Doc is in: Emrick not slowing down in his dream job

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BOSTON (AP) — 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 honored 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.

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.”

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.”

Ah yes, Emrick’s 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.”

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

The Buzzer: Mangiapane tricks Ducks; Lightning win record 11th straight

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THREE STARS

1. Andrew Mangiapane, Flames

The Flames’ 6-4 win over the Ducks was powered by Mangiapane’s first career hat trick. Two of his three goals came during a third period where Calgary entered it trailing 3-1 and scored five times en route to the win. He would register an assist on Matthew Tkachuk‘s 20th of the season to add to a career-best four-point night. The hat trick is also the first by a Flames player this season.

2. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

Arizona won for the second straight game behind Conor Garland‘s 20th goal of the season and 28 saves from Raanta. The 2-1 win over the Islanders gives the Coyotes a winning streak for the first time since Dec. 31-Jan. 7 and also puts them into a tie for the final Western Conference wild card spot. Raanta’s been in net for both wins and has stopped 64 of his last 66 shots faced.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning

The Lightning set a franchise record with their 11th consecutive win by topping the Avalanche, 4-3, in overtime. During the extra period, it was Kucherov beating Pavel Francouz five-hold to keep Tampa red-hot. How hot? They are 23-2-1 since Dec. 21.

AVS LOSE RANTANEN

Adding to the bad night against Tampa, the Avalanche lost Mikko Rantanen to an upper-body injury in the second period. He’ll be out for “weeks.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Here’s Alex Ovechkin catching up with old teammate Nate Schmidt:

• They don’t see each other often, but the temperature certainly rose when the Avs and Lightning met:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Jonathan Huberdeau picked up his 50th assist of the season in the win over the Sharks. He now joins Aleksander Barkov as the only two players in Panthers franchise history to record multiple 50-assists seasons.

• Via the NHL, Matthew Tkachuk is now the fourth player in Flames history to record three 20-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday. Sean Monahan (4 times), Robert Reichel (3 times) and Jarome Iginla (3 times) are the only others on the list.

SCORES
Coyotes 2, Islanders 1
Panthers 5, Sharks 3
Flames 6, Ducks 4
Golden Knights 3, Capitals 2
Lightning 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Avs lose Rantanen for weeks after crash into boards

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Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen will miss “weeks,” per the team, after he crashed into the boards during Monday night’s loss to the Lightning.

Rantanen was on a 2-on-1 with Andre Burakovsky in the second period when he tripped over a diving Erik Cernak and slid into the end boards behind the Tampa net. He left the ice favoring his left shoulder and was later ruled out for the rest of the 4-3 overtime defeat.

Rantanen, who has 19 goals and 40 points in 41 games, missed 16 games this season due to ligament damage in his left ankle.

The injury comes on the day it was announced goaltender Philipp Grubauer is day-to-day with a lower-body injury suffered during the Stadium Series game, Matt Calvert is out long-term, and a week after Nazem Kadri was ruled out for “weeks, not days” with an LBI.

Colorado sits one point behind the Blues and Stars for the top spot in the Central Division with 24 games to go.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks strengthen up front by acquiring Tyler Toffoli

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Tyler Toffoli‘s final game with the Los Angeles Kings was a memorable one.

After notching a hat trick during their Stadium Series win over the Avalanche, Toffoli was dealt to the Canucks on Monday. Heading back to LA is a package of Tim Schaller, the rights to NCAA prospect Tyler Madden, and a 2020 second-round pick.

The deal also includes a conditional draft pick, which would see a 2022 fourth rounder going to the Kings if Toffoli re-signs, per Pierre LeBrun. LA will also not be retaining any of Toffoli’s $4.6 million salary this season.

“Tyler brings goal scoring abilities and is good in battles,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “He has great offensive instincts and experience playing in high pressure, meaningful games. We look forward to adding his skill and strength to the line-up.”

The 27-year-old Toffoli can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and was one of the bigger name forwards likely to be on the move with the NHL trade deadline a week away. In 58 games this season he has 18 goals and 34 points.

As the Canucks sit one point behind the Oilers for tops in the Pacific Division, this is Benning bolstering his roster with 23 games to go. Vancouver has been a surprise this season and with the opportunity present to make a run at the playoffs and division title, the move is a boost to the players for the stretch run.

Adding Toffoli also helps the Canucks’ forward group after the news that Brock Boeser will be out of the lineup with a rib injury and will be re-evaluate in three weeks.

The question to be answered is whether this was a premature move for Benning to pull off given the price and where the Canucks are in their turnaround. Madden, who is currently dealing with a broken finger, has 19 goals in 27 games this season at Northeastern University and adds to an already strong prospect pool for the Kings. There’s also no guarantee that Toffoli, who is reunited with his “That 70s Line” mate Tanner Pearson, will stay in Vancouver.

We always see GMs gamble this time of year, but there’s certainly an opening in the West this season, and Benning clearly has confidence his group can do something special.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ovechkin continues chase for 700 goals Thursday on NBCSN

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The Capitals lost for the fifth time in seven games and Alex Ovechkin remained stuck on 698 goals as the Golden Knights came out on top, 3-2, Monday night.

NBCSN has added the Capitals’ next game, Thursday at home against Montreal (7 p.m. ET), to its schedule as Ovechkin continues chasing goal No. 700.

The Golden Knights built up a 3-0 lead by the second period and held off a Capitals’ comeback as T.J. Oshie cut the led to 3-2 with pair of goals. Marc-Andre Fleury, who has surrendered the most goals to Ovechkin of any NHL goalie (24 goals in 42 games), stopped 24 shots for his second straight win. Ovechkin finished with eight shot attempts and four shots on goal.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

MORE OVECHKIN:
NHL Power Rankings: Ovechkin’s top 10 goals
By the Numbers: Ovechkin’s 698 NHL goals
Stunning Numbers as Alex Ovechkin closes in on 700 goals
Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals?
My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.