One of the most beloved personalities in American hockey coverage is stepping away from the game he’s dedicated his life to.
On Tuesday, ESPN announced that Barry Melrose would be heading into retirement to spend more time with his family as he battles Parkinson’s disease.
Melrose played six years in the National Hockey League, appearing in 300 games and scoring 10 goals and 33 points as a defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He spent the early part of his career in the now-defunct World Hockey Association.
Los Angeles sports fans might know him best as the head coach of a Los Angeles Kings team that immediately made the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals under his stewardship, led by the “Chosen One,” Wayne Gretzky. He also had a brief stint as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But his lasting impact on the sport came in front of the camera as a hockey analyst for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports.”
Melrose spent nearly three decades on ESPN as both an in-studio analyst and color commentator. His partnership with anchor John Buccigross is credited as being one of the driving forces of ESPN’s growing commitment to his beloved sport.
On Tuesday, another of Melrose’s hockey compatriots, Steve Levy, appeared on television to announce that his longtime colleague and friend would be stepping away to focus on his health and spend more time with family.
“Barry Melrose was the star of every show he ever appeared on and I for the better part of 30 years merely rode his extremely oversized coattails,” Levy said, offering playful ribbing of Melrose’s unmistakable fashion sense and giant frame. “Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that ESPN would broadcast an opening night NHL triple-header or for that matter even a 30-second clip without the Melrose touch.”
A giant in hockey, a tribute to Melrose was aired on ESPN, narrated by one of the few men who had an even bigger impact on the sport.
“My friend and former coach, Barry Melrose, he’s bigger than any team,” Gretzky’s voice reads from the recorded segment. “Without pandering, without sugar-coating, in his flamboyant suits, with his big cigars, Barry’s brought the game to life for millions of viewers.”
“He needs our support and all of us in hockey are here for him,” Gretzky said.
In a release issued to ESPN by Melrose, the iconic sports analyst thanked the game of hockey for being his life’s purpose.
“I’ve had over 50 extraordinary years playing, coaching and analyzing the world’s greatest game, hockey. It’s now time to hang up my skates and focus on my health, my family, including my supportive wife Cindy, and whatever comes next,” the statement reads. “I’m beyond grateful for my hockey career, and to have called ESPN home for almost 30 years. Thanks for the incredible memories and now I’ll be cheering for you from the stands.”
Members of the ESPN family and hockey community reflected on Melrose’s legendary career and larger-than-life personality.
Luc Robitaille, president of the Kings organization, released a statement in which he called Melrose a legend.
“A tremendous leader who brought an incredible amount of personality to our hockey club and organization … his booming laugh is second to none,” Robitaille said.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called Melrose’s love for hockey “obvious and infectious.”
“Barry’s gigantic personality and trademark style have made our game bigger, more exciting and more entertaining,” Bettman said.
Levy ended the television segment with a farewell to his long-time friend and advocated for his eventual inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Conceding that his stats as both a player and coach put him far behind the typical requisite numbers for induction into the Hockey Hall, Levy countered by calling Melrose the game’s greatest ambassador and “the forever face of hockey on television in America, selling the sport to everyone he’s ever come in contact with.”
As for the upcoming season, Melrose has picked his Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup in the 2023-24 season.