Hockey loses its voice: Emrick retires after 47 seasons
When Indiana native Mike “Doc” Emrick, 74, started as a broadcaster in the 1960s, he had an audience of one. He sat in an empty row of the upper reaches of Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum and called Fort Wayne Komets’ International Hockey League games into a small reel-to-reel tape recorder.
From that humble beginning, Emrick rose to become the voice of hockey in America as NBC’s lead announcer. His long tenure with NBC ended today when Emrick announced his retirement.
The young man who initially made broadcasts for himself drew 27.1 million viewers for his call of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men’s Gold Medal Game between Canada and USA.
Radio man Robert Deitsch said Emrick “painted hockey images with the flair of Bobby Orr.”
Emrick has been describing the action for 47 years, getting his first professional job as the radio voice of the Port Huron Flags in 1973. He has broadcast 3,750-plus games in his long career. He called 22 Stanley Cup Finals.
He worked as a Philadelphia Flyers’ and New Jersey Devils’ broadcaster before finding his true calling as a national voice.
“For obvious reasons, hockey is the most challenging sport for a play-by-play man,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Doc somehow didn’t just master it, he transformed it into art.
Emrick was an elegant broadcaster, the holder of a PhD who brought an expansive vocabulary and a creative touch to the sport of hockey. NBC figured out that Emrick used more than 100 different verbs to describe a pass or a shot.
On a conference call, Al Michaels asked Emrick to leave him some of his unused verbs so he could use them on Sunday Night Football.
“The risk one takes in saying something about Doc Emrick is that you know he could have worded it better himself – on the spur of the moment, with 20,000 fans screaming in his ears (or up to 105,000 in the rain, snow and/or bitter cold), to a national broadcast audience relying on him to get it just right,” Bettman said. “In the 103-year history of the National Hockey League, nobody has ever conveyed the sights, sounds, passion, excitement, thrills and intricacies of our game better.
“His command of the English language under the most frenetic conditions defies comprehension. His unabashed wonder at the skill and courage of hockey players – as genuine in his call of Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final as in his first day doing hockey play-by-play in 1971 – always reminded listeners and viewers of the marvel he was describing. His reverence for hockey’s traditions and history, coupled with his devilish sense of humor, conveyed that, while he knew he was calling a game, it was always much more to him than just a game.
Listening to Emrick call a game was like having a humble high school English teacher in your living room. He was cerebral without being highbrow. He was never the star, and never wanted to be. To him, the game always had to be the star of the telecast.
He is as respected as anyone in the game. Emrick once sent out an average of one ‘thank you’ note per day for 365 days to people who had helped him in his career. It is impossible to dislike Emrick, not if you met him. He treats everyone with the same warmth and enthusiasm, whether they are a hotel clerk or Wayne Gretzky.
“After watching endless playoff games growing up, It was always a dream of mine to hear Doc call a goal of mine in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman tweeted. “ It turns out my game 6 SCF goal will be the last goal he ever called, thank you for the special memory Doc and enjoy your retirement!”
Emrick, who grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, first dreamed of being a baseball broadcaster. But switched his aspirations to hockey after he saw his first IHL game. He did end up calling a Pirates-Chicago Cubs game with Bob Costas for MLB Network on July 8, 2016
At a Stanley Cup Final game, Emrick asked me to help him write his memoir. We completed that task earlier this past season. Coincidentally, the book, called “Off Mike” is being released tomorrow.
When he launched his pro career in Port Huron in 1973, radio station owner John Wismer asked Emrick how much he wanted to take the job.
Nervous about blowing a chance at his first job, he blurted: “One hundred and sixty dollars per week.”
Always the shrewd businessman, Wismer accepted Emrick’s low-ball salary demand. Emrick knew immediately he had shortchanged himself.
“But maybe the joke was on John,” Emrick said, “because I would have done the job for nothing.”