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 I received a sad message in my voicemail the other day. Mike Perricone, whom I followed on the Blackhawks beat at the Chicago Sun-Times, died recently. And Mitch Dudek was looking for a comment for an obituary for the Sun-Times.

It was so long ago—Mike left the paper in 1989. I couldn’t really think of anything other than to say that Mike was a great friend and mentor who took his work seriously. He was always very responsible and thorough. I was glad I was able to steer him to Denis Savard, the Blackhawks star in those days, and Neil Milbert, who covered the Hawks for the Chicago Tribune back then.

Mitch wrote this nice tribute.

Just 72 years old when he died from  multiple systems atrophy.

Heart-felt sympathies to his wife, Joan and their daughter, Jenny. I met Joan a few times. They were a great match. She was smart (like Mike) and outgoing (a good complement), the president of the firm that printed Playbills in Chicago, if I remember correctly. After leaving the newspaper business, Mike wrote a column and a book about being a Mr. Mom.

That’s about all I knew about Mike’s life after he left the Sun-Times. But when I read in Mitch Dudek’s obit that Mike had gone to work on the Fermilab’s communications staff, and had written, among other things, a book for young adults about the early history of the universe—well, that made perfect sense.

It came back to me later—sorry, Mitch—that Mike always was a science guy. He did his hockey note-taking on graph paper, with all the scoring and penalties meticulously organized, plus little diagrams of how goals were scored. So neat and precise. . . When I tried to follow his example, my notes looked like cartoon scribbling.

Following his style, I actually got pretty good at charting football and basketball games. By the time I retired a decade ago, though, there was no time for charting. We were too busy tweeting and filing endless updates online. Mike would have been appalled.

Before coming to the Sun-Times, he had covered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey. The RPI Engineers were a hockey powerhouse in those days. I think he went to school there, too. A true hockey expert, he was a quiet voice joining a gregarious Sun-Times sports staff in the late 1970s. In those days, hockey was regarded as a niche sport. It made more sense to lurk in the shadows.

From 1984, when I joined the sports staff, to 1989, when I took over the 100-hockey-games-in-300-days reins from Mike, I often worked with him, writing sidebars and features.

Although I had grown up glued to the glorious Blackhawks days of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, I was self-conscious about the subtleties of hockey analysis. Mike was always positive and encouraging, and I got comfortable with writing my take.

As Denis Savard told Mitch Dudek, ``We were in a totally different world back then.’’ There was trust and familiarity. For one thing, we had access. The first time I interviewed Denis, he was wearing a towel and shooting pool in an area of the Blackhawks dressing room that would become a training room a few years later.

This was in the old Chicago Stadium. Not nearly as comfortable as the modern new cookie-cutter arenas. But I wouldn't trade my time in the Stadium or the old Maple Leaf Gardens or any of the old buildings for all the plush new stuff. Mike felt that way, too, I believe—we shared an appreciation for atmosphere and history.

As time went on, Savvy and the other guys would tell me, as one of the regular writers, things—as they did with Mike. There was a trust. In the days before cameras and microphones, we would hang around the dressing room, and the coaches’ room, for hours on off-days. They knew they could say things in confidence that helped our stories without hurting anyone unnecessarily.

It was fun. But it was a lot of time-consuming work, too. In the modern world, extensive PR staffs micro-manage access. Back then, we were always coming up with little controversies and tempests. Sports reporters today face the grind of the 24-hour online news cycle, but pack journalism makes it difficult to break stories. We worked in a churning world where players and coaches often gave candid interviews. Which was good when you had ``the scoop.’’ And not good when you didn’t.

That wound up wearing me down. I think it wore Mike down, too. He was so excited when I took the beat for six weeks in 1988 so that he could cover the Winter Olympics in Calgary. If you were serious and dedicated, covering an NHL team could become stressful, no matter how much you liked hockey. The seasons were incredibly long.

Mike always looked sharp. In a way, he was too well-dressed for a sportswriter. We would put on coats and ties to cover games in those days, but Mike did it so well. And while we wore jeans to practice, general manager Bob Pulford would needle us by saying, ``Represent your effing profession.’’

Pully had a really good sense of humor that was totally lost in front of a camera or microphone.

The other thing I appreciated about Mike Perricone was that he knew where to find something to eat after a game. I spent a lot of time in Edmonton with him. The Blackhawks always seemed to face the Oilers in the playoffs. He knew a German place that still served up schnitzel in the wee hours. My stomach rebels at that notion today. But back then, after we had spent hours at the arena, it was welcome.

Mike also knew an upstairs Chinese joint in Toronto that not only served food late. You could wash down your kung pao chicken with a beer there. Seems like Toronto had strange rules for when alcohol could be served. We used to bump into Blackhawks players in there.

I think we saw Al Secord there one night. Al was one of the fiercest left wings around on the ice. Off the ice, he was such a gentle, low-keyed guy. Became a pilot after hockey. One of the most interesting challenges was to give hockey fans a glimpse into who their heroes were.

All of that said, I understand how Mike grew weary of the hockey grind. I did, too, after five years of being the main guy—and he did it a lot longer than that. The advantage of hockey was that the bosses left you alone. They always had theories about the Bears and the Cubs and the White Sox. And when Michael Jordan came along, the office literally forgot about the Blackhawks. I understood.

The disadvantage was, from September until June, an NHL writer tended to be out there grinding away, his stories buried and jammed into back pages. With the other beats, there were usually multiple writers—and days off.

It was a fascinating life. But there was more to life. As much as I enjoyed covering the Blackhawks, I never regretted moving on to covering college sports.

And as I think about Mike Perricone, I am sad that he’s gone too soon. But hearing about his life after sportswriting, I am very glad for him that he made some really good choices.