Today was a sad day for the world of hockey as the news broke that legendary broadcaster Dr. Mike “Doc” Emrick is retiring. The initial word was first broken this morning by Phil Mushnick at the New York Post. This led to a large outpouring of love and appreciation for what Doc has done for hockey and as a broadcaster. Doc has done it for fifty years up from the minor leagues all the way to national broadcasts and Olympic events. All while remaining grounded and friendly to everyone who has ever had the chance to meet him.
This is no surprise as Doc is surely among the most accomplished broadcasters in modern sports. Among his accolades (and I think I am missing a few, so I am sorry if I missed anyway), Doc won a National CableACE Award in 1997 for his play-by-play announcing duties; a Lester Patrick Trophy in 2004; the 2008 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, which is award by the Hockey Hall of Fame; a national Sports Emmy Award in 2011, 2014, and 2015 for Outstanding Sports Personality - Play by Play (the 2011 win was the first one ever by a hockey announcer); the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Sportscaster of the Year award in 2013; the sports media “Person of the Year” in 2014 by Sports Illustrated; several regional Emmy awards (which is likely stiff competition given how many sports are in the New York Metropolitan Area); and he is a member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. Doc was a legend, both within hockey and within the larger world of sports broadcasting.
Throughout the day, there has been all signs of appreciation on social media and elsewhere regarding Doc. From teams he did not directly work for (e.g. the Coyotes) to the teams he did (e.g. the Devils). From the NHL and the NHLPA and the NHL Alumni Association and the AHL. From current players (e.g. Adam Henrique, Blake Coleman) and players who have went into media after playing (e.g. Anson Carter, AJ Mleczko Griswold) and current broadcasters (e.g. Brendan Burke, Kathryn Tappen). Even Mushnick’s own report contains high praise and appreciation for Doc. In his media conference call, contributions came from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, former player and long-time color commentator Ed Olczyk, longtime NBC Sports executive producer and president Sam Flood, legendary broadcaster Al Michaels, and Lou all gave their respect. The NBC Sports Group Press Box has a transcript of the call and fittingly for Doc, every answer was thought-out, detailed, and included relevant stories as needed. (Thanks to @DevilsInsiders for pointing it out) Reading it, I easily imagined his voice - it was purely Doc.
For many Devils fans like myself, Doc was the Voice of the New Jersey Devils. He was the first play-by-play announcer for their television broadcasts when the Devils arrived in New Jersey. He returned for the 1992-93 season to replace Gary Thorne. He remained as the Voice of the Devils as the team ascended to greatness through the 1990s and maintained it through the 2000s. Whether it was on SportsChannel, Fox Sports New York, or the MSG family of networks, Doc was a mainstay of Devils games. As much as hockey is best experienced live, lots of fans watch them on TV. Therefore, the television broadcast and its production plays a role in how we enjoy the game. And the Devils fans had the privilege and blessing to have a legitimate legend of the business call games for the better part of two decades whether it was a huge rivalry game against New York or Philadelphia or a ho-hum Tuesday night affair against, say, Calgary in December. Ever the perfectionist, Doc was prepared at all times and gave his best regardless of the match-up. Never once would a fan complain about Doc calling a game.
At least, I never complained. For me, it was a privilege and a blessing to hear Doc on a regular basis from the late 1990s all the way to the 2010-11 season. His colorful verbs and adjectives made routine plays less routinely. Anyone can say a goalie made a save with the blocker; but Doc saying he “waffle-boarded” it gave the same information in fewer words. Anyone can say a player chipped a puck up the boards; Doc could tell you the player knifed it, finessed it, moved it, banked it, and so many other ways. You and I can say a player took a shot, but Doc yelling “DRIVE” helped make it more notable. You could even set them to a beat. His way of raising his voice and escalating his tone helped you, the viewer, know something important and exciting happened. His way of throwing in a little bits of wit to make the experience more enjoyable, but never enough to overshadow the game or his broadcasting partner or anyone else. Doc was not just smart (he does have a doctorate in communications), he was also intelligent. Doc even knew when to be quiet to either let the other commentators speak or just let the game speak for itself. Not only did Doc make an effort to get every call right - he explained that in his conference call today - and if he made a mistake, it would be corrected. But those were rare. Most of the time, Doc was superb. He was a consummate professional.
