Kathryn Tappen didn’t grow up in Boston. She lived here for 10 years, working for five at NESN, before leaving after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, for the NHL Network and eventually a greater national profile at NBC Sports.
But like generations of native New Englanders, she learned hockey here.
It’s one reason the native New Jerseyan and current New York City resident remains a favorite of Boston fans, eight years after leaving the market.
“I have an identity crisis trying to figure out where I’m from sometimes, because I love that city so much,’’ said Tappen, who hosts the network’s “NHL Live’’ studio programming among other responsibilities. “I feel like that’s home for me. I live in New York now and that feels like home, too. I have this conversation with my mom a lot. Both feel like home to me. That’s a testament to the memories I have and the people I work with.’’
She’s appreciated by the locals because she always appreciated the locals, and that bond makes her return as part of NBC Sports’ NHL coverage team for the Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Blues feel like a homecoming of sorts.
— Kathryn Tappen (@KathrynTappen) May 22, 2019
“I was really young  when I got that job at NESN and grew into that role, as the studio host of the Bruins,’’ Tappen said. “I think they saw that growth and the passion that I had for it. The fans, they’re so kind to me. They treat me like I’m one of them. That makes me really happy.’’
The clichéd compliment when someone is widely liked and respected is that you never hear a bad word about him or her. With Tappen, it’s at a different level — as a media writer, I’ve never heard anything but the highest of praise, without a single hem or haw.
She earned great respect during her time in Boston, not just in the way she treated people, but in her respectful approach to learning about hockey, a sport she knew only on the margins.
“Boston has an educated fan base, and you’re not going to fool them,’’ said Tappen. “You’re naïve as a broadcaster if you think you’re going to come in there and know more than the fans. I knew that right away, that I could learn something from fans who were born and raised loving this team. If you treat them with respect, they’ll treat you right.’’
During Tappen’s first year at NESN in 2006, she was primarily the Patriots reporter, while also hosting “SportsDesk’’ on weekends. It was an audition for someone else that led to her getting the Bruins studio host gig for which she is now best remembered.
“It was right after Dave Lewis got fired and Claude [Julien] was hired,’’ she said. “Mike [Milbury] was up for a role on NESN. When he came in, I was sitting at my desk working on a package of features for that night’s show. Since I was around, they had me do the audition with him. I had never met Mike and didn’t even know who he was.
“When it was over, I went back to my desk and my producer came over and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to be the host of the Bruins now.’ I said, ‘What?’ and I’m thinking ‘No, I’m not, they’re the worst team in town and you can’t take me off the Patriots who go to the Super Bowl all the time.’
“Sure enough, about four days before the Bruins season, they said we want you to be the studio host. I could have named maybe four players before that opening night at the time.’’
Her hockey education came in the moments when she wasn’t on the air. Tappen said she educated herself in part by listening to analysts Rick Middleton, Barry Pederson, Gord Kluzak, and Milbury in the NESN green room on game nights. And she knew what she did not know.
“I kept it really simple on the air, set them up with questions, got us in and out of breaks,’’ she said. “It was kind of eyes wide open for me, a baptism by fire.’’
Tappen said there was no specific situation when she realized she had earned the hockey lifers’ respect, but rather a change in how they brought her into their conversations.
“There was almost a shift in the way the guys started to respect me a little bit more,’’ she said. “Mike was very difficult when he first came in, like, ‘What does this person know about hockey?’ He wouldn’t say that to me, but I mean, he was an imposing figure to be around for someone who hadn’t been around the sport.
“I noticed when they started asking me questions or they would rely on me for certain things. Then I started to feel more confident. I don’t remember a specific time when I said, ‘OK, I’ve got this.’
“Even now, it can still be intimidating to know you’re going on live TV in a few seconds. But now I know I have the knowledge and experience and confidence, and anything unexpected isn’t going to throw me off. I was so fortunate to get that education on how to do that in Boston.’’