My first memory of watching hockey was turning on WPSG-57 on a Saturday night during the Phil Dineen-Kevin Dineen era of the Philadelphia Flyers, probably around 1990.
Since we didn’t have cable in Waterford Works, there weren’t many chances to watch the Flyers, Sixers, or Phillies. Back then, games were on PRISM or SportsChannel Philadelphia more often than broadcast TV.
Doc Emrick Retires After Decades of Greatness
Philadelphia has a tremendous role call of great broadcasters, either working for teams or stations. One of those was Mike “Doc” Emrick, who called the Flyers for two stints in the 80s and early 90s. That night, my first experience with hockey, he was on the mic.
The Flyers didn’t keep him around after the 1993 season so he went up the NJ Turnpike to the Devils (we’ll get back to this). Yeah, he worked for the Devils when he was with the Flyers. We didn’t really know that.
The Journey of a Legend
The guy whose seat he filled in NJ became the voice I most associated with the NHL on a national stage in that era. Gary Thorne, Friday nights on ESPN, the horn-filled intro music, all we needed back then. He and Bill Clement were the start of many great weekends in South Jersey.
However, when the games went to broadcast TV on Fox, our old friend Mike Emrick was back. Emrick’s voice was raspy and spiked. People are more likely to remember the Glow Puck from the back end of the 90s but the calls Emrick made were memorable.
Fast forward to 2005. I spent my whole sophomore year of college without the NHL, months after the Flyers took Tampa to seven thrilling games in the Eastern Conference Finals, a series to this I insist is the best overall playoff series I watched in my tenure as a Flyers fan. Hockey’s back on national TV, now on something called OLN.
Once again, Doc Emrick was on the call. He was the voice of three Stanley Cup titles for the Devils, he and Glenn “Chico” Resch. In this return of hockey, he was a welcoming presence.
Hockey came back to NBC, through Versus and the local affiliates. I started to pay attention more to the call of the game. Of course, in Philly, we have the smooth voice of Jim Jackson on Flyers TV.
Voice for the Game
Emrick was different, a walking vocab book and storyteller. After years of calling football and basketball in college, I decided to strike out for a professional broadcast career of my own, finding a hockey league in the Northeast. Emrick made it look easy so it had to be, right?
Baseball and football have short bursts of action with longer periods of waiting, like riding a bus in a crowded city. Basketball has started and stops with a little more action, like taking the subway.
Hockey is hard. It’s like a long interstate bus ride, without knowing the stops in between. Line changes, tracking the puck, sometimes difficult vantage points, with all the difficult foreign names to pronounce? Yeah, good luck kid.
I did a few seasons before my career petered out. It was fun, except for being broke and a variety of things I can’t divulge on a family site like this. Broadcasting hockey is like long-distance runners. Guys like Emrick belonged on boxes of Wheaties.
Fast forward to 2014, when I was working sales for the New Jersey Devils in Newark. I took a family on a seat tour in an attempt to lock them in for a package. As we went through the Prudential Center, we stumbled into the room that served our pre-game meal. Who was sitting there but the voice millions of Devils fans associate with the franchise’s halcyon days.
He was very kind with his time, meeting with the family. He even shared the story about what happened when he left Philadelphia. Apparently, the Flyers wanted to keep his wife, Joyce, in the ticket office. Yeah, that was an awkward request. (The family didn’t buy tickets. I’m apparently much better at writing than I was at selling tickets).
Monday, Emrick announced he would retire from broadcasting, something he has done for decades. We’ll miss his ability to keep the game fresh by not repeating verbs (he did earn an actual doctorate degree). We’ll miss the years of stability and familiar voice he provided in a world of chaos. We’ll miss his small-town humility and grace in a world that increasingly favors ego and bravado. In a world of copycats, he’s an original