As a result, Doc’s calls helped make Devils games feel more exciting, more dramatic, and worth more of your time to watch them. He elevated great moments. Seeing the Devils’ lift the Stanley Cup in 1995 or Henrique eliminating Our Hated Rivals to go to the Finals in 2012 both stand on their own as great moments in team history. But Doc’s calls lifted them up higher. The memories include his declaration of “The Championship to New Jersey” in 1995 as East Rutherford erupts in elation; and proclaiming, “Henrique, It’s Over!” in 2012. Anyone can be excited, but Doc made the call with the right amount of hype and decorum. Doc’s call is just as much as part of those memories as the event themselves. That speaks to his greatness. In my opinion, you could not ask for much more from a broadcaster. You could not ask for a more perfect play-by-play announcer for hockey than Dr. Mike Emrick.
Therefore, it was a bit sad that on July 11, 2011 when the word got out that Doc would focus solely on national broadcasts with VERSUS - now NBC SN - instead of the grind of a regular season with New Jersey. Not that he could not call Devils games ever again and not that Steve Cangialosi is bad (I think he’s good), but he would be missed. While he was not a team employee - the TV personnel are usually employees of the broadcaster - Lou and the Devils knew his value to the fans. They honored him for his service as a play-by-play guy on February 24, 2011. (Aside: It was for the second time, the first Doc Emrick night was in 2009 in honor of his Foster Hewitt award.) It was excellent. When it was Doc’s time to speak, he ended it only the way he could: promoting the game ahead. (Alas, the Devils did not win that game and that was also the night where the Devils moved five assets for Marek Zidlicky.) We could at least take solace that on a national-only schedule, more fans around the world would know how great Doc was at calling games, something Devils fans knew for about 21 years (and Flyers fans for a while and the Islanders fans for a bit). And they did. Doc became the Voice of Hockey in America as every important game on NBC SN would often feature Doc calling the action in his own wonderful way. I hope those of you who have become Devils fans from the last nine years got to hear him. Imagine having that level of quality for nearly two decades for a whole season of what was usually good-to-great Devils teams.
Rather than keep typing how he is the greatest of all time, an example of his excellence is fitting. Here is a video from today where Doc is narrating a video essay for NBC Sports. In it, he is closing his career and explaining how much has changed in the game for the fifty years he has been in this business. You can feel his passion for the game in his voice. That is a special talent in of itself.
After all of the accolades and praise he received during his career and he is receiving today, he remains incredibly grateful. Ironic as it would be, Doc would likely win a competition for grace and humility. In his conference call, he made a point of it to express concern about the potential fate of minor league teams and their fans, he noted how he agreed to and will attend a virtual meeting with the Devils Fan Club later this year, and offering credit to the organizations and people who have helped him along the way. Doc would take interviews from anyone, especially those getting started in media; he would make the time to sign autographs; and he would make the effort to really listen to people. When Doc was asked about how he would like the fans to think of him, this was his initial response:
“I hope there’s a smile on their faces and with an appreciation for the sport as a result of that.”
Then Doc explained how committed the players were to the sport given all of the issues with the pandemic and bubbles and the Return to Play format. Even in a question about himself, Doc’s answer focused more on other people and the game he clearly loves. Class is an understatement.
Appreciated is also an understatement. I hope that Doc and his family understand how much he is appreciated by large parts of the Devils fanbase that were fortunate to hear him call games night-in and night-out for the better part of 21 years. I hope he understands how much the hockey community in North America respects and reveres him. I hope he understands that he is known as the Voice of Hockey for millions of people and he has earned that title. I hope for Doc personally that he is able to enjoy retirement. Whether that is following the Pirates, caring for his pets, and appreciating not needing to travel, I hope Doc can appreciate the next chapter of his life. As much as I think he would say thank you to this sentiment, I want Doc to know it is us - Devils fans and hockey fans - thanking him for how much he has done to help make hockey the great sport that it is today. Thank you, Doc. We love you.