Over The Airwaves

‘Doc’ Emrick’s Passion For The Game Continues To Come Through Loud And Clear
By: 
Joe Paisley

Mike "Doc" Emrick may never have worked his 20th Stanley Cup Finals for NBC Sports this June without a lot of hard work, an undying dream and a little help along the way.

The Indiana native was studying for his master's degree at Miami University when he would drive the 240-mile round trip from Oxford, Ohio, to attend Fort Wayne Komets games.

Emrick chose weeknights because the smaller crowds allowed him to record himself calling the late 1960s International Hockey League contests without disturbing the rest of the ticket-buying public.

The late Komets owner Colin Lister-perhaps at the behest of announcer Bob Chase, whose calls inspired a teenaged Emrick-gave the young man an IHL season pass, a windfall for a college student. It sustained Emrick's dream for the next several years before he got his big break.

"It was the biggest present I ever got in hockey in my young life," Emrick recalled. "Boy, was I a big shot then!"

Still, NHL fans came close to never hearing Emrick. With a two-year unpaid newspaper writing job in 1971 not advancing his media career, the then-25-year-old took the advice of his father to earn a doctorate degree.

It looked like he was destined to teach and a Ph.D meant another $600 a year ($7,600 total) teaching broadcasting and public speaking at Geneva College near Pittsburgh.

But then luck led to an opportunity.

He chose Bowling Green State because the graduate assistant's job-which came open while he was considering BGSU or Michigan-required calling hockey games. That happy coincidence gave him the air time needed to develop an audition tape that garnered him his first job for Port Huron. After that, he applied at every minor league franchise he could find.

"I got a lot of fancy stationary back," he said. "I saved them all. A lot of famous people signed those rejections. I still have them. But for $160 a week, I was in the hockey business. And after 45 years, I still haven't seen it all."

The opportunities that developed from decades of hard work helped the six-time Emmy winner become the first media member inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.

Emrick, who turned 72 on Aug. 1, tracks how often he uses the same word and chides himself for repeats. That self-evaluation-a habit started during his days in the Fort Wayne stands-and an impressive vocabulary keep Doc, who in 1976 earned his doctorate, the origin of his nickname-atop his profession.

"Maybe," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said, "Vin Scully is the Doc Emrick
of baseball."

Deadspin once tabulated that he used 140 different combinations of words - dubbed Doc-isms by fans and media - for moving the puck during a single game.

"I was one of those young guys asking announcers for advice, and Lyle Stieg, who was working for the Dayton Gems, told me there are only so many times you can say "dump in" before you're driving people nuts," Emrick said. "That was a good tip."

The pleasure derived from learning new things and sharing them with fans makes the work enjoyable. He remains impressed with the discipline of players competing in a high-skill, full-contact sport and by how most handle themselves around the media and public.

"It is a remarkable group of people and that is why it is fun for me," he said. "I get excited to share something new about them."

You can hear the delight in his voice when he recalls the Las Vegas fans who lined up hours before a June practice to pack the rink and cheer during drills.

"You just never know," he said of the extra effort involved. "You do have some days when you come away and you don't have anything. But I really wanted to see what I had heard about. And there's a 10 a.m. practice with the stands packed. Holy Gee! For a practice! For a practice!"

His love of the game and energetic delivery connect him with viewers.

"If you had a cockroach race in your basement, he'd bring it to life for you," Miracle on Ice announcer Al Michaels once told NJ.com.

Emrick is grateful for the understanding and support of his wife of 40 years, Joyce. They visit family during the offseason before he begins another nine-month series of rinks, hotels and airports. Emrick estimated he has spent more than 15,000 days away from home.

"She is the perfect soul to do this," Emrick said. "This will be my 46th season in hockey and I have known her for 45. She worked in the Flyers ticket office, so she was well aware what the hockey lifestyle is like. I don't know if you need that kind of support to do your job well, but it sure helps."

The summer provides a much-needed breather, but like most fans, he gets anxious when the calendar nears October.

"Anticipating the start of the first [regular] and second season [playoffs] is an exciting way to make a living," he said. "I haven't grown tired of it." P

 

Joe Paisley is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

 

Issue: 
2018-08

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