Mike “Doc” Emrick was the voice of hockey for a generation. His genuine passion for the game and the players was always made abundantly clear. His unique combination of phrases added a dash of flavor to every broadcast he was a part of. He described the puck being “ladled,” “dubbed,” “careened,” “pitch-forked” and, maybe his best one, “waffle-boarded.”
The Hall of Fame announcer retired from his position on Monday. After the 2004 lockout, he became the National Hockey League’s marquee broadcaster in 2005 for NBC and NBC Sports. During those 15 seasons, Emrick delighted hockey fans as a pleasant companion to watch the game with.
Emrick might not have gotten all the playoff games and great matchups throughout the years. No one man could handle the dogged NHL 82-game schedule with four rounds of playoffs to boot. However, contests always had an added sense of importance when he was behind the microphone.
His Stanley Cup-clinching calls were memorable but understated. Even though he was truly blessed with the gift to gab, Emrick knew when to let the moment speak for itself. He understood that, at the end of the day, the moment was about the players, not the guys in the booth.
During these down-to-the-wire Stanley Cup Playoffs victories, he would be noticeably short of breath. He had tremendous calls during heart-stopping Stanley Cup championships by the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.
In hockey, a broadcaster has to be able to stay on pace with the neck-breaking speed and constant swings of momentum. It is the hardest sport to call because of the play constantly driving down a different avenue. Nobody grasped this better than Emrick. Improvising was one of his strong suits.
One moment that stands out in his career is actually not one of his more memorable, eloquent calls.
The 2010 Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers produced the most unusual Cup-clinching goal in league history. Patrick Kane scored an overtime winner in Philadelphia, but Kane was the only one who knew it went in. There was an awkward, delayed celebration from the Blackhawks and little reaction from the crowd.
That had to be a strange couple of seconds for Emrick. Announcers dream of laying the soundtrack for history on a championship-winning score. But what do you do if you could not see the play? After collecting the information, Emrick still found a way to describe the mayhem.
After about five seconds of trying to disseminate what happened, he was able to create a memorable phrase for the occasion:
“We saw no light. We saw no signal. And we’re not sure if they’ve sent a signal to the goal yet, but they are celebrating at the other end of the ice. What chaos.”
That is a phenomenal job of staying calm and confident under a very bizarre set of circumstances. Many announcers would have been caught stammering or going radio silent. After a quick assessment of what was happening, Emrick painted a descriptive picture.
While his resume is filled with flowery tributes of Stanley Cup victors in blowouts as well as legendary calls describing down-to-the-wire fights to claim Lord Stanley, the 2010 championship call might have been the finest moment of his career. He passed with flying colors when he had every excuse not to.
Many media members claim Emrick was as jovial off camera as he was on it. In a medium where so many play a fake “nice guy” persona on the air but are jerks off of it, it is refreshing to hear Emrick’s peers praise him as a genuinely good person. That authentic, warm attitude radiated off the screen into hockey fans’ homes throughout the globe.
The hockey world will certainly miss Emrick’s professional and colorful commentary next season and beyond. There are few special broadcasters throughout history who become synonymous with their sport. Emrick was able to cultivate a special relationship with the entire hockey community, most notably with the fans. It will certainly be hard to find someone else as charismatic and likeable in the booth as Emrick.