A big loss for hockey this morning with the announcement that Mike “Doc” Emrick is retiring.
Emrick, whose roots run deep with the Flyers, was the voice of the sport. From Olympics to Stanley Cups to Sunday afternoon games in March, Emrick’s unique style often turned a violent game into a ballet of 6-foot men weighing 200 pounds.
Emrick, 74, has been involved in hockey since 1970, starting out as a volunteer sports writer covering the Penguins for the Beaver County Times just to get his foot in the door. He moved into broadcasting in 1973 with the Port Huron Flags of the IHL. His first NHL job was with the Flyers from 1980 to ‘83. He had another stint here from 1988 to ’93 and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011, the same year as Flyers founder Ed Snider.
“It was 50 years ago this fall, with pen and pad in hand at old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, I got my first chance to cover the National Hockey League," Emrick said in video essay announcing his retirement. “Gordie Howe was a Red Wing, Bobby Hull was a Blackhawk, Bobby Orr was a Bruin. All three went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Gordie Howe’s son, Mark, and Bobby Hull’s son, Brett, did too ... A time like this makes me recall that we have seen a lot together.”
Emrick, who earned his doctorate in broadcast communications from Bowling Green in 1976, has covered 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 playoff Game 7s and six Olympics. He’s won eight Emmy Awards — including the last seven, most ever for the play-by-play category — and is in seven Halls of Fame.
He was working for the Port Huron Wings in the mid 1970s when coach Bob McCammon told him the Flyers were starting an AHL team in Portland, Maine. Emrick was promoted to the big leagues in 1980, calling Flyers games on the revolutionary cable channel PRISM.
» From the archives: Mike Emrick joins Flyers' broadcast crew
His first NHL call was a preseason game between the Flyers and Canadiens at the Spectrum.
“Without that opportunity,” he said, “the rest of my career would not have flourished, that’s for sure.”
Emrick grew up in tiny La Fontaine, Ind., and was with at first reluctant to come to Philadelphia. Geography notwithstanding, he wasn’t sure it was the best career move. In fact, he turned down the chance to call NHL games in 1979. Curiously, he regarded calling 80 games in the American League better than 30 in the National League. “Don’t ask me why I thought that,” he chuckled.
But much of what I love, perhaps what you love, is unchanged from then to now and into the years ahead...I especially love when the horn sounds, and one playoff team has won and another of course hasn’t, all hostility dissolves into that timeless great display of sportsmanship — the handshake line. Sixty years since I saw my first game. Fifty years since I first reported on the NHL. Forty years of calling NHL games, and I am always heartened to see this.
“Fortunately for me, they asked me again the next year,” Emrick said. “The president of the Maine Mariners, Ed Anderson, told me ‘they probably aren’t going to ask you a third time.’ So in the fall of 1980, my wife and I put our [Portland] house up for sale and moved down [to Philadelphia].”
Emrick also called games in his career for the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. He has worked for just about all the major networks, including NBC, where has been since 2006. Al Michaels said Emrick was as important to hockey as John Madden was to football.
Kenny Albert, who is NBC’s No. 2 play-by-play announcer, figures to step into the lead role next season.
Emrick’s book, “Off Mike” goes on sale on Tuesday. He’s donating 100% of his proceeds to various animal welfare causes.
“It seemed like it’s time. Fifty is a round number [of years] covering the league,” he reflected. “You look outside and see that this is the autumn of your years. This is a time to turn to other things, including a commitment to helping people with [infirm] animals. There’s no back story. No other things. This is it.”