Pat DaPuzzo Life on Ice


Pat Dapuzzo shares the amazing story of his career, the triumphs, the many bricks he faced including his devastating injury, and how he overcame it all. He will describe the whispers that kept him going. What he is doing now to help the community. Best of all he will share his advice on how to accomplish your dreams.

Episode Transcription:


Intro plays



Welcome to whispers and bricks, my name is Ari Schonbrun and I’m your host of a, our, our special guest today is Pat daPuzo. Now if you’re over the age of 50. And you’re a hockey fan, you’re certainly going to recognize that name. Had to Puzo grew up in North Bergen New Jersey, where he went to Franklin Elementary School and attended St Bridget’s church. As a boy, he could often be seen playing roller hockey on the street by the church with his friends. A great mystery to the people who knew him growing up in New Jersey was where he learned to skate well enough to officiate the NHL. His officiating career began in the 1984 85 NHL season, only six years removed from graduating high school. The 25 year old was the youngest person on the NHL officiating roster. It was his dream and he made it. He officiated 15 132 regular season games 63 playoff games, and won all star game. He also worked the 1991 Canada Cup. On February 9 2008, he was officiating a Philadelphia Flyers game during which he was severely injured when he was struck in the face with an escape. The accident occurred when Steve Downey during the course of being checked into the boards accidentally struck the puzzle in the face, causing 10 Different fractures in his face and cutting his nose from his face, which required 40 stitches to reattach. Pack to Puzo retired f the night after the 2007 2008 NHL season. Please help me welcome Pat de Puzo.


Pat: Pat, how are you? I’m doing well. How are you?


Ari: I’m great. I thank you so much for agreeing to be a guest on my show. I know my audience is gonna is going to savor everything you have to tell them. Before I begin, you know, I wanted to tell you I actually had I was very much involved in sports when I joined Cantor Fitzgerald because I was responsible for a lot of the entertainment tickets that our company used. And I actually had two parks from the Rangers Stanley Cup victory 1994. Unfortunately, I lost them on 911 which was, which was kind of sad. I had a lot of sports memorabilia, and all gone on 911. Anyway. Now as you know, the name of this podcast is whispers in bricks, the whispers of those voices telling us what is the right thing to do, and represents the good life. The bricks represent the bad things that we go through in life. And there are many ups and downs and many bumps in the roads. And there isn’t a person out there who doesn’t get hit with some sort of a brick during his lifetime. Now from reading your bio, you seem to have had like a great life a great career. But as I said, Every so often, life hits us with a brick. Now my biggest brick was 911. But the whispers helped me with my miraculous escape from Tower One. From your bio, I know that you got hit with a major brick on February 9 of 2008. That literally ended your career. Can you take us back to that night and tell us what happened? What was going on?


Pat: Yeah, it actually was an afternoon game. And you know, the ranges and flyers were playing and, you know, Steven was coming up the boards and tooten on the ranges came across and gave him a hip check. And what happened was is Stephens momentum kept going forward, but his hip, I believe it was his left leg got caught. And it spun around like a spinning heel kick. So I tried to duck out of the way and I wasn’t wearing a shield trying to be macho man but I seen the skate come in when I opened my eyes and it was so close. And all I remember is saying oh no. And it just hit me. Right above the where the nose, the cartilage and the bone connect. And it cut my nose write off. And it was just hanging in there. And it sounded like a baseball bat hitting a telephone pole. A lot of people watch it on YouTube. But they asked me if, if I’ve seen and I go, No, I just have to close my eyes. I know exactly what happened. So I went down and I was by the boards and you could see all the blood was coming out onto the ice. And I got up and there was like, about four or six girls sitting in the front row. And I was facing the glass and I looked up and they all started screaming and covering their face. And I said, I guess I don’t look too good. And then I heard the crowd roar, and everybody started fighting. And I I tried to get up and go on to the fight. But as I tried to go toward the fight, the blood was going into my eyes, and I couldn’t see. And then the trainer for the Rangers, Mike Ramsey, who’s still there. Came off grabbed me and I was gone. And stuff. So they put, they put 40 stitches in my nose. But that was just to put my nose back on my face to get me to the trauma center in Camden. I thought I was going back in the game, but the doctors told me with the 10 fractures in my cheek, my I was drooping, if I got hit again, I would get I would get killed. So I don’t I don’t know, I was mad and and they gave me a shot of something. And the next thing I knew I woke up in the trauma center in Camden.


