Every game is a home game for Mike Emrick in these playoffs
In his 47 years as a hockey broadcaster, seven-time Emmy-winning NBC broadcaster Mike Emrick has seen more than his fair share of odd or unusual happenings.
One night, during a minor league game in Port Huron, Mich., he described an on-ice brawl that started in the penalty box, and on the ice, and eventually spilled into McMorran Arena’s lobby. The women counting money in the ticket booth saw more of that than Emrick could. Then, there was the between-period wedding in Iowa that went bad when the crowd of 2,787 realized they didn’t have rice to throw at the bride and groom. Instead, they hurled programs, tubs of popcorn, hats and cups of beer. It took 45 minutes to shovel away ankle-deep debris on the ice.
Instead of filling 10 minutes of intermission time, Emrick had to find enough to say to cover the 45-minute delay. “That’s what we call ‘guts broadcasting’,” Emrick said, laughing.
Emrick was also the broadcaster at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md for the 1987 Easter Epic between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. When the game went deep into overtime, his broadcast partner Bill Clement removed his shirt and wrapped his tie around his head. To entertain viewers, Clement did John Wayne and Boom Boom Geoffrion impressions during one intermission. People swear that the public address system piped in the theme music from ‘Twilight Zone” just before Pat LaFontaine scored the game-winner at 8:47 of the fourth overtime. It was 1:58 a.m.
But Emrick hadn’t seen it all until folks arrived to set-up a studio in his basement, which will allow him to broadcast the 2020 NHL playoffs from the comfort of his own home and not put himself at risk of contracting Covid-19.
He won't have to make a single travel reservation.
After his broadcasts is completed, Indiana native Emrick will have a 15-second commute to his living space. “It’s just up a flight of stairs," Emrick told Hockeybuzz.com
Sometimes, he cracks open a Sam Adams, but not always. “Sometimes, it helps me sleep, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
Today is Emrick’s 74th birthday, and he will broadcast Game 1 of the best-of-five Edmonton vs. Chicago (3 p.m., ET, NBC) qualifier game along with Pierre McGuire and Ed Olczyk. McGuire will be in Edmonton, Olczyk will be in the NBC studio in Stamford, Ct. and Emrick will be perched 18 inches away from a 32-inch screen.
“I didn’t get out a yardstick, but I think it’s 32 inches,” Emrick said. “It’s good.”
Emrick sounded emotional when he discussed the planning and logistics that NBC put into making this happen for him.
“They have done a lot of work to help me and I greatly appreciate that,” Emrick said. “I have a cancer history. They are aware of that and I’m aware of that. So I am at a greater risk than most people who are on their staff. So they have done this as a nice gesture.”
Emrick doesn’t know how many games he will do, but that is normal in the playoffs. What isn’t normal is calling a game off a monitor. During a long career, he had only done it a few times. “And when I’ve done those games I’ve had someone sitting next to me,” he said.
When he works from home for these playoffs, his color analyst will be elsewhere.
He said he doesn’t have difficulty identifying players off a monitor. ”No more than you would in an arena,” he said. “Sometimes in an arena you have trouble picking up the far winger.”
According to Emrick, the real challenge is finding the rhythm with his color analyst. It’s a bit easier working with Olczyk because they know each other’s tendencies. But they won’t be able to use visual cues. It’s mostly on instinct, but there also has been discussions on how to use strategy to make sure they are not stepping on each other’s words.
In preparation for these playoffs, Emrick recently practiced calling some of the Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh exhibition game and the 2019 Stanley Cup Final Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues off the monitor. He also did the Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers exhibition game live for the network.
“All of this is just what professionals do,” Emrick said, adding that it’s been “fun,”
Known for the diligent preparation he puts into each broadcast, Emrick will use his IPad and IPhone for statistics during the broadcast. He also put a printer under his desk so NBC can feed him information. “They know I like analog material that I can hold in my hand,” Emrick said.
Emrick always acquires tales and anecdotes by working dressing rooms at the morning skates on game days. He works at it like he is panning for gold. Even if Emrick was in Edmonton, he couldn’t do that anymore because media isn't allowed in the quarantine bubble. “I will miss that,” he said.
He’s expecting to do more games as we move deeper into the NHL playoffs. That’s his normal work schedule.
Emrick is fascinated by what everyone has to do to play these NHL playoffs. He’s not the only person doing his job differently than in the past. He laughingly points out that as the Oilers and Blackhawks move deeper into their series at the Edmonton Hub, the Oilers will have to surrender their usual dressing room to the Blackhawks.
“It’s all part of the overall oddity,” Emrick said, “of what this entire playoff year is.”
Emrick said no matter how he has to do it this season, he feels fortunate to still be broadcasting. “It was 50 years ago that I was an unpaid correspondent for Beaver County (Pa.) Times," Emrick said. "And I got to cover the Penguins and (at that time) (Bobby) Orr was playing for Boston and (Gordie) Howe was playing for Detroit. So I've been pretty darn lucky."