Barry Melrose hasn't thought much about what he's going to say Saturday night. He's better off the cuff, anyway, he says.
But when he gets his turn at the podium as one of three inductees to the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame, expect him to hit on at least one theme: There are few greater places to play his sport.
"This is our home and it always will be our home," Melrose said. "Both our kids live here and it's going to be their home, too. I think it's the greatest place in the United States to live."
Melrose, along with former Adirondack Red Wing Jody Gage and UHL star Hugo Belanger will become the Hall's second class. Ceremonies begin at 4:30 p.m. at Heritage Hall.
The three will also be honored on Civic Center ice before the start of the Adirondack Phantoms game with Hershey at 7 p.m.
Melrose has had a hand in nearly every stage of the city's hockey life. Beginning as a Red Wings player in 1986, he became the club's coach in 1989 and led Adirondack to a Calder Cup in 1992.
"At one time, the three places everyone wanted to play in the American League were Glens Falls, Rochester and Hershey. Those were the three places everybody wanted to play," Melrose said. "We were winning. We were winning Calder Cups regularly. But also, people loved living in Glens Falls. It was very easy to get free agents to come in here."
After going on to an NHL coaching job and a second career as a national broadcaster, Melrose bought a stake in the UHL's Adirondack Frostbite with ESPN colleague Steve Levy. The team ceased operations in 2006.
The experience left Melrose keenly interested in the fortunes of the Adirondack Phantoms, who moved here in 2009.
"Yeah, I was surprised," Melrose said. "The Glens Falls model isn't the model the American League is using right now. If you look at the way they're going, they're going to 10-, 12-thousand seat buildings. They're going to bigger locales. To see it come back to Glens Falls, another chance, is great. I just hope they get things turned around and whatever happens down the road Glens Falls is somehow able to keep a team."
Melrose thinks it's an important step that the team is in the hands of his old Red Wings teammate Joe Paterson.
"I think that's one of the things the Phantoms missed, they didn't realize how much of a tradition the Red Wings were here and how much they needed that old Red Wing player, that old Red Wing influence," Melrose said.
"Joe knows where to go, he knows the restaurants, he knows the guys that own the restaurants, the bars. That's important in a small town. That's one of the things the Red Wings were always great about. We'd all eat at Poopie's in the morning, have breakfast there, and go to lunch here, and we'd all go over to the Bullpen for a beer. The Red Wings were great about that and that's why the community embraced them so well."
Despite his own struggles marketing hockey to the area as an owner, Melrose said he still believes hockey can work here. He doesn't blame fans for the Phantoms' attendance woes in their second season.
"Winning is still the best marketing. It doesn't matter how good a marketing campaign you have and how many giveaways you have, people aren't going to come and see a bad team," Melrose said. "And that was sort of the situation at the start of the year. You wish people showed up, but you can't blame people for not wanting to go see the worst team in the American Hockey League."
Growing the product means hitting the grass roots, Melrose said.
"I think coming from a big place like Philly, they didn't realize what that means to a small town," Melrose said. "Once the kids in South Glens Falls or in Big Cross meet the players, or they'll come to the games. They'll cheer for those players all their lives. It's good to see they're realizing that and starting to do it again."
Melrose said his best memories are the people: those he's played with, coached, or come to know living in Glens Falls.
Despite a full ESPN schedule in Bristol, Conn., he gets back to town about two or three times a month and spends the full summer here. His son and daughter-in-law will accompany him to Saturday's ceremonies.
"It's an honor and certainly I think it's a great idea what they've done," Melrose said. "I think it's a great concept making it a Glens Falls Hall of Fame and not a Red Wing Hall of Fame."