FullTilt Legends: John Davidson
American culture is quick with the catch phrase and American sports are no different. Phil Rizzuto had his signature “Holy Cow!”, Mel Allen had “How about that?!”, Michael Kay has “See ya!” and John Sterling has “TTTTHHHHEEEE YANKEEEESSSSSS WINNNNNN!”. Even the Rangers had their own with Bill Chadwick screaming, “Shoot the puck Barry! Shoot the Puck!”
So whenever I hear the words “Oh Baby!”, I always think of the Rangers own John Davidson who would punctuate each Rangers goal or great play with those words. Being a broadcaster was only a part of what has made “JD” an institution in the game of hockey. He is a legend on many levels.
John Davidson was born in Ottawa, ON, Canada on February 27, 1953. He was a 1st round (5th overall) draft choice of the St. Louis Blues in 1973. He made the jump to the Blues straight from the Calgary Centennials and made his NHL debut for the Blues on in the fall of 1973. By doing so Davidson was the first ever player to make the jump from Major Junior hockey straight to the NHL.
Davidson would go on to play 2 seasons n St. Louis where he would appear in 79 games and post a record of 30-34-14. On June 18, 1975, JD was traded to the Rangers along with Bill Collins for Jerry Butler, Ted Irvine (the father of WWE Superstar Chris Jericho) and Bert Wilson
JD was brought to the Rangers as the heir apparent to popular goalie Eddie Giacomin. When Giacomin was waived on Halloween night 1975, it paved the way for JD to become the #1 goalie. Little did anyone know that Giacomin would be claimed by the Detroit Red Wings and would face off against JD a few days later at MSG.
The crowd was pro-Giacomin that night as they chanted the familiar “EDDIE!! EDDIE!!” all night while booing the Rangers incessantly. JD has said that it was the only time in his years playing for the Rangers that he felt like the enemy. Little did he or the crowd know what an icon he would go on to be for the Blueshirts.
JD would spend the better part of 8 seasons on Broadway tending goal for the Rangers. The highest of highlights came during the Spring of 1979 and the Rangers improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final. On their way to the Final, Davidson led the Rangers past their cross town rivals – The New York Islanders – all on a severely damaged left knee.
Who could forget the site of JD, arms raised in victory, getting mob by his teammates (and some fans) who stormed the ice at the final buzzer of Game 6 against the Islanders? While the Rangers were eventually defeated in the Final to defending Champion Montreal Canadiens 4 games to 1, JD had cemented himself into the hearts and minds of Rangers fans and lore with his post season brilliance.
In 18 memorable games, JD posted 11 wins against 7 losses with 1 shutout. His GAA was 2.28. Along the way he also played the most minutes of any goaltender in the playoffs that season with 1,106 minutes played.
The following seasons for Davidson and the Rangers for that matter, were a series of stops and starts. For the Rangers, they ran into the juggernaut that the Islanders had become as they were on their 4 straight Stanley Cup Championship dominance.
For Davidson, his health started to betray him on a regular basis. Recurring back and knee injuries plagued Davidson throughout the better part of the next 4 seasons and he would eventually retire because of his health in August 1983. For his career as a Blueshirt, Davidson posted 93 wins, 90 losses and 25 ties with 7 shutouts in 222 games. His GAA was 3.58. In the post season JD was 16-13 in 30 games played with 1 shutout and a GAA 2.43.
JD had dabbled in the broadcast field on several occasions while he was out injured. This gave him a taste of what life might be like after hanging up the skates and the role suited him well.
In the 1983-84 season, JD began what would be a spectacular run behind the mic full time. He worked as studio analyst for the MSG Network. The Rangers already had Phil Esposito doing color commentary so the room for advancement was quite thin.
As luck would have it though, Hockey Night in Canada had taken notice of JD’s potential and offered him a prominent role in their broadcasts, specifically in the Calgary Flames market. JD jumped at the chance this opportunity presented and left the Rangers organization. He would do HNIC for 2 years before the bright lights of Broadway beckoned a second time
BROADWAY BOUND AGAIN!
With Phil Esposito’s move from the broadcast booth to the Rangers front office, an opening was created for JD to come back home to the Rangers organization. Teaming up with Sam Rosen, JD found his niche and together they formed one of the longest running sports broadcast teams in history, and not just hockey history.
During the Rangers memorable Stanley Cup Championship run in the Spring / Summer of 1994, both Rosen and JD were at their best. Remember, this was still a time were the local broadcast still did every playoff game. It was not like today where the local broadcast is only done during the first round of the playoffs.
