Mike “Doc” Emrick broadcasts a game between New Jersey and Los Angeles in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. A St. Clair native, Emrick has worked on 40 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs and has called over 3,500 games in his career.

Mike “Doc” Emrick broadcasts a game between New Jersey and Los Angeles in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. A St. Clair native, Emrick has worked on 40 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs and has called over 3,500 games in his career.

Photo provided by NBC Sports Group

‘Doc’ Emrick serves as the voice of hockey

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published June 22, 2018

ST. CLAIR SHORES — For many, the sounds of spring include chirping birds, graduation marches and the occasional rolls of thunder.

For hockey fans, the unmistakable voice of Mike Emrick is added to that list.

The St. Clair native is a fixture in the sport, having called over 3,500 games in his career. Emrick has announced 40 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs, working his way up through the minor leagues to become the first broadcaster inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Born in the small town of La Fontaine, Indiana, Emrick’s first professional stop was in 1973 as the play-by-play man of the Port Huron Flags, an International Hockey League affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.

“After some college, I came to Michigan to do Flags games. I didn’t know a ton about it, but after about a year here, I liked the area a lot,” Emrick said. “I met Joyce here, my future wife. We always thought that we’d have to retire to come back here, but one of the wonderful things about working for a network is they don’t really care where you live. If you work for a hockey team, you have to live where the team is, but the network lets you choose. So, we chose to relocate back home.”

After earning degrees from Manchester University in Indiana and Miami University (Ohio), Emrick earned a Ph.D. in communications from Bowling Green State University in 1976. There he earned the popular nickname “Doc.” Stops with the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners and calling games for the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers served as prerequisites for a promotion to the Madison Square Garden Network in 1996.

With MSGN, Emrick served as the Devils’ primary play-by-play man, earning three Stanley Cup rings while being able to live over 600 miles away from the club’s home of Newark.

“Joyce and I have always been people that like smaller communities,” Emrick explained. “She grew up in Port Huron, and I grew up in a town of 600 in Indiana. We also like the water, and it’s obviously hard to ignore the water nearby. I’m not really a water sports guy; I just like being near it. We love the change of seasons, and there’s plenty of that here. When the winters get long, it kind of becomes a curse, but the reward we get is a nice spring and wonderful summers.”

Emrick considers himself a native Michigander after two decades in the state. He likes the closeness to Detroit while also having access to the countryside.

“We really like the proximity to a major metropolitan area. We like going to Tigers games, the Civic Opera House and plays down in Detroit,” Emrick explained. “We have two dogs and keep five horses stabled near us. We like having creatures nearby. Much of our time is spent with family around here. I travel so much in the winter that when I’m off, we like staying in the boundaries of Michigan to go camping, exploring and spending time with those we care about.”

Serving as the lead play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports since 2011, Emrick’s schedule is stuffed throughout the NHL season. He calls one game a week until the end of the calendar year. As football winds down, Emrick picks up a second assignment, usually a Sunday matinee affair to go along with his work on NBCSN’s “Wednesday Night Rivalry” matchups.

When the playoffs start, Emrick is given one series per round, which results in roughly a game every other night over the course of three months.

“It’s like a school year,” Emrick said. “It starts about the middle of September with training camps opening and ends around the middle of June. The playoffs really keep you busy.”

Emrick recalls a time when he called 152 games in a single calendar year.

“That was an Olympic year, so in that case you have some extra work, but you can’t keep doing that year after year and keep your sanity,” Emrick admitted. “There comes a time where you ask yourself why you’re doing all these games.”

A typical year sees Emrick work 50-55 games. His slate includes the annual Winter Classic and other outdoor NHL games along with every game of the Stanley Cup Finals. NBC’s Olympic rights have offered Emrick an international stage, including water polo at the 2004 and 2012 games.

“This is not some scripted sport. That’s the beauty of it,” Emrick said. “It’s a slippery sport played on ice. My job offers me a tremendous opportunity to relay what I’m seeing to the audience. Being the play-by-play guy is not as exciting as it is for someone holding a ticket. The fan is there to enjoy the experience, but we’re there to work.”

Emrick is known for his extensive verbiage during a broadcast. Several seasons ago, a fan on social media counted over 150 verbs he used in a single game, including the likes of scrambled, shoveled, ladled, gallops, careens, guides and gloved.

“That’s just how I talk,” Emrick said with a laugh. “I don’t have a list or anything like that. There’s nothing preconceived. It’s just spontaneous and how I talk to people. I’m just reacting to what I see and go about it how I normally would in conversation.”

Going into this year’s finals, which featured the Washington Capitals and expansion team Las Vegas Golden Knights, Emrick had never called a contest for Vegas. 

“I got into Vegas a day and a half early and basically sequestered myself in my room,” Emrick recalled. “I did a lot of background and research. I assembled a lot of notes so I had it fresh in hand and mind. You never want to force in a fact or note; otherwise, it seems forced. Fortunately, in our business, we don’t go to press until 8 p.m. and the action happens for us. You want to be spontaneous, but you have to have your lineups with the names and numbers. You don’t really have time to look down at those; you basically have to memorize them, and that comes through repetition.”

Emrick brought to life Washington’s first title as the Capitals won the series 4-1. Broadcast to millions, Emrick said a slightly different approach is taken in order to grow the game.

“For the final, we do try to be more general in information that we pass along,” Emrick explained. “We don’t do as much inside stuff with the analysis. I try to use language that someone new to hockey can understand. We have a tremendous opportunity to win new fans, so we don’t want to use terms that could be confusing.”

A six-time Emmy Award winner, Emrick has served as the vice president of the NHL Broadcasters Association since 1985. His voice can be heard on the EA Sports NHL video game, and in 2008 he received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions as a broadcaster.

Despite the many accolades and his three Stanley Cup rings with New Jersey, Emrick most takes pride in his place in Michigan.

“To be able to say you’re a member of a championship team is a thrill. To do it three times is a great memory,” Emrick said. “I’ve had many honors passed my way too. But at the end of the day, what I like most of all from this job is that you’re able to lead a life with people that you choose in a place that you like. To live a life with Joyce and these creatures in a place that I enjoy is probably the No. 1 thing of all.”