Shoveled. Finessed. Pitchforked. Galloped. Waffleboarded.
Most great sports announcers have an iconic phrase or two that followers of the game can recite from memory. Only one, however, has an entire dictionary of terms that fans have adoringly linked to them.
Michael “Doc” Emrick is the preeminent American hockey broadcaster of this, or any, generation. A winner of six Sports Emmy Awards (the only hockey announcer ever to win one), he has been broadcasting hockey for more than four decades, supplying his voice to 18 Stanley Cup Finals for ESPN, Fox, and, since 2006, NBC Sports.
“Doc is the best ever,’’ fellow Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Al Michaels said recently to the Boston Globe. “He’s brilliant. He’s one of a kind. It’s such a pleasure to listen to him. He makes the game so interesting. He’s got just the right level of excitement. And his descriptions of things are phenomenal. Every once in a while, he’ll come up with something you’ve never heard, and I’ll just laugh and go, ‘Wow, that’s great.’’’
Doc (yes, he’s actually a doctor, having earned a doctorate in radio and television from Bowling Green State University) has loved hockey since he was a teenager. The first love of America’s “Voice of Hockey,” however, was actually baseball. His childhood dream was to call Pittsburgh Pirates games on the radio. But, when he was 14, an International Hockey League game between the Fort Wayne Komets and the Muskegon Zephyrs shot an arrow through his young heart. The sport would never be the same.
Having cut his teeth in the minors, Emrick got his first shot in the pros calling games for the Philadelphia Flyers. It wasn’t long into his career, though, that a franchise residing in Colorado decided to pack their bags for a long trip to the East Coast. The Colorado Rockies became the New Jersey Devils, and Emrick was given the call by MSG Networks to become the team’s first television voice. Who knew, when the team was drowning at the bottom of the standings for much of the 1980s, that Doc and the team would become synonymous with winning by the 1990s. After ping-ponging back to Philly, Emrick returned to Jersey in 1993 and called all the Devils’ games in its glory days through 2011, an era that included three Stanley Cup titles.
“Doc is among the rare few broadcasters who elevate the game and the moment simply by his presence,” former MSG Networks GM Dan Ronayne said when Emrick left the Devils to go fulltime at NBC in 2011. “We learned something new about the game of hockey and the players every time we tuned in. There is no finer ambassador for the game of hockey.”
Having worked NHL games for ESPN from 1986 to ’88, Emrick was thrust onto the national scene when he was tapped to be part of Fox Sports’ revolutionary coverage of the NHL beginning in 1995. Ironically enough, he was on the mic for the first Stanley Cup championship in Devils’ history. In 2005, he added national games to his busy slate, calling action on the NBC-owned Outdoor Life Network (OLN), which was rebranded Versus and eventually NBC Sports Network.
Like in New Jersey, his time at NBC mirrored an era of mainstream success for hockey, including perhaps its biggest marketing splash: the NHL Winter Classic began in 2008 inside an iconic snow-globe–like scene in Buffalo. Of all the nights at the rink, though, the one that tops the list is the night USA and Canada battled into overtime of the gold-medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“The sound of Doc Emrick’s voice is synonymous with hockey, and the genuine enthusiasm he brings to every single broadcast is infectious,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “His calls define this era of the National Hockey League and have elevated the profile of our game. Doc is incredibly deserving of this honor not only as a Hall of Fame broadcaster but as a Hall of Fame person as well.”
Sure, Emrick has branched out from the rink throughout his career, calling everything from the NFL to NCAA Tournament games and even water polo at the 2004 Athens Olympics. But so beloved by his sport is Emrick that hockey has broken barriers to show its appreciation. In 2004, he was the first member of the media to receive the NHL’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award (given to a person for contributions to hockey in the U.S.), and, in 2011, he became the first broadcaster ever inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, ensuring that his unique style and theatrical mastery of the English language will remain etched in hockey culture for generations to come.