NEW YORK — After a few years away, Paul Bissonnette returned to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a different role. Now retired after 12 seasons as a professional, “Biz Nasty” has taken on the job as the team’s radio analyst and community ambassador.
That was the start of a busy summer for Bissonnette, 32, who also filmed “Biznasty Does B.C.,” a five episode web series that will debut on VIKTRE.com in November. It will feature over a dozen NHL players and other athletes documenting his travels through British Columbia.
Bissonnette chatted with Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday as the Zamboni hummed along the ice inside Madison Square Garden.
Q. How did the opportunity to join the Coyotes as radio analyst come up?
BISSONNETTE: “I’ve always loved Arizona, they gave me my chance. I’ve always remained good friends with a lot of guys, especially in the media side of it, just because I spent so much time in the press box and bag skating and hanging out with them afterward. [Coyotes PR man] Rich Nairn, we’ve been talking about it for a few years but I still wanted to play. And then I blew both of my ACLs out last year and it was just time. Luckily, I was able to move in as the color radio guy. I’m obviously thankful now to be back on planes and back in the NHL.”
What made you decide against going through rehab for the ACLs and deciding to hang them up?
“It was just time. I’d met a girl and she [asked] ‘How long are you going to keep doing this?’ And to be real, I knew I was eventually going to get into the media stuff. I don’t want to say I became irrelevant, but I was fading out; whereas when I was in the NHL and I was Tweeting, I was in [people’s] faces because I was around. When I went to the [AHL], it was good to get away. I got to win a Calder Cup with the LA farm team [Manchester Monarchs] and I got to have some fun my last couple of years winning. I got to ride it out on my own terms and then it was just time to hang them up.”
If a different organization had come calling, would you have had the same feeling?
“I don’t know. I never really exercised any of my options because I’ve been talking with Rich for at least a year and a half about it. Last year, when I tore my first ACL I was pretty sure I was going to hang them up. I didn’t get surgery right away. I tried to rehab it to finish my career for my last season last year, and then my first game back I tore my other one. So it was a year from hell. I think that was someone up top’s way of saying, ‘Bro, f—off. You’re done. We’ve given you 12 years of pro, now beat it.’ So it’s time to let the kids play, so to speak.”
What’s been the learning curve for you in the booth so far?
“It’s way more difficult than you think. There’s a lot of preparation that’s involved. I’m fortunate enough where I get along with all the media staff. [Fox Sports Arizona’s] Todd Walsh has been around a long time. Tyson Nash was in a very similar situation that I was and he’s done a great job and been successful at it, so I’ve just been asking a lot of questions and shadowing them. They’ve done a great job of helping me out and taking me under their wing.”
What’s the normal game day routine for you?
“I just like to come [to the rink] and chat and sometimes pick opposition’s media’s brains and see how their team is doing. There’s another thing, the NHL Network people, I don’t know how the f— they keep track of 31 teams and all these guys. I have a hard time just doing ours. I’ll get here two hours before [the game] on the bus with [radio play-by-play man] Bob Heethius, who’s been awesome to me, I just prepare with him. We talk about the notes. We look back what their record’s been against this team in recent memory, how the team’s been playing, stats and then just prepare ourselves for the game. Like I said, it’s nice to have a guy and follow him around and do it properly. And even at the beginning, I wasn’t sure I was preparing enough, where the last couple of games I’ve been doing it more and you’re never left with times where you have nothing to say because you always have a little nugget… That’s a term they use, by the way. I learned that one.”
Yeah, you’re catching on.
“Yeah, see? You know what nuggets are. I didn’t know what nuggets were.”
A lot of guys step away and don’t know what they want to do. It must be nice for you remain around a hockey team on a daily basis.
“That’s the one thing I’m most thankful for, is you see these guys, a lot of us don’t have education. We were too busy playing hockey our whole life and all of sudden it’s taken away from you. A lot of guys don’t get to go out on their own terms. I was fortunate to be able to do that and I was fortunate to have a job lined up where I didn’t have to sit around waiting like where am I gonna see my next paycheck, even how am I going to stimulate my mind. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not even the money. I’ve been fortunate.”
What duties are part of your ambassador role with the team?
“One thing as a player that I never had a problem doing, especially because I didn’t play a lot, was going to do all of these events or charity meet and greets. These guys have a long schedule. It’s hard on them, and I told [the team] if these guys are tired and they just got off a road trip and they have a hospital visit, if one guy’s been lugging a lot of ice time and he’s banged up a little bit, send me instead. I know it might not have the same impact as Oliver Ekman-Larsson being at a hospital rather than me.”
Did you have an idea during your career of what you wanted to do after hockey?
“I’ve always one to be a clown. I don’t take myself seriously at all. Lately I’ve been reading on Twitter guys get ragged on, especially hockey guys, for having no personality and I’ve kind of sat back and been like, yeah, because anytime something’s not going well hockey-wise fans and media will use that against them if they show any type of personality. So they use it to their convenience.
“For instance, we got [Connor] McDavid in our mockumentary for the finale. Well, now I’m a little concerned because do I want to put this thing out where maybe Edmonton’s not doing so great and then now people are going to be like ‘Well, shouldn’t you guys be focusing on hockey?’ It’s like, you can’t please anyone now.”
But it was filmed in the summer. It’s not like you’re doing it now.
“But you know it’s coming. We’ve been trying to do some media stuff with the Coyotes and it’s hard because the team’s not winning. You don’t want to also put guys in a vulnerable situation where fans are attacking them because they’re having a little bit of fun off the ice. You’ve got to remember it’s just a game. If any time, especially now, you need to lighten up and try to remember you’re playing a game for a living.”
What did you want to get out of the project?
“Other than the fact that I’m thankful that these guys took the time. Shane Doan jumped in for a full day; so did Morgan Rielly. It was at a charity golf tournament where Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Brendan Gallagher jumped in for 20 minutes each. This is more of hey, I hope hockey fans realize that these guys do have personality. We just have a very humble sport where guys tend to not come outside their shell because they don’t want to come off as abrasive. There’s a lot of reasons. They don’t want to give people fuel and open themselves up in a way where someone can use that negatively towards them.”
Jaromir Jagr had a great quote on Hockey Night in Canada recently where he said he avoided media at times because he didn’t want to have all the attention on himself and felt it might rub some guys the wrong way. He justed wanted to be part of the team.
“That’s just being self-aware. I guess it was different for me because when they interviewed me they just wanted me to be a clown and it was different, as opposed to if you’re interviewing a star and you’re having individual success and the team’s struggling a little bit. Yeah, you never know what other guys are thinking. Maybe there’s a little animosity towards that where I think maybe guys would overthink it when it’s really not like that. That’s just how humble hockey guys are. That just goes to show that they’re more concerned about what their teammates feel and how that might look towards them or make them feel than of them just being themselves and being like hey, these guys want to interview me.”
Finally, now that you’ve stepped away and said it was the right time, do you miss the game?
“Yeah, I didn’t think I would miss it as much but as I’m around the rink more… Because I’m part of an organization, so when you see a guy get hit or taken advantage of you want to get down there and get involved. I’ll always miss it.”
Still have a little enforcer in you.
“Maybe I’ll come back like [Michael Jordan] with the 45 or something.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.