Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hockey Broadcaster Mike 'Doc' Emrick Signs Off

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you've ever seen a nationally televised hockey game, chances are good you've heard this voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE EMRICK: And they've got a trigger pull. The shot that went wide that time was Goodrow. And the Tampa Bay Lightning have won the Stanley Cup.

CORNISH: After 40 years as a play-by-play announcer for some of the National Hockey League's biggest moments, Mike Emrick - the man known to many as Doc - is calling it a day. He's known for his distinct announcing style, using verbs and turns of phrase more literary than athletic. When I spoke to him, I started off by asking how he crafted his distinct voice.

EMRICK: When I was in grade five, I had a teacher in this little town in Indiana of 600 people. Her name was Una McClurg (ph), and she said, any word that you use five times is yours for life. So she was the first vocabulary builder for me.

And then years later, as I was hoping to become a hockey announcer, I talked to any announcers that I could find in press boxes. And one of them in Dayton, Ohio, named Lyle Stieg, who later would broadcast for a year for the Washington Capitals, said, if you can come up with different ways of saying the same thing that happens repeatedly in sports events, it will help you immeasurably. For example, if you say, dump the puck in from center ice, which happens a lot of times in a hockey game - if you say it the same way, you're going to drive people nuts. So that's why I set about trying to have different ways.

CORNISH: Now, here you are after 40 seasons, and you're retiring after one of the weirdest (laughter) that we've seen, right? I mean, the playoffs were held in quarantine bubbles in Canada, and you called the games from home. I mean, did you think your last match would be called in this kind of environment?

EMRICK: No. 2020 has been bizarre for all of us, and no. And the players performed brilliantly, but I never thought I would wind up broadcasting from home. But NBC said, we don't want you to do anything that will make you uncomfortable. They encouraged me to do it this way if it would be of comfort.

CORNISH: What do you see as the role of the announcer going forward? I mean, I think it's pretty easy for people to say that this is, like, maybe a gig we don't need anymore - right? - if everyone is watching on devices of all sizes and any time anywhere.

EMRICK: Good question.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

EMRICK: I think people will probably always want players identified. But we do have now the ability to place arrows above players on the ice which do have their names on them. And perhaps the generation that is coming up who have watched video games will not be overwhelmed by the arrows and the number of arrows necessary to identify two goaltenders and five players per team. But I think until we reach that point, we're still going to need people in my role to identify. And more importantly, because of the constant number of people that we're getting that are new to the sport, we're going to need people in the analyst role to teach the game.

CORNISH: I think going forward, people still want a friend to watch the game with in a way. And I don't know, Doc. Maybe you've just - you've been our friend (laughter). I mean, 40 seasons is a long time.

EMRICK: So kind of you to say. I will miss that part of it. And I think the one thing, too, that I'll miss and was starting to miss, even on March 11 when I did my last game in person in an arena - the rules were coming down that we could no longer go into the dressing room and sit with players. And those were the stories - the personal things, that was what was fun to impart. We were the conduits between the players and the coaches and the fans and the people who were listening. And so that was starting to change because of the pandemic. And now in retirement, that's the one thing that I'll miss the most.

CORNISH: Doc Emrick, I'm sure people are going to miss you.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

EMRICK: Thank you so much for your program.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTS SONG, "YOU ARE THE RIGHT ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.