I grew up in Newark in a baseball house. My father played semi-pro ball back in the 40’s, Mickey Mantle was my idol and I wanted to play center field for the Yankees. All the kids in the neighborhood played baseball but one one of my friends on the block, Sal Colatrella, was a hockey fan.
Growing up, when we weren’t playing ball we would play hockey with a rubber-coated softball in the backyard. The goalie used a first baseman’s glove and a football helmet with a facemask. We even put up a spotlight so that we could play after dark.
In 8th grade, I bought my first pair of skates at Two Guys in Harrison for $10 and would skate the public sessions at Branch Brook Park Ice Center. As a freshman at Essex Catholic High School, I was a member of their very first club team. We played only five games the entire season. I didn’t get on the ice until the third period of the very last game but made the most of it and scored twice. I guess my street hockey work paid off even if my skating was subpar.
My sophomore year, Essex Catholic joined the New Jersey High School Hockey league. There were only 12 teams in the state back then. Unfortunately, I didn’t make Varsity, only “the taxi squad,” but I continued to work hard, came back my junior year and made the team playing a supporting role to the other more skilled players. My senior year we had a record of 2-18. I had 10 goals and 13 points to lead my team. In comparison, Bobby Crothers from Morris Knolls led the state with 73 points that season.
In college at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I noticed a flier in the student union building for ice hockey tryouts and joined the squad as a freshman. The team was new and only scrimmaged other colleges but my sophomore year FDU joined the newly-formed NYNJ Metro Hockey League. Our home rink was the Bergen Mall and I had the honor of scoring the first league goal in the first game on my very first shift. It was a fun season even if we played our first few games with the school’s old football jerseys until our new sweaters arrived from the supplier.
My junior year was tough. I didn’t get along with the coach and left mid-season. I wish I would have stayed but the immaturity of a 20-year old was too strong. I returned the next year with a new coach and played well. My last year was a lot of fun. We had many new and very good players and my roll transitioned from a scorer to defensive-forward. The highlight for me was playing a game at Madison Square Garden in New York City against Wagner College. Again I was lucky. I scored the first goal of the game on my very first shift.
I knew that my hockey skills were limited, but not my love for the game. I started to referee in what was then known as AHAUS — the Amateur Hockey Association of United States, which later became USA Hockey. In 1976, I was asked to join NY-NJ NIHOA — the National Ice Hockey Officials Association, which at that time was not easy. It was a close-knit group and the fraternity was tight. You had to take and pass a closed-book NCAA test and even if you passed, the membership had to vote you in. I made it on my second try the following year and over the years I have had the honor of officiating many monumental games including a Gordon Cup final, a Mennen Cup final, NJSSIAA state semifinals and NY-NJ college semifinals. Next season will be my 40th as an NJSIAA high school hockey referee in New Jersey.
Growing up, I would also watch New York Rangers games and listen to “The Big Whistle,” Bill Chadwick, do the color on TV on channel 9. My wife, tired of hearing me scream at the TV from my living room couch, encouraged me to contact the local cable company. So in 1980, I did. I wrote a letter to Bruce Beck, who at that time was the sports director for Suburban Cable TV3. Before becoming one the top sportscasters on NBC channel 4 in New York, Bruce brought me into the studio in East Orange and muted an old game in which he redid the play-by-play and I added the color. After some practice, he finally gave me a game to broadcast at Montclair Arena. My play-by-play partner that night was making his hockey debut as well, but it certainly would not be the last for Matt Loughlin, who went on to become the radio voice of the New Jersey Devils.
1988 New Jersey State Ice Hockey Championships: St. Joseph vs. Montclair from Mennen on Suburban Cable TV3
It must have went well because I was rewarded with nine more games that first year. For the next 15 years, we recorded games out of South Mountain Arena, Montclair Arena, Mennen Arena, Branch Brook Park and Ice World in Totowa.
Regular season, Gordon Cup and State Playoffs — we did them all. I must have worked 10 different play-by-play tandems over the years, including NHL Executive Steve Mayer.
1996 New Jersey State Ice Hockey Championships: Christian Brothers Academy vs. Brick Township from Mennen on Comcast TV3
In 1996, Comcast took over the station and with the support of executive Barb Vorrius, I was the only color analyst asked to stay and work with the newly-formed station, CN8.
I teamed up with Mick Moninghoff, a highly experienced play-by-plan man from the Philly Market, and began televising state playoff games at Mennen Arena before the big move to the Meadowlands. With a bigger budget came better production quality. It was nice. It felt big time.
1998 New Jersey Non-Public Ice Hockey State Championships: Seton Hall Prep vs. Delbarton from Continental Airlines Arena on Comcast CN8. This game features future NHL player George Parros, and NJ HS HOF’ers Brandon Doria. John Warchol and Peter Herms. (Note: Master copy, commercial timeouts appear as a blank screen for 1-2 minutes)
In 1999, a minor league hockey team called the Titans moved into the new Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton and had a contract to televise select games on Comcast CN8. At the pro level, the team, not the network select the on-air talent so I sent in my demo tape and a few weeks later I was hired. The games were broadcast live to the entire CN8 audience, which at that time was eight million homes from Boston to Baltimore. No tape, no rewind… what you said was what was aired. Those games were fun. Great action and ferocious hockey in the ECHL.
In 2003, another network was just starting out. You might have seen them — The YES Network. At that time the Devils and the Yankees were conducting joint ventures so I parlayed my contacts to introduce me. At first I was rejected, but they came back to me and offered me the opportunity and of course I said, “Yes!”
For the past four decades, I have had the pleasure of providing expert analysis and commentary for almost every New Jersey high school hockey game ever televised or streamed. It started with Suburban Cablevision’s TV3, transitioned into The Comcast Network CN8 before three state championship games on the YES Network in 2003. SportsNetAmerica picked up the slack and streamed league and state games in the following years and soon after MSGVarsity burst onto the scene. Fios1 broadcasts the games today.
Forty-eight years of hockey and it all started with a rubber softball in a backyard in Newark and a pair of skates from Two Guys in Harrison. I went from number 7 in the Bronx, Mickey Mantle, to number 7 on Broadway, Rod Gilbert. I am proud to be a thread in the fabric of hockey.
Written By Pete Caggiano / @PeteCagg
Special to the HockeyClan
Here are some more of Pete’s “Greatest Hits”
1997 New Jersey State Public Ice Hockey Championships: Brick vs. Brick Memorial at Mennen Arena on Comcast CN8 (Note: First time two high schools from the same town played for a state title. Master copy, commercial timeouts appear as a blank screen 1-2 minutes)
1992 American Conference B Division: Verona vs. Livingston at SMA on Suburban Cable TV3
(Note: Current Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin behind the bench for Livingston and Verona goalie Claudine Pietrucha)
1987 New Jersey State Ice Hockey Championships: Delbarton vs. Montclair from Mennen Arena on Suburban Cable TV3 (Note: Pingry coach and NJ HS HOF’ers John Magadini as well as Delbarton coach Bruce Parker and player Derrick Maguire).
1982 Gordon Cup Final: Seton Hall Prep vs. Montclair Kimberley Academy from SMA on Suburban Cable (Note: Gordon Cup overtime game with Bruce Beck on play-by-play. MKA player Anthony DelGaizo)
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Main Image: Peter Caggiano with fellow FiOS1 play-by-play man John Hester.