The new man on SI's hockey beat is Staff Writer Mike DelNagro, whose team-by-team analysis of the NHL season begins on page 44. Mike has quickly discovered the most difficult aspect of covering his new sport. "You're always working under the 95 Percent Rule," he says. "You watch the ice 95 percent of the time, and 95 percent of the goals are scored during the other five percent." But in truth DelNagro, 34, who had spent his nine years with us as a member of the college football and basketball staffs, admires hockey's constant action. "The charm of hockey is its speed," he says.
For several years DelNagro seemed to be living under a Zero Percent Rule of his own. He grew up in Buffalo long before the NHL Sabres came to town, and had a rather informal playing career. "Sometimes, after bad snowstorms, when cars had packed the roads to sheer ice, we'd go out and play in street shoes," he says. "No pads, either." Hockey continued to elude DelNagro during his college years at St. Bonaventure. "If we had a hockey team, no one knew about it," he says. "I was the sports editor of the school paper and I didn't know about it." When he subsequently enlisted in the Air Force, he was stationed in, of all places, Waikiki. "Hockey? Unheard of," he says.
DelNagro's present residence, though, is only a 2½-minute subway ride from Madison Square Garden and the Rangers. This season he hopes to watch more of the clean, sharp play he saw while covering last month's Canada Cup competition and less of the mayhem he saw on TV last Friday night when the Rangers and Islanders waged a battle royal that produced 220 minutes in penalties, prompted five ejections and resulted in a 25-minute delay. "Fighting isn't part of the game," DelNagro says. "Athletes in every sport have frustrations, but they're not allowed to take them out with their fists. A quarterback who throws five interceptions isn't real happy, but that doesn't mean he can go punch the cornerback."
DelNagro hasn't yet warmed to the struggles that go on in the corners of a hockey rink, either. "Maybe they could install hard rubber boards there so the puck could bounce right out," he says. (It should be noted that DelNagro is also SI's resident billiards expert.)
DelNagro's assignment doesn't mean an end to ice time for E.M. Swift, the man on the beat since 1978. In this issue alone Swift profiles Edmonton's phenomenal center, Wayne Gretzky (page 78), and Minnesota North Star General Manager Lou Nanne (page 52). He also reports on the WBC lightweight title fight in Atlantic City (page 26). What's more, Swift's first novel, Each Thief Passing By (Little, Brown), a story of a Wyoming ranching family, was published recently. "The conflict is whether they should sell off their land to be strip-mined for coal," says Swift.
As for his successor on the hockey beat, Swift has only one bit of advice on the sport for DelNagro: "Basically, I would say, don't go into a losing locker room. Hockey players can be extraordinarily unpleasant after a loss."
DelNAGRO: ZAMBONI RIDE INTO A NEW SEASON