February 15, 2014, was the day I began falling in love with hockey. At first, it wasn’t the game itself that caught my eye. It wasn’t necessarily TJ Oshie’s epic shootout performance against Russia during the Olympics’ group stage that drew me in; Instead, it was the voice calling this iconic moment that caught my attention.
Ever since his first calls in 1973, Mike Emrick has been building his legacy en route to becoming one of the greatest announcers in sports history. His rise to stardom looks improbable on paper. A kid from small-town Indiana living over three hours from the nearest minor league team play isn’t supposed to fall in love with hockey. How did a guy nicknamed “Doc” make his name broadcasting the most brutal sport around?
Mike Emrick graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Ph.D. in 1976 (that’s where the nickname Doc comes from), and that’s also where he began his career, calling one period for the school’s hockey team. After seven years announcing in the IHL and AHL, Emrick caught his big break. The New Jersey Devils hired him as their play-by-play man in 1982. He then briefly moved on to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1986 before returning to the Devils for good in 1993. Emrick called games for NJ and nationally until moving exclusively to NBC in 2011.
Working for a list of networks that covers just about every letter in the alphabet (PRISM, OLN, VERSUS, and CSTV, to name a few), Emrick quickly established himself as the voice of hockey in the United States. In total, he called 45 Game 7s, 22 Finals, six Olympics, two World Cups of Hockey, and over 3,750 professional hockey games. Emrick has also announced for baseball, football, water polo games, and the EA Sports NHL franchise. You name it, Doc Emrick’s called it.
But it’s how Emrick called all those games that make him broadcasting’s G.O.A.T. Emrick’s unmatched passion and love for the game of hockey shined brightly during every game he called. Doc had the rare ability to make throwaway games in March sound like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. He drew countless casual fans (myself among them) who were drawn into this game by his ecstatic voice and unmatched energy.
Emrick’s energy is perhaps second to only his vocabulary. Six days after that epic TJ Oshie performance, Stephen Douglas of the Big Lead counted that Emrick used 153 verbs to describe the puck’s movement alone in the USA-Canada semi-final game. Emrick introduced fans to words like “waffle-boarded,” “drubbed,” swaggers,” and more; words that would have made no sense coming from any other announcer flowed naturally from Doc’s voice through our televisions, amplifying the on-ice experience.
On Monday, the 74-year old Emrick announced his retirement from the broadcast booth. Emrick admirably wants to spend more time with his wife Joyce, dogs, and horses. His voice won’t be silent forever; he hinted that NBC would have him narrate video essays for future big games and events. But his multi-decade run as the voice of hockey in the United States is over, albeit thankfully on his terms.
So many of hockey’s most significant moments in the last half-century feature Emrick’s voice as the perfect soundtrack. Whether it’s Ron Hextall’s first playoff goalie goal in 1987 or Sidney Crosby’s OT Olympic winner in 2010, or Alec Martinez’s 2OT Stanley Cup winner in 2014, or Tampa Bay’s bubble breakthrough in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs (perhaps the only Cup-winning team whose first game was more notable than their last), Emrick’s aforementioned impressive vocabulary and frenetic voice made everything that happened on the ice that much better.
I can safely speak for all hockey fans in saying Mike Emrick will be dearly missed. Even those not in love with Emrick’s uncontainable energy and frequent story-telling cannot deny Doc’s impact on growing the sport. Emrick is undoubtedly leaving the NHL in a better place where he found it. As commissioner Gary Bettman brilliantly concluded, “The game, of course, goes on. But it will never quite sound the same again.”
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