• Speaking of Hall of Fame arguments, Jim Matheson lays out the case for Kevin Lowe. “Not being able to fit your Stanley Cup rings on just one hand” isn’t a bad argument. Then again, how many Lowe-like defensemen might have achieved similar team accomplishments on the same rosters as Wayne Gretzky and/or Mark Messier? How many of those Oilers (and in many cases, brief-Rangers) should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame? Either way, it’s one of those prototypical HHOF debates. [Edmonton Journal]
• Oh, in case you missed it, PHT’s Sean Leahy broke down who might make up the 2020 Hockey Hall of Fame class. Good stuff, especially if you want to brush up for the announcements. (Or, maybe get ready to be angry? Do people still get angry about this stuff if it’s not about their own candidacy?) [PHT]
COVID-19 and NHL hub city talk, other hockey links
• Five questions with NBC’s Mike “Doc” Emrick. Emrick answers questions about his upcoming book, the possible return to play, and … announcing a windshield wiper replacement? [NHL.com]
The Doc Emrick windshield wiper play-by-play we didn’t know we needed!
• As you likely know, the NHL announced that 11 players tested positive for COVID-19, with reports indicating that Auston Matthews was one of them. Just about any hopeful hub city must recognize that. Interesting stuff on how Vancouver’s desire could be tested. [The Province]
• Golden Knights GM George McPhee talks up the strengths Vegas presents as a potential hub city. The expansive hotels certainly bump things up for players who might feel a little bottled up living in a “bubble” setup. [Sportsnet]
• Again and again, it’s worth noting that Kevyn Adams faces serious challenges as Sabres GM. Adams will need to show that inexperience isn’t an issue. That could really be tough when it comes to rebuilding a scouting department after it was absolutely gutted. [The Hockey News]
• While discussing Seth Joneslikely being healthy for the Columbus Blue Jackets, I also wondered about his actual value vs. his perceived value. “J Fresh” takes a deep dive and backs up some of my doubts. Neither of us are arguing that Jones is “bad.” Instead, the question is whether or not Jones is truly elite. [J Fresh]
• Jets players talk to Scott Billeck about how weird it might be to play in arenas without fans. [Winnipeg Sun]
• Why the Flyers should feel good about their goalies heading into the return. [Pucker Up Sports]
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.”
As he’s done for eight previous Winter Classics, NBC’s Doc Emrick will be behind the mic for Monday’s game at CitiField between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.
The date will be 10 years since the Sabres took part in the inaugural event at Ralph Wilson Stadium — a snowy, messy picturesque day that saw a dramatic end off the stick of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Emrick was there, too, and his call of Crosby’s winner quickly became legendary.
The afternoon was the NHL going up against college football bowl season, which historically had played some of its top games on Jan. 1. In 2008, the Winter Classic went head-to-head against four NCAA football games, including Michigan-Florida in the Capital One Bowl. The curiosity factor into the outdoor hockey game coupled with the weather situation resulted in interest rising as the game went along.
“But the thing that I was guessing as the rain turned to sleet and then the sleet turned into snow and then the snow started piling up even more, was people calling people on the phone and saying ‘are you watching this game in Buffalo?’,” Emrick told Pro Hockey Talk last week. “[J]ust as the snow did, the viewership started to build, too. Just [like] that construction site you have that hole in the fence that people can stop on the sidewalk and peer in and look, they wanted to see how people were going to handle this. That’s the beauty of outdoor games. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and if the elements enter in how are these people there that are paid to do this going to somehow or other compensate for what the elements are bringing in?
“What better place than Buffalo to have a game like this and what better elements to have than snow and frequent stoppages and getting the Zamboni out to scrape it again and have all of these happen and then have the dramatic finish. It couldn’t have been a bigger star.”
We spoke with Emrick about calling that first game, his favorite venues and where his famous Crosby line came from.
Q. It was a pretty special day for fans and the players involved, but what about the broadcasters? You weren’t just calling a typical hockey game.
EMRICK: “The strange thing was leading up to it, I don’t think any of us had a grasp on what it would really be like until the day of. We went out there the day before and we began by treating it like we would a regular game. [We] went out the day of the practices to see what a rink inside a football stadium would look like because it was the first of one of those things for us and we got as many stories as players as we could after that practice.
“We realized that with the stands being largely empty that day, that we had a rough idea that it would be pretty interesting the next day, especially given what the forecast was and what Buffalo’s persona was when it came to winter storms… We didn’t have a real feel on how spectacular it became until the players started down the ramps from the football dressing rooms and the bagpipes were playing and those bursts of fire were going up in the air. Still to this day guys will talk about never having heard 70-plus-thousand people cheering at once as they did for both teams as they made their entry and having that roar building.
“I believe Brian Campbell said it last year, it’s one of those things that builds and you hear it and you hear it get louder and it rolls. I think that’s the thing that we notice in all of these stadiums, but particularly in football stadiums.”