Ari: Wow. You know, I always said, out of all the athletes out of all the sports. I mean, the the hockey guys, the hockey players, they are the absolute tops that tougher than the football guys. I mean, these guys, you know, they get hit in the face, they get hit, you know, cuts and stitches and whatnot. And they’re, you know, they gotta it’s like, stitch me up and going back out. And that’s what they do. And it’s like, it’s unbelievable. So I understand you go like, what I mean, I’m calling back out there, you know, that’s, that’s because that’s what you guys do. Alright, but you know what, I’m happy they talked you out of it. Because you know, the chances are you would have been killed. If you would have gone back out there, there’s a good chance you would have been killed. So I’m very happy. I’m sure your family’s very happy that you decided to listen to the doctors and listen to the experts and come off the ice.


Pat: Read it in I really didn’t have a choice because they they injected something into me to knock me out. Because you know, in hockey, it’s an unwritten rule, you get your stitches and go back in the game, right? It’s just an unwritten rule and all that. And football is a very tough game. Um, I would say football game in and game out might be tougher than hockey. But they only play 16 games, right? When you take the whole season have over 87 games and then playoffs and getting hit by guys, you know, going over 30 miles an hour now. You know, you get hit. And the impact is it’s you know, it makes your body shake. And stuff like that. That’s where the the brain trauma and the concussions and all the stuff that they have today. come into play back when I started and all that I got hit and stuff like that and the rink would spin. And we call that you know, you got your bell rung, they would take melon salts, put it on the nose, and you go back out there and the building was still spinning and the puck was flying by it. But you know, I probably had concussions earlier in my career and stuff like that. But they didn’t have this protocol back then you just got your bell rung and went back into your job.


Ari: Right. I hear you. I hear you. Now I’m gonna I want to take you back a little bit further because I know even before that particular break hate you. Going back to 1995 It seems that you were hit with some other bricks, something to the tune of I think I read. You suffered from headaches, anxiety, depression. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you managed to overcome obviously you can you did overcome because you were still you’re still out there in 85. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Yeah.


Pat: My first year in the league. I actually got rated in the playoffs and my boss John McCall. He wanted to hold me back because he didn’t want me going out there right away. And, you know, taking on that pressure in my first year. So his words were he used to call me as little soldier. And he said, My little soldier urine is still in the incubator, trust me. The next year I, I got raided again. And he said, You have to learn how to crawl before you walk. But then my third year, I started and I worked up in Canada. And when they were playing the Canadian National Anthem, Edmonton was playing when they had Gretzky and mess ca and all the boys back then. And he put me in there with my first game and all that. And when they were singing the Canadian National Anthem, they will play in Winnipeg at the time. With Brian Mullins, one of the kids from New York that made it to the NHL. And I said, Oh, my God. Now I know what John McCauley was talking about. playoffs. I didn’t, I didn’t realize it. It was like going to a whole nother league. And that, so, um, I was doing really well. And at the time, you know, I did the Canada Cup finals in 91. And the US was playing Canada. And usually, if your home country is playing, you don’t work those games. But Mike Canaan, the coach of the 94 Rangers that won the Stanley Cup. He liked me so much. He said, I don’t care if he’s from the United States. You know, I want him work in the game. And I got to work that game. Wow. So then started the beginning of the end. I wasn’t feeling well. And I didn’t know what was wrong. But I continued to work. And then in 93, you know, I went to the conference finals, knocking on the Stanley Cup door. 94. I did the game when Messi said we would win. And the whole game I was just saying, Please God, don’t let me make a mistake, because my friends will burn my house down. They were Ranger fans, they would devil fans and all that. And then I just wasn’t feeling well, that was something wrong. And I didn’t know what it was. And then in 95, I was scheduled to possibly work to Stanley Cup Finals. And I had Game Six with the flyers and the devils. And I stood by game five in Philadelphia with Donnie Karski. And we drove up to New Jersey. And I dropped him off at the hotel, and I told them Listen, you guys better get somebody else because I’m not working that game tomorrow. I feel like I’m gonna die. And I went home. And I never worked the game and they brought somebody else in. And then at the time, who was like a brother to me now Brian Burke, was running the hockey ops out of the New York office, and he called me in. And he was really mad at me and all that. And I said, Brian, I said, I’m in the top four. I go, you know, the thing I wanted to do I go, there’s something wrong with me. Something is wrong. And I didn’t know. But after all these years now, I was suffering from, you know, the brain with the concussions and stuff. They didn’t have this you know, not have up about pray. Yeah, they didn’t have any of this stuff. So I came back the next year. Brian Burke, there was a doctor with the New York Mets, Dr. Allen lands. And Brian hooked me up with him and they tried to give me some like kind of medication and stuff like that help with the headaches, but they would just guessing. And then you know what got so bad. The next year, I didn’t even work. And then when I came back, I ruined my whole career. But you know, I beat myself up over it. And you know, I find out today that I was suffering from brain trauma with concussions and stuff like that. That’s what was wrong. So but I never worked another playoff game again. I never worked another playoff game. Take Kept me around. They want to be working with the young guys. And, you know, I said, you know, yeah, but you know, I, I don’t I don’t know if that’s right. You know, the whole goal like any other team in the National Hockey League is you want to get to the Stanley Cup. But they just, they just wanted me to relax because they they still warming you know sure commission of Batman and Bill Daley and Emeril looking after me and thank God for them. And, you know, they just wanted me to help out to be on the ice, take the young kids under my wing at the time, and I and I was still young myself to say, who might take him under my wing, you know. So I kept on working and all that. And then the straw that broke the camel’s back. was, in a way, February knife.


