Dale Arnold told us his retirement was coming. But the abruptness of when it did come, because of the unexpected first-round playoff demise of a certain hockey team … well, who could have foreseen such a sudden end for any of it?
“I didn’t expect to have my career end sitting on my couch in my family room, which is how it happened,” said Arnold, whose 24 seasons as part of NESN’s Bruins broadcast team — including the last 11 as a studio host — ended when the record-setting team was bounced from the playoffs In seven games by the Florida Panthers.
Arnold, who shared studio hosting duties with Sophia Jurksztowicz, was off last Sunday and watching on television at his home in Maine when the Panthers ousted the Bruins with a 4-3 overtime victory.
The 67-year-old had announced in mid-April that this season would be his last. But he acknowledges that he was confident that the Bruins, who won an NHL-record 65 games in the regular season among other achievements, would have a much longer postseason stay, which in a way would help him ease his way into retirement. But the Bruins did not cooperate.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “We’ve known this entire season that this was it. But now that it’s here, it’s sort of like, OK, now what do I do? Part of me is ready to step back and relax a little bit. And part of me thinks, ‘What’s it going to be like next October when they start skating again?’ ”
Like other Boston sports fans, Arnold has been wondering why a season of such great accomplishment and promise went haywire against the Panthers.
“Things just were different than they were during the regular season,” said Arnold. “They did some things from a personnel point of view that perplexed me. [Jakub] Lauko in instead of [Trent] Frederic, [Connor] Clifton instead of [Matt] Grzelcyk.
“It seemed clear to me watching that there was something going on with [goaltender] Linus Ullmark. And I don’t quite know what the hesitation was, but it certainly wasn’t the same team I watched all season long.”
When the end of something meaningful comes, it’s natural to think back to when it began. The versatile Arnold had a varied career in Boston sports media. He is the only broadcaster to call at least one game for the Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Revolution, and he was a sports radio host at WEEI from its inception in 1991 until his retirement from the station in March 2021.
He is best known for his Bruins work, with his time at WEEI a close runner-up. But it was actually an opportunity with the Patriots that brought him to the Boston market.
“I was calling New Jersey Devils games in 1988, and I got contacted by Cary Pahigian at WHDH [radio]. He said, ‘Curt Gowdy is leaving. He doesn’t want to do Patriots anymore. Would you be interested in coming up here?’
“So I interviewed during the Bruins-Devils Stanley Cup playoffs in May 1988. I said, ‘Listen, I haven’t done football in years. I don’t have any football tapes. All I can do is send you a hockey tape.’ I sent a Devils-Edmonton Oilers game. Cary took it to Patriots general manager Patrick Sullivan and he approved my hiring based on me calling Wayne Gretzky beating the Devils.”
Arnold called Patriots games from 1988 through the infamous 1-15 season in 1990.
“I did it basically so that I could get to the Boston market, and then everything just sort of followed from there,” he said.
Arnold said that calling play-by-play for Bruins games, which he did on NESN from 1995-96 through 2006-07, was his greatest joy.
“Oh, easily the Bruins. Bruins play-by-play was the thing I loved the most,” he said, briefly lamenting that he gave up the play-by-play job after signing an extension with WEEI in 2007.
NESN wanted one play-by-play voice for home and road games — network management called it “unifying our Bruins broadcast team” at the time — and Arnold’s radio obligations made traveling difficult.
Jack Edwards, who had called road games the previous two seasons, became the full-time play-by-play voice, and remains so today.
“I had just signed a five-year deal with WEEI and I would have had to break the contract to go do all the Bruins games,” said Arnold. “So, I didn’t feel honorable doing that. And then, a few years later, ‘EEI fired me. [He was actually moved to weekends in 2011 before returning to a full-time weekday role in 2014.] So, I suppose that shows that trying to do the right thing doesn’t always turn out the right way.”
Arnold became the studio host for NESN’s Bruins broadcasts during the 2011-12 season after Kathryn Tappen left for the NHL Network. Arnold said the camaraderie with Billy Jaffe and Barry Pederson, both of whom he’s worked with for 11 years, as well as more recent addition Andrew Raycroft, is what he will miss most.
“But honestly,” Arnold said. “There is not a part of this job that I ever did not like.”
Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.