For at least a generation of hockey fans, Doc Emrick has been the voice of the NHL – Olympics, Winter Classic games, playoffs and many other national telecasts on FOX and NBC – if there was a big game in the last twenty-five years odds are Doc was doing it. And why not? He combined a storyteller’s flair and a child’s enthusiasm with a golden voice to entertain and inform hockey fans throughout North America for decades. It’s hard to believe Doc is 74, or that he has been broadcasting for fifty years. I couldn’t help but feel sad upon hearing the news of Doc’s retirement this morning, after all it seems like a piece of my youth has gone away.
If national fans have gotten to enjoy Doc, Devil fans have been able to savor him as nobody else has, since he was the team’s first voice in New Jersey when the team moved from Colorado in 1982 and stayed until 1986 in his first stint before going to the Flyers for a few years. I’d hardly believe he ever announced Flyer games if not for hearing the call of Ron Hextall’s goal, the first ever off a goalie’s stick in the playoffs.
After spending some time in Philly, Doc came back to New Jersey just in time for the franchise’s unparalleled run of success beginning in the mid ’90’s. As luck would have it, Doc got to call yet another memorable goalie scoring in the playoffs goal, this one by Martin Brodeur against his boyhood team, the Canadiens.
Like most of his broadcasts during that period Doc was calling that game as part of the regular MSG/Metro/SportsChannel/whatever network the Devils were broadcasting games on. Unlike nowadays, the local telecasts still broadcast the first couple rounds of the playoffs. For the first part of his tenure (at least that I remember) he did games with Peter McNab but in the late ’90’s was paired with another one-of-a-kind character in former goaltender Chico Resch.
Doc’s professorial, storytelling nature and Chico’s goofy, off the wall homerism made them a beloved pairing for just about every Devil watcher. Probably my favorite ever Doc and Chico exchange came during a game against the Flyers in the early ’00’s, when Chico couldn’t help but notice that Devils ace penalty killer John Madden wasn’t on the ice for a particular PK, and alluded to it in passing two or three times. Finally towards the end of the penalty Chico said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t know if he’s got a skate issue or what the problem is…’
Doc: ‘The problem will be alleviated as Madden comes out of the box now’
Chico: (laughs) Oh yeah
New Jersey’s salad days on the ice were complemented with a first-rate broadcasting team off the ice. Doc and Chico doing games provided the color for the action itself while Matt and the Maven had their own ying-and-yang act during intermissions. For over fifteen years Doc did both local and national broadcasts. At FOX it was Doc with Ranger broadcaster John Davidson, and for a brief period of time – before Davidson left to work in the Blues’ front office and started a long management career – they were the gold standard for all hockey broadcasts, with one example why here in a YouTube of the final few minutes of the Devils’ 1995 Stanley Cup triumph.
In his capacity doing national games for FOX, Doc still got to call the Devils’ first championship in 1995 on TV, and as usual was understated yet powerful:
‘The championship to New Jersey…the Devils win the Stanley Cup!