Q&A: Doc Emrick on retirement, what makes a great broadcasting tandem

Doc Emrick, the voice of the NHL on NBC, announced his retirement on Monday. The broadcaster’s career saw him calling hockey games since the early 1970s, including 22 Stanley Cup Finals and six Olympics. Emrick estimates he’s been behind the mic for over 3,750 professional games.

Doc has written about his path into broadcasting and the 47-year career that followed it in his new book, Off Mike: How a Kid from Basketball-Crazy Indiana Became America’s NHL Voice from Triumph Books. A lover of animals, along with his wife, Joyce, 100% of book sales will go to hands-on care of animals. “This is not an organized fund that we have created other than it is just cash where we see needs and are occasionally able to meet them, and that makes us feel good, and it does good for animals of all kinds,” Emrick said on a media call Monday.

We had to the opportunity to chat with Doc on his big day about when he knew he was retiring, the number of great analysts he’s worked with, and more.

Enjoy.

Q. What are your post-retirement plans?

DOC EMRICK: “One of the things that I’ve accumulated in 50 years of this is that for probably the first 35-40 years, we were handed analog [media] guides by all the teams. I never threw those away. My thought was they are probably, collectively, worthless, even ones back in the early ’80s. However, there may be a Blackhawks fan who would want all of the Blackhawks’ guides enough to buy them somewhere. That would be another way that this could benefit the creatures as well.

“What that means is that I’ve got to go through these. Have you seen the show ‘Storage Wars?’ Imagine one of those rollup doors and inside of that are all of these things that have been taken aside over the last 47 years of my doing play-by-play of various leagues. What has to happen is I have to devote the time to organize it and then find an outlet for at least placing it there and then maybe somebody will want 40 years of Penguins stuff or 40 years of St. Louis Blues stuff, and then eventually dealing that away. I will not only have in a perfect world emptied the ‘Storage Wars’ facility but also will have some more cash to put toward making life better for dogs and cats and other creatures.

“This is a good project to commit myself to that will also be beneficial — once I get it organized and once I find an outlet for offering these various things. There are programs that date back to into the 1970s and things that may have some value, but will probably have more sentimental value to somebody that cares about the teams involved.”

Q. Were there times previously you thought about retirement?

EMRICK: “No. No, nothing like that. There was always another game ahead. … It reminded me that I am still lucky and still healthy. And through COVID, I still hope that I have some years of life ahead, but years of a different kind of life that I can also enjoy in the fall of my years. That’s another reason to look back and say ‘Gee, it’s been 50 years and look at all that’s happened in that time.’ I’m a million miler on Delta Airlines and all those planes and I’m still OK, so I’m lucky and I’m happy.”

Q. You’ve worked with a number of great analysts over the years — Chico Resch, Bill Clement, John Davidson, Eddie Olczyk. Is there more to a great tandem in the booth than just chemistry?

EMRICK: “Yeah, it helps if you like the people you work with and I’ve been lucky in that I’ve enjoyed everybody I’ve worked with. … You spend so much time together, not only on game days at home, but on the road. If you consider with the Devils in their glory years and doing network games with Eddie and with JD and in doing games in Philadelphia during some years when they were really good doing network games with Bill, you spend as much time with these people as you do at home because of so many games during the season.

“I think the one thing I always found is that when you go through those years so much happens in your personal life. When I was with Chico both my parents passed away, and one of our beloved dogs passed away. I really think that God put Chico in my path during that period of time because I was really going to need somebody that was a good friend and a very devout person to be a friend to me during some really trying times. Peter McNab was there after my contract wasn’t renewed by the Flyers and I wound up in New Jersey. They’ve all been really good friends to me, and I think that really builds chemistry that you have when you’re doing your job if you the people you work with are friends of yours. And I can’t say enough about any of them.”

Q. There’s a famous YouTube clip of you and Bill Clement during an “Easter Epic” intermission. Your tie’s undone, Bill has his wrapped around his head. I think that showed how much you and Bill got along with one another.

