New Jersey Devils’ play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick remembers his first hockey game as if it was yesterday.
Emrick’s witnessed his first hockey game on December 10, 1960. For the longest time, Emrick wanted to see a hockey game. He pestered his father until he finally caved in. Emrick’s parents, who owned a music store, planned for their annual Christmas party to coincide with a game between the Muskegon Zephyrs and Fort Wayne Comets of the IHL.
Doc couldn’t remember the specifics of the game, but he credits the game with steering him to become a hockey broadcaster.
“That’s when the world changed for me,” Emrick said.
Before that game, Emrick wanted to be a baseball announcer. Growing up in Indiana, Emrick had no cable television. He used to listen to Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasts on the radio, and wrote letters to Bob Ellison and Jack Quinlan, two prominent baseball announcers. He realized broadcasters could get in free, which drew him to the position.
After seeing that game and deciding to be an announcer, Emrick had one question: “how the heck do you get into the business?”
Eventually Emrick got his start, working with the Port Huron Flags and Maine Mariners. During his time with the two clubs, Emrick began to develop his style. But what exactly was that style? Emrick didn’t exactly know how to answer the question.
“When I was in Colorado, I said to [Avalanche head coach] Joe Sacco that broadcasters and coaches are alike,” Emrick said. “We’re a hybrid of the people we listen to until we develop our own styles.”
Emrick believes three broadcasters influenced his style. The first is Bob Chase, a recently-retired 83-year old sports broadcaster for WOWO Radio who taught Emrick “the good use of the English language and enthusiasm.”
Next came Gene Hart, a Philadelphia Flyers broadcaster, showed Emrick “the technical things about calling games.”
Danny Gallivan, an announcer for CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, taught Emrick how to integrate “interesting words” and little-known facts into broadcasts. Emrick’s ability to work these elements into a broadcast, using the phrase “waffleboarded away” for a blocker save, give him a distinct difference from other play-by-play commentators around the league.
Emrick’s time in hockey allowed him to work with several different partners in the booth. One of those partners was John Davidson, the current president of the St. Louis Blues and the 2004 Lester Patrick Trophy winner. Emrick credits Davidson with “setting a standard that changed the role of analyst.”
Throughout his fifty years in hockey, Emrick experienced several memorable moments. No moment stands out more than Emrick’s first Olympic experience, during the 1992 Olympics in Albertville.
Emrick recalled not only the beautiful scenery of the area, but the layout around the ice rink. Emrick said that many of the homes centered around the rink, keeping the energy level up throughout the entire village. The play-by-play man also called some great games, including the Unified Team’s 3-1 defeat of Canada for the gold-medal.
“I didn’t sleep,” Emrick said. “It [Olympic hockey] gets into your blood. It gets you excited, you get home and can’t sleep.
“You thank God that you have adrenaline to dip into.”
Emrick worked three other Olympic games, including last year’s games in Vancouver. “Doc” believed Vancouver provided the idealistic setting for the Olympic games, and the hockey was “the best I saw,” Emrick said.
Sitting in on professional and Olympic hockey for so long has allowed Doc to participate in several big games.
Fifty years after that game, Emrick continues to call hockey games for the New Jersey Devils, NBC and Versus. For fifty years, the play-by-play man experienced several moments in hockey history. And he continues for one thing.
“I love it,” Emrick said. “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have been doing it for so long.”