BOSTON — The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues’ morning skates are over and a handful of broadcasters have taken the ice to re-enact a play from this bruising Stanley Cup Final.
In the otherwise empty stands is a singular figure having a good chuckle at the retired players doing their best to go over the Xs and Os.
But Mike Emrick doesn’t sit still for long. It’s a rare moment of pause for a man seemingly always in motion. A car comes to take him back to his hotel seven hours before Game 2 so he can get a quick change of clothes for his on-air work. Then it’s back to work.
The man known as “Doc” because he has a doctorate in broadcasting is working the 21st Stanley Cup Final of his illustrious career. He has been honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame and is the voice of the sport in America, a rapid-fire storyteller who is beloved from the Shark Tank to Madison Square Garden. Colleague Kenny Albert calls him the Vin Scully of hockey, and the admiration level in hockey circles is just as great.
Not Slowing Down
At 72, still calling games on the NHL’s biggest stage, Emrick is in his prime and showing no signs of slowing down or stepping away from broadcasting the fastest game on ice.
“I really wanted to do it from the time I saw my first game, but a lot of people really want to do something and they don’t get to,” Emrick said. “When you have a job like that, you’re never working the rest of your life. So it’s been 46 years. I don’t know when it’ll end. God only knows.”
Emrick is so enthusiastic on the air during games that New York Rangers president John Davidson wonders when his former broadcast partner is going to come up for air. Not during the most important time of year for Emrick. This love affair goes back a ways, to when he was a kid sitting at Fort Wayne (Indiana) Komets games, practicing calls in the corner on Wednesday afternoons with his reel-to-reel, battery-operated tape recorder from the music store his dad owned.
Down time for Emrick comes mostly in the summer when he and Joyce, his wife of almost 41 years, go on camping trips to small towns, mostly in Michigan or visit his brother and stepmother who still live in his Indiana hometown. He does like to watch his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. During the season, they like going to lunch and at night sit together in the living room with their two dogs Joybells and Liberty — he’s watching hockey and she’s watching veterinarian shows.
“That’s a nice night for us,” Emrick says. “It’s probably not a life many people would find really exciting, but we enjoy it.”
A Better Person Out of the Booth
Joyce and dogs are the centerpieces of Emrick’s universe that has plenty of room for the people who consider themselves lucky to call him a friend. That includes broadcast partners of various vintages — Eddie Olczyk, Glenn “Chico” Resch, Bill Clement and Davidson. He has helped many through difficult times by listening or simply lighting a candle in church for them.
“Just the support part of it from Doc is what is the most important thing,” said Olczyk, who leaned on Emrick when he was battling cancer. “He doesn’t even have to say anything, but if you just get a text or a picture or whatever, you know he’s thinking about you. Having been through it himself, that’s what friends do. I look at Doc as a friend.”
Emrick is 28 years removed from prostate cancer. He got the call from Hershey Medical Center on a Friday night while he was on the road in Montreal doing play by play for the Philadelphia Flyers. He waited two days to tell Joyce in person — saying she was going to need to be a rock because he didn’t know what to expect — but right away he told Clement, who considers Emrick as close as a brother.
Clement’s admiration for Emrick as a broadcaster rivals only that for Doc the human being.
“When you listen to him on the air or see him on the air, he’s a real person,” Clement said. “He’s a real person with an unbelievable gift that he grew himself to describe and to use the English language.”
Emrick’s Unique Announcing Style
Hockey moves fast and all of its play-by-play announcers need to keep up. Doc loves his verbs — one fan famously counted 153 used in one game — and finding fun or interesting ways to describe the action. A pass isn’t just a pass to Emrick — the puck was squibbed, rifled, wanded, even soccered and the puck isn’t just stopped by a goaltender, it’s waffleboarded, gloved or sticked away.
Goals usually get a big “And he scorrrrrrrrrrrres!” from Emrick to match the moment and his deep knowledge of the game allows him to get just as excited by the little things that can turn a game — a puck ringing off a post, an a oh-so-close pass, a jaw-dropping save.
“Doc pushes himself to reinvent things and to be the best and to try new things and be different and yet not be a caricature,” Clement said.
Never is he off the rails. No less an admirer than the late Frank DeFord described Emrick as “a connoisseur” whose eloquence is somehow the perfect balance for the frantic, scrambling nature of hockey.
Albert was a statistician for Emrick for games in the 1980s and used to write down quintessential Doc phrases he’d eventually take pieces of and he sat behind him during the call of Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the 2010 Olympics. Whenever Doc and Joyce Emrick decide he should call it a career, Albert may be the most likely person to succeed him as the top NBC Sports hockey play-by-play guy. That day does not seem imminent.
The Emricks don’t have kids but have raised several dogs always referred to as their canine children. He skipped the 2002 Olympics because one of their 4-year-old dogs, Katie, was sick; the Emricks have named two of their dogs Liberty after the veterinary surgeon who tried to save Katie. Emrick’s love for dogs , minor league hockey and the Pirates is far better known than his faith and involvement with hockey ministries, a huge part of his life.
“He doesn’t come across as super religious or come off as judgmental,” Resch said. “But that’s really what motivates him. He’s got a calling on a lot of different levels. … He doesn’t want to let anyone down.”
Emrick doesn’t know when he was “destined” to do this but his place in hockey broadcasting is clear.
“He’s a guy that’s found a way to become a major part of sports in the United States,” Davidson said. “He’s worked for everything. He doesn’t want to be treated like a superstar, but he is in his own field.”
Emrick certainly gets the superstar treatment around the rink or at the airport when people ask for a photo or an autograph. As long as it doesn’t keep him from his work, Emrick has always obliged. Now going year to year on the decision of whether to call another season, Emrick has so far kept rolling.
“I always do,” he said, “because I’ll miss it when it doesn’t happen.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press