EMRICK: “I was his straight man and Bill still makes me laugh whenever we talk on the phone. He did voices, of course. He did imitations and he was really clever with that. So were getting a little punchy by the time we got to the intermission before the third overtime. That was when that happened, and before the fourth overtime he was talking about — because he was athletic and build and he did male modeling — so he was talking about taking his shirt off. For the intermission before the fourth overtime, if it was going to go that far he was going to take his shirt off. I told people that if they wanted to see the chest of a male model that they should just stay with us during the next intermission.

“Our location in Capital Centre in Landover was such that it was approximate to the press room restroom where I went and when I came back Bill not only had his dress shirt on and the tie done up but his blazer back on. All I said when I got back and saw him that way was ‘We got a phone call, didn’t we?’ and he just nodded. There was going to be no more showbiz that night and the game went on to the fourth overtime and then Pat LaFontaine won it.”

Q. Is there a call in your career that you wish you had a second shot at?

EMRICK: “Oh, yes, that’s an easy one. That would be the Patrick Kane overtime winner in 2010. That’s the one I’d like to have back, of course. 

“The next fall the Devils are playing the Blackhawks on Oct. 31 in Chicago. I hadn’t seen Patrick since the celebration where he went tearing into the other end of the ice and his teammates reluctantly were worried about a penalty for coming off the bench and weren’t sure themselves it wasn’t a goal. The [media scrum] had pretty much peeled away from Patrick so I moved in and I sat next to him and I said, ‘So going back to Philadelphia’ and he smiled, and I said, ‘What did you see?’ He said ‘I let the shot go from the left circle. I saw it went under him, but I looked at the ref and he didn’t do anything. As I skated closer to the net I saw it was in the back of the net. And I looked at the ref and he didn’t do anything, and I yelled It’s in! It’s in! and I realized my job at that point was to sell it. So I took off the other end of the ice selling it as hard as I could go.’

Jonathan Toews was on the bench at the time and he said [they] knew what [Kane] was doing, but [they] weren’t sure whether to join in because [they] didn’t want to get a penalty. Even at the time for an embarrassing moment the two referees actually had announced on the public address that the goal was under review when it was pretty clear that the game was over and the Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup. But none of us were quite sure. I did get the ‘s’ and the ‘c’ of score out of my mouth when he let the shot go, but then I pulled back because I couldn’t see and they have us always geared to watch the referee point at the net and he wasn’t doing it. So I did not use my better judgement and didn’t sell it. 

[Doc Emrick looks back at one-of-a-kind 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs]

“Years pass and Jim Doyle, who is a longtime American Hockey League official on the ice, was the video goal judge that night. Years ago, goal judges sat in chairs behind the net behind the glass. Had that been the case, the goal judge would have been all over it, would have flipped the light on and everyone would have poured off the Blackhawks’ bench and we would have had a bonafide goal celebration, I would have yelled score! because I would have seen the light and the Cup would have been handed out without question. 

“I’m talking to Jim, and he’s the guy who turns the red light on from up in the press box when he sees the referee point at the net. His location that night was down on that goal line, that’s where he watches the game from. He had his hand on the goal button but he couldn’t press because they are ordered to never press the goal button unless the referee is pointing at the net. He said, ‘I was up there and I saw it go in. I saw it in the back of the net but I couldn’t touch the goal button, otherwise I could have turned it on and everyone would have known it was a legitimate goal but I’m not allowed to anymore.'”

Q. Can we get you on the Jiggs McDonald schedule where every few years you’ll fill-in for a game or two like he’s done with the Islanders and Kings?

EMRICK: [Laughs] “No, I don’t think so. It’s always easy to say. Even someone as fantastic as Marty Glickman got the urge to come back and do game again, but it involves getting back in a rhythm and getting the rust off and doing all of that. I don’t anticipate that because the numbers are kind of lyrical — 40 years of NHL games; 50 years since covering the NHL for the first time; and 60 years since seeing my first game. It also seemed like the right time.

“People that I’ve talked to that have retired long ago themselves assured me that I would know. Somewhere between the second and third rounds it struck me that I knew. It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if it makes sense to people, but there is a time that you sense that you have a good idea that this is it. And so, this is it.”

————

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.

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