base," Emrick continued, "and this was with the Winter Classics, the many Stanley Cup finals, Olympic games he did around the world, the all-star weekends, and the other sports. While he had the credentials to act like a big shot, that was never him. Strades was unfailingly kind, approachable, and the same guy who remembered riding busses and 3 1/2 hour bench-clearers in Portland, Maine or elsewhere in the AHL. All of hockey will miss him."
A two-time New York State Broadcasters Association honoree and named the AHL's top public relations professional in 1984, Strader got the opportunity to move up the the NHL in 1985 after six years with the AHL Wings as the new TV voice of the parent Red Wings in Detroit where he was paired with Mickey Redmond and remained until 1996.
Mickey Redmond and Dave Strader
He later moved on to doing national hockey telecasts for ESPN, ABC , FOX and other outlets as well as spending time with the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes. For almost two decades Strader also broadcast the Stanley Cup finals to a world wide audience on NHL International. In 2011 he left his position with the Coyotes to accept a full-time job with NBC and Versus but returned to team work again in 2015 when he was named to succeed the just retired Ralph Strangis with the Dallas Stars after finishing his 22 season run as the Stars' TV voice.
David worked with many color analysts over the years including Redmond, Brian Engblom, Darren Pang, Joe Micheletti, Denis Potvin and most recently Daryl Reaugh in Dallas. Over the years I also had the opportunity to work on many network telecasts sitting next to Strades as in-booth stat man on ESPN, ABC, FOX, NHL International, NBCSN and NBC. While I have done this more than 1,000 times over the decades with dozens of different play-by-play and color broadcasters, Strades was special. I was not only always literally blown away each time by Strades' exceptional grace and professionalism, but also his delightful dry sense of humor. One of my favorite such lines that he delivered over the air that I liked to always remind him of was made at the "expense" of one of his most frequent color men, former NHL goalie Darren Pang.
Pang stood at just 5'5" next to the 6'+ Strader making this broadcast team look like a "Mutt and Jeff" duo. While doing an NHL game between Anaheim and Vancouver in Tokyo, Japan for ESPN in October, 1997, Strades opened the telecast by saying with a completely straight face: "Welcome to Japan -- where Darren Pang is a man of average height."
When joining the Dallas Stars in 2015 at the age of sixty, Strader was paired with another former NHL goalie in Daryl "Razor" Reaugh. Just as their first season together came to an end, however, Dave got the sobering news that he had developed a rare but highly aggressive and virtually always fatal form of cancer of the bile duct called cholangiocarcinoma. It would sideline him for all but a highly emotional five game home stint in midseason. For the rest of the season's telecasts Reaugh moved from his seat as color man to play-by-play voice.
Daryl Reaugh and Dave Strader working in February, 2017
"What a body of work, what a legacy as a person, and what a pro's pro," Razor wrote in an email to me after learning of Dave's passing. "I remember welcoming Dave to our broadcast group with a toast at a dinner before our very first road game in Denver. The main gist of it was, 'Dave, you make us better' - and that he did, every time he spoke into a Stars' flagged mic. He was an easy listen, a great partner, a fun guy, and just a quality quality person.
"When Strades mustered up the strength to call a hand full of games in February during our very forgettable season," Reaugh continued, "it was pure nourishment for his soul and a respite for his mind - and he sounded great. It was THE hi-light of the campaign. His time with us was brief, but it was impactful and memorable. I just wish we had had more years to enjoy each other's company, and our Stars, his call."
The Dallas Stars saluting Dave Strader after his first of five broadcasts in February, 2017
Last spring Dave learned that he would be honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Foster Hewitt Award which will be presented during the Hall's induction weekend in November which unfortunately he has not lived to see in person, but two weeks ago he was able to be present with his family and many friends when the pressbox at the Glens Falls Civic Center (now called the Cool Insuring Arena) in which he called -- and saw -- his first hockey game 38 years ago took place was named in his honor.
Unveiling the Dave Strader Pressbox on September 16, 2017
"To be where it all started," he said at the time, "and to now have my name on the pressbox is quite overwhelming. You try to think what is all means, and then when you look back and see how it developed it's hard to believe that it turned out the way it did. Broadcasting hockey has been a great career, a blast. There is something unique about this sport, and these athletes in hockey that is like nothing else. You have to be lucky in this business and I was very fortunate to get the opportunities to do it in hockey for so long."
Strades worked what proved to be his last ever broadcasts in April doing three games in Washington between the Caps and Maple Leafs during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and sounded as great as ever -- even doing a double overtime contest -- working with yet another former NHL goalie, Brian Boucher, who is just starting his broadcasting career.
Dave Strader before working his last broadcast in Washington in April, 2017
"Hi Scoop, It was so good to get back out in the road and work playoff games!" he wrote to me at the time. "And Bouch is not only going to be an outstanding broadcaster, he's a great guy to work with. I am going to work game 5 in Washington on Friday...nothing scheduled beyond that at this time. Stay in touch. Strades"
The last time we were in contact was two weeks ago on September 16 just after the ceremony for the naming of the press box in Glens Falls when I wrote to him: "Sincere congratulations on having the Glens Falls pressbox being named in your honor. You now join two of my other great broadcasting friends and colleagues -- Doc Emrick (Port Huron) and Gene Hart (Philadelphia) -- with press boxes named for them as well!!" to which he responded "Thanks Scoop! Doc's video message- no surprise- was spot on. He mentioned my wife Colleen by name. He asks about how she's doing whenever we communicate. He gets it.Thanks again Scoop. Strades"
What has now proved to be my final message back to Strades in response to that was a simple one. "Yes Doc certainly does "get it" -- as do you. Love ya Strades! Scoop"
RIP, Strades. Love ya, and you will be very VERY much missed.