Ari: Right. Right, I hear you. But you know what, at the end of the day, everything that you went through, may have been a blessing in disguise. You know, in that it led you to work with the youth of America, you know, in the world of hockey. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing since your retirement from the NHL, I understand that you’ve been working with the with the youth, and hearing some really, really great things. Can you tell us a little bit about that?


Pat: Yeah, um, after I got hurt and all that, Brian Burke, um, was the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And he called Commissioner Bettman and Bill Daley and said, hey, you know, we got to keep an eye on him and stuff. So Would you guys mind if he would come and work for me as a scout and all that? And, you know, a lot of people thought that, yeah, well, he’s Brian’s boy and all that stuff. But the amount of hockey players that we have, in our area, the metropolitan area, I mean, you know, I had the easiest job in the world is because my sons were all playing and I would go to their games and they were playing at high levels. And I would see these kids and I would recommend them to get drafted in the National Hockey League, which I can’t even tell you how many kids from this area that played with my son’s, you know, Charlie McAvoy, with the Boston Bruins. He’s like a son to me. And they just won last night. And that so I did scouting for Toronto for six years. And I got involved with Commissioner Steve hag well of the ECAC. And I worked for, you know, ECAC college hockey right now with the commissioner. And that and I also now with a gentleman that lives in my area, he’s from Las Vegas, but he’s a Harvard guy. He went to Harvard Business School. actually worked with the gentleman that is running for mayor in New York. Ray McGuire, I believe is his name. He’s he runs Citibank. And that and he owns the Omaha finances. And I did a story about a year and a half ago in in sports net Canada, which is like ESPN here. And this gentleman, Anthony de Cesar. They call them Coots. I don’t know how to Anthony disease, you get Coots. For me. My dad’s Anthony. My son’s Anthony. My nephew said he wants to be called Coots. So he asked me if I’d like to get involved in ownership and get involved with the Omaha Lance’s in the USHL which is the highest level of hockey that you could play before you would go to the second step and the highest step is college hockey, and pro hockey. So Bob with that now, I actually went last night to watch a young man play out Montclair by Yogi Berra stadium there and his museum. They have a rink there in Montclair Floyd Hall, and I want to go watch him skate and stuff. I believe he’s going to be a very good hockey player. Wow.


Ari: I mean, that’s, that’s so wonderful that you take a situation that you’re in and completely turn it around instead of crawling up like a baby and you know, saying, you know, I’m done. You know, you you you stepped up, you know, you took it and you said, alright, you know, I know God, you know, you gave me this Breck. Okay, but now I’m listening to these whispers. Tell me, you know, I need to work with these kids, I need to help them. And I need to make sure that none of them go through what I went through in the in the sense that, you know, I’m sure you talked to him about not getting hurt or the equipment that they’re using today. I’m sure you’re, you know, you’re probably a huge advocate of all that. My Correct.


Pat: Without a doubt. Yeah, that’s


Ari: what I thought. And it’s wonderful. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s great that pro players like yourself, you know, are ready to give back, you know, to, to the sport that, you know, made them basically. And that’s what you’re doing. I’m going to tell you, I can find a quote that you said, and I’m going to quote you, because I thought it totally, totally inspired me. And what you said was, quote, I missed a lot while I was working in the NHL. And now I’m around for everything. I’m watching great games, and sometimes my sons are working, we get to spend more time together than ever. Everything happens for a reason. And it’s all because of hockey. To me, that is so inspiring. You know, literally, like I said, it’s you took something, you took a bad incident that happened that ended your career. But at the end of the day, look how much you’re giving back. And that is so, so wonderful. Let me ask you, before we go, is there anything else that you’d like to share with my audience, any words of wisdom that you have? Obviously, you know, certainly in life, you know, certainly in hockey, and in life, anything that you can, anything you want to share?