Q. How long did your notes last in that snow considering you and Eddie Olczyk were positioned outside?
“About the second period. I was advised beforehand that a smart thing to do was to get plexiglass and put our notes underneath that and that made a lot of sense. But my background is to use Sharpies and to record different colors of Sharpies for the different teams so they have contrasting colors. But the trouble is when you took it out from underneath the plexiglass to do that and then you put it back in, invariably some of the rain and then later on, the snow that had melted would roll underneath the plexiglass and get on your notes and get on your scorecard.
“By the third period, it was starting to run pretty badly and then there was that one time when Eddie and I were on camera that it had all pretty well drained off and it was in bad shape. I save all of my scorecards, so I still have that but it’s practically illegible. There are only a few things you can read on it.”
Q. Has your call of an outdoor game evolved since that very first one?
“Well, what has evolved is this: it’s not the description of the game because I don’t prepare anything odd to say because it’s an outdoor game. I’m just calling a hockey game and I realize I’m pre-occupied more with the event than I am a game. In terms of who has the puck and describing passes and things like that, I don’t do as much as that. Part of the reason is that it is more of an event for people who may or not watch a lot of hockey. Secondly, our location is outdoors down next to the penalty box and it is somewhat difficult to see from either the press box in these giant stadiums or down near the penalty box because you can see really well in front of you, but to the sides you have difficulty and you have to shift to a monitor. You adjust somewhat and try not to be as precise and as descriptive of who has the puck now for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a little bit much for a non-hockey crowd, and two, you’re not really able to accomplish it and you recognize it going in it is an imperfect science, but the science stuff is not what the day is about. It’s about celebrating the sport outdoors where a lot of these guys, despite the fact that we’ve doing it 10 years, grew up playing.”
Q. Do you a favorite Winter Classic venue?
“The reason I like Fenway [Park], Michigan [Stadium] and Ralph Wilson [Stadium], was No. 1, it snowed at least either all day or part of the day; it was cold and all three games went to extra time. There are a lot of other reasons why I liked the three, but those are the three common grounds that they share. I like the fact that Michigan had the biggest crowd of all and is probably not going to be topped.”
Q. The call on Sidney Crosby’s famous winner in the shootout — “The game on his stick…” — do you have those lines planned out ahead of time for big moments?
“The game on his stick,’ I’ve only used that twice and that was the second time and the last time I recall ever using it was that day. It was just one of those things that crossed my mind at the time.
“It was the first year out of the lockout, Crosby’s rookie year. Eddie Olczyk is coaching the Penguins and they’re playing the Flyers in the regular season. John Davidson and I are doing it for OLN, which later became Versus, which later became NBCSN. Sid gets his teeth knocked out in the first period by Derien Hatcher. Konstantin Koltsov cranks a shot in the warmup and it hits Jocelyn Thibault, the regular goaltender for the Penguins, in the throat so he can’t play. So this kid, Marc-Andre Fleury, is just there and he winds up being put in goal for the game and stands on his head and makes 40-some saves and it gets into overtime. There’s an outlet pass [and] Sid gets a breakaway from center ice on in and it just came “with the game on his stick.” I thought out of a dramatic game, a guy gets his teeth knocked out and here it is, his rookie year, and they’re underdogs playing in Philadelphia and this game could end here…
“We’re in the sixth shot of the shootout and this could be the last shot, so you take a chance because if Ryan Miller stops him, then we move on. But as it turned out, Sid scored on it so it’s remembered more for that. I can’t recall ever using it since.”
Q. You mentioned your favorite venues before. Do you have a favorite moment or goal from the games you’ve done?
“I guess the ones that ended of those three games because they drew to an ending of a chapter of a Winter Classic that was kind of marvelous. I think in terms of the fans, the game at Michigan Stadium was probably the most exciting from what was going on in the stands because you had 105,000 people and it was almost 50/50 because of all the Toronto fans that were in Canada, 20 or 30 miles away from Ann Arbor, and they got hold of the tickets. It was the blue and red throng there of 105,000, and so when one team scored it was about as loud as when the other team scored. That was an interesting dynamic… For drama, the most dramatic of the games would have been Crosby’s.
“We still haven’t had in the Winter Classic a shutout. So, who knows? Maybe we’ll see that this year.”
With next Sunday being the final day of the regular season, all the games are getting tighter and more important. One game that could prove to be vitally important in the playoff standings is the NBC Game of the Week. The Detroit Red Wings are heading to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks to wrap up the season and for Chicago their playoff lives could hinge on the game.
Chicago is hanging on to the eighth spot right now and they close out their season with a home-and-home set with the Wings. With how things are setting up in the West, this could prove to be a first round playoff preview as well. Chicago, meanwhile, could be doing their part to cost the Red Wings a shot at the Central Division title in this game as the Nashville Predators are playing great and within striking distance of the Wings for the divisional crown. So many possibilities exist for the final game of the year and NBC’s Doc Emrick and Ed Olczyk give us an advanced preview of how things shape up for next Sunday’s tilt.