Together, their work was never finer than during the epic Eastern Conference Final Series against the New Jersey Devils, especially in Game 7. With each tick of the clock you could hear in both their voices the pressure and intensity this series had. You could also hear their exasperated voices when Ranger Stephane Matteau scored on his wraparound past the Devils’ Martin Brodeur to clinch the series and advance to The Final.
In The Final, JD was at his best. His description of how intense the series was and how he kept everyone calm as the Canucks battled back to tie the Series at 3 was exquisite. When Messier scored what would prove to be the Cup clinching goal, if you listen closely, you can hear JD shout “YES!” and pound the desk. When the final buzzer sounded you can hear the emotion in his voice as he thanks Messier and the rest of the 1994 Champions on behalf of all past Rangers for ending the curse.
For 20 years, Rangers fans had the distinct pleasure of seeing and hearing JD & Sam on MSG. It was also during that time where JD rose to prominence as one of the USA’s National voices of hockey.
In addition to his Emmy winning work on MSG, JD also broadcast NHL and Winter Olympic hockey for NBC, ABC, FOX, nhl.com, CBC and OLN (VERSUS for you old timers!). he was an ambassador for hockey as he was well respected in all hockey circles. Along with Mike “Doc” Emrick, he shared the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in the US in 2004.
No one worked harder than JD at constantly improving his craft and in 2009 he was honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Foster Hewitt Award for his contributions to broadcasting.
After spending 20 years and over 30 years with the Rangers organization, on June 30, 2006, JD took the leap and became the President of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues. After many years of rumors and speculation that he might become part of management with the Rangers, JD returned to where it all began with the Blues.
St Louis was coming of a miserable season. After 25 consecutive post seasons, the Blues missed the playoffs for only the 4th time in franchise history finishing with the worst record in the NHL. New owner SCP Worldwide – headed by former MSG honcho Dave Checketts – reached out to JD to restore the franchise to its past glory.
JD made several big trades and free agent signings to revive fan interest and the sagging franchises record. He added players such as former ranger Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Manny Legace and Jay McKee. He also made a key front office move by adding Jarmo Kekalainen to help build up a dwindling underperforming farm system. During their tenure, the team of Davidson and Kekalainen drafted future stars in TJ Oshie, Erik Johnson and steady winger David Perron.
Over the next several years, players JD added were Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya Brad Boyes, Denis Wideman and goalie Chris Mason to name a few. Some were hits and some were misses.
In addition, JD also made several changes in coaches until he found what he felt was the right fit for the right type of team. JD’s first coaching hire was Andy Murray. After a slow start, the Blues responded to Murray and made the playoffs. However after a dismal start to the 2009-10 season, JD was forced to fire Murray and hire Davis Payne as head coach on January 2, 2010.
Payne lasted until a better option obviously became available. Ken Hitchcock was hired as head coach on November 6, 2011. That was the move that seemed to make the biggest impact on the Blues as they became one of the top teams in the West Conference under the tutelage of Hitchcock. Regardless, JD’s moves helped bring a winning culture to the Blues and restored them back to respectability and playoff contention.
On October 9, 2012, JD’s time in St. Louis came to an abrupt end when the Blues bought out his contract. He wasn’t out of work for long though as the Columbus Blue Jackets named him President of Hockey Operations on October 24.
Knowing a winning combination when he has one, one of the first moves Davidson made was to make Kekalainen General Manager. Together, their job was to restore the faith of the Blue Jackets fans from the handling of the Rick Nash fiasco and build an organization that had only one post season appearance in history to a consistent winner.
Using similar methods he used to rebuild the Blues, JD acquired goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on the trade market for a 2nd round draft pick. Bobrovsky rewarded their faith in him by posting a stellar record with a 21-11-6 with a 2.00 GAA on his way to winning the Vezina Trophy and backstopping the Jackets to the playoffs.
Backed by the solid goaltending of Bobrovsky and the emergence of players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov (both acquired from the Rangers for Rick Nash prior to JD joining the Blue Jackets) and Jack Johnson – along with the development of players like Boone Jenner, Ryan Johansen and Matt Calvert to name a few and the Blue Jackets almost upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs in the spring of 2014. With that in mind, it is easy to see that JD and company are on the right path to making Columbus a contender for years to come.
When you look back on the career of John Davidson it is a pretty remarkable ride. From being the first Major Junior player to jump straight to the NHL and then playing for an Original Six franchise to a surprising Final appearance. To later becoming a prominent member of the media in the media capital of the world and then becoming a President of not one, but two hockey organizations is quite the achievement.
JD is the epitome of what a legend of hockey should be. He is an ambassador of the game like we have never seen or may see again. John Davidson is not only a Ranger legend but a hockey legend.