He is known as the definitive authority on breaking news and analysis from every corner of the hockey world. And to me, he’s still the same modest, down-to-earth, fun-loving guy who I first met more than 35 years ago when we hung out together while working in the Sault Ste. Marie sports media.
Using his unparalleled contacts, combined with a vast knowledge and genuine passion for the game, my old buddy Bob McKenzie has a well-earned reputation as the most-informed, most-trusted and most-connected man in the business as the self-styled hockey insider for The Sports Network.
Bob was back in the Soo for two days earlier this week, taking in a number of games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge Tournament as part of his job at TSN.
And I must say that my old friend made my day before he even arrived in town when he sent me a message saying he was headed to the Soo and wanted to get together on Thursday night for a late dinner and a few drinks.
So, after watching the Thursday night game together, we headed to Arturo Ristorante in downtown Sault Ste. Marie for some good food and good vino — and to catch up on a friendship that began in 1978 when he was a sportswriter at the Sault Star and I was a sportscaster at CKCY Radio-CJIC TV.
We hung out a lot in the couple of years that Bob worked in the Soo.
We covered the same games, we traveled out of town to cover events such as the Ontario Hockey League draft in Toronto and Sault Steelers football in Hamilton.
I met his sweetheart girlfriend, Cindy Goodwin, who is now Cindy McKenzie, his wife and best friend of many years.
I met his brother-in-law, John Goodwin, who left home in Scarborough to come to the Soo to play hockey for the Greyhounds in 1978 and became an OHL star as rookie-of-the-year and then as league scoring champion.
We were close, Bobby and I.
I was at his parents house in Scarborough. He had lunch and dinner at my parents house in the Soo. I met his father-in-law, Tom, and tilted a few beers with him.
But mainly, we just hung out together, talking sports (mostly hockey) and hoisting adult beverages at the old Vic in the Canadian Soo and the Alpha Bar in the Michigan Soo — while being a tad adventurous on occasion or two or three or more.
Eventually, Bob left the Soo to return home to the Toronto area and embark on an award-winning, Hockey Hall of Fame career that included stops at the Globe and Mail, the Hockey News, the Toronto Star and ultimately, TSN.
Even when we were hanging out and leading a sometimes-reckless life while working as media colleagues in the Soo, I knew deep down that Bob was headed for the big time in Toronto.
While he was just “one of the guys” when we were socializing on a frequent basis at the Vic and the Alpha, Bob was a cut above the rest of us when it came to doing his job.
He dug deeper, he wrote better and he worked harder than the average reporter. He was relentless in his pursuit of chasing the story, getting the scoop and writing it up in a dramatic style that generally had a bit of an edge to it.
The years and the distance in miles eventually separated us, though we have managed to remain in contact through telephone, Twitter and mutual contacts in the game.
I am 64-years old now and Bob is 60. But when we spent those three or four post-game hours together at Arturo’s on Thursday there was considerable laughing, giggling and good-natured jabbing while we reminisced.
As I am proud of my nurse daughter Cara and my lawyer son Bobby, Bob is just as proud of his Kitchener Rangers assistant general manager son Mike and his Sportsnet reporter son Shawn.
As I am in love with my wife Mary, Bob is in love with his wife Cindy.
And more than 35 years — and going on close to 40 — since we first had laughs over beer (me) and rum and coke (him) at the Vic, Bob and I are still friends.
You don’t giggle and laugh and tell old stories of wild youth with someone you haven’t seen in person in many years without having a comfortable bond with them.
Spending a few hours with him a few nights ago, it was readily and easily evident that Bob and I still have that comfort zone that dates back to those days when we took many walks together on the wild side.
Thanks for the great night, my old friend.
Best to you and God willing, see you again soon.