Pat: Well, you know, I’m the perfect example of, you know, when I was younger, and I said, I was going to the NHL, people used to laugh at me, saying you’re from, you know, born in Hoboken and grew up in Hudson County, and you’re going to the NHL, you know, if you have a goal, and you want to try to achieve it, don’t don’t let anybody talk you out of it, you got to work hard, and you got to stay focused, you know, and if, if I could do it, anybody could do it. There were really no Americans involved in the game, a hockey back then. Um, you know, we really don’t go looking for football officials and basketball officials in Canada, and they weren’t looking for hockey officials in the United States. But if you put your mind to something, you know, you could achieve anything. You know, like Yogi Berra used to say, 95% of the game is mental, and the other 5% of the game is mental. So keep on going at it. And, and you know, and if you think you could do it on your own, you know, you need, you need to have that higher power you need, you need, you’re never alone. You know, there’s always, you know, I believe in God and stuff like that. And I talk and I think I drive a lot by myself in the car, and, you know, and, you know, don’t be ashamed of it, or anything, just, you know, take that quiet time. And, and, and, and ask for help. You know, I, a lot of men, you know, they don’t want to ask for help, and really, you know, but sometimes you get in, you need to reach out and ask for help, it doesn’t make you less of a man. And that and people will help you and guide you when you could achieve anything if you put your mind to it.


Ari: You know, what I found across all my, all my guests, and every single episode that I do, I find that the, the, the most common thread, and these are, you know, people from all walks of life and the most common thread or two things, one, you everybody needs a mentor. Everybody needs a mentor, no matter who you are or what you think you know, or don’t know, okay, you need a mentor in your life because they will help guide you. And number two, you have to have faith in God. Everybody basically the same thing, because you know what, you know what they say? There are no atheists in foxholes. Alright, whenever somebody is going through something, that’s, you know, that’s really, really tough. At the end of the day, I remember I was going through a very, very bad situation back in the early 90s. And I got to the point where I just, you know, went into my bedroom, I lay down, I looked up and I said, God, I need your help. I just can’t do this. Please help me and he did. You know, you know It was took us several months. But several months later, all of a sudden, things started to go my way and my life turns around. So those are the two things that always come out in these in these interviews that I do that, you know, it’s God and a mentor. Anyway, listen, okay,


Pat: what you, you know, you, you got to remember that it’s not in your time, it is in God’s time. And I sit back and you know, you start doing the poor me, why me and all that. That’s a bunch of baloney. You know, you don’t know why things happen to at that particular moment. And then later on in life, you go, now I get it. Now I get it.


Ari: Absolutely. I gotta be honest with you. I preach that all the time, all the time, I’d happened with my daughter who, when she graduated from medical school, and she wanted to, you know, work in this one hospital. And it turns out, she didn’t get in there. And she got in someplace else. And she was totally devastated. And now, you know, fast forward eight years, and she is on top of the world, great job, great hospitals, etc. So you never know. And I told her back then I said, you don’t know why put why God put you in that hospital as opposed to the other one you don’t know. But you know what, someday down the road? I think you’ll you’ll find out why. And now we are. No.


Pat: Is it amazing how that works? Yeah. Right? Isn’t it amazing? How that works? And really is and really, you know, at what we do in life, too. I learned this from my friend Vinnie Gatto, is. We don’t look out the rearview mirror. We always look out the windshield. We always move forward. And all that because I heard the saying Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And Today’s a gift. That’s why they call it the present. Stay in the present.


Ari: Wow, that is so great. Pac, last but not least, if people want to get in touch with you, do you have like a website? Do you have an email? Or you know, are you open to having people reach out to you? If they want advice or you know, or for fits organizations that may want you to come and speak? Alright, is there what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Pat: Um, well, like I was telling you before. I still have a flip phone and I live next door to the Flintstones. So I’m not really with the technology stuff. We’re in a couple of battles, but I’m losing the war. So I’m probably going to have to get one of those smartphones. Someday, but yeah, my my email address is very simple. It’s just my Pat the


Okay, so back to Puzo calm. That would be p a


Yeah. And, you know, through the EC ECAC hockey,


right, that densified you?


Yeah. All right. That


Ari: is so awesome. Pat, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. It’s truly been an eye opener. Good luck going forward. You’ve been listening to whispers and bricks, and I’m your host Ari Schonbrun. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the breaks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.