For a man who considers himself extremely fortunate, Jim Fox did not have a lot of luck this past June. Or, more precisely, the Sudbury House of Kin did not enjoy a great deal of luck in their dealings with Fox.
How else can one explain that in the very same year that the Coniston native earned his so richly deserved induction into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame this summer, the Los Angeles Kings were also en route to their first ever Stanley Cup?
On Wednesday, June 13, the Sudbury sports community welcomed Fox into the local shrine of elite athletics. Just two nights earlier, the former first-round NHL pick was doing exactly what he has been doing for the past 22 years — providing award-winning hockey analysis for the Kings' broadcasts on Fox Sports West as Los Angeles downed New Jersey 6-1, earning the right to hoist the coveted cup.
Unable to attend the original ceremony in Northern Ontario a few months back, Fox was recently in town to celebrate with family and friends at the Twin Stacks Golf Club, reminiscing about a lifetime of involvement with a sport he loves.
"I learned to skate outdoors at the Coniston rink," Fox said. "My dad coached me for four or five years and that was special. You remember the road trips — the road trips were to Capreol, Levack, that sort of thing."
As was the case for many athletes of the era, Fox hardly limited himself to Canada's favourite winter pastime. "We played all sports — baseball, soccer, everything," he said. "Nowadays, they specialize and are year-round with hockey."
It was a mindset that was learned both within a tight-knit Coniston community, but also in the educational setting from an early age.
"John Rodriguez was our principal and was the biggest non-family influence on me at that time," Fox said.
But hockey was clearly the path at which Jimmy Fox excelled. Scoring 108 points with the North Bay Tappers in the 1976-77 season, Fox joined the Ottawa 67's the very next year.
It took me at least three years to figure it out. I was certainly not a natural. I was embarrassed because I knew I was so bad.
LA Kings on-air analyst
Under legendary junior hockey coach Brian Kilrea, the 67's finished first in the Leyden Division as teammate Bobby Smith beat out a rookie by the name of Wayne Gretzky to win the OHL scoring race.
Fox would finish fifth in scoring, racking up 127 points in 59 games — but it was only the start.
"In my last year of junior hockey (1979-80), I had a point in every pre-season, regular season and post-season game," Fox said. It was an accomplishment he ranks among his top highlights of his playing days, at any level.
With years of hockey observation now under his belt, Fox pointed to a couple of key elements of coach Kilrea's approach that ultimately allowed the man well-known as "Killer" to become the winningest junior hockey coach of all time.
"Brian spent a lot of time figuring out how the guys would work together," Fox said. "I don't know that you can manufacture team chemistry, but I know Brian spent a lot of time thinking about the group, getting to know each other.
"On the ice, we had a system to get the puck out of our own end and after that, it was go," he said with a smile.
Recording a whopping total of 166 points in his final year in Ottawa, Fox was on his way to L.A. to start the 1980-81 campaign.
"My first year (in Los Angeles), I had to struggle to make the team. I wasn't thinking about L.A., the city, I was thinking about playing hockey," Fox said. "Are there distractions? Yes. But if you're disciplined enough to get to the NHL, you should be disciplined enough to stay there."
That type of commitment allowed the second youngest of the five children in his family to complete a 10-year career with the Kings, amassing 186 goals and nearly 500 points, despite dealing with four separate knee surgeries that ultimately forced his retirement from the game.
To his credit, Fox remained involved, even while rehabilitating throughout the entire 1988-89 season. A couple of years spent in community relations with the Kings eventually opened the door to what has been a lengthy and highly successful stint as a hockey analyst, though the initial transition was anything but easy.
"I really struggled with it at first," Fox said, quite candidly. "It took me at least three years to figure it out. I was certainly not a natural. I was embarrassed because I knew I was so bad."
Yet Fox persevered, working closely with a consultant, watching game tapes, fine-tuning his delivery, perfecting his craft.
The effort has paid dividends, ten-fold. In 2006, Sports Illustrated named Fox the best analyst in hockey, while the LA Daily News has recognized the local product as the best TV colour commentator in Southern California in 13 of the past 14 seasons.
With such a keen eye for the game, Fox was not the least bit shocked at the success the Kings enjoyed last year, capping their run with a Stanley Cup championship.
"No question in my mind, before the season started, it was the best roster the Kings had every had," he said. "I said publicly on our pre-season special that the Kings did not having any glaring holes and that I would not be surprised if the Kings win the Stanley Cup."
All of which would have been fine, had he also foreseen the honour that awaited him in his hometown. Meeting with House of Kin representatives Chris Sheridan, Joe Drago and Jean Grignon during his recent visit home, Fox and family enjoyed a memorable visit to the South End facility.
"We went for a tour two days ago — that was special," Fox said. "It's nice to see what they do. The Sudbury area should be very proud of their sports heritage."
One in which the name of Jim Fox will forever be recognized, for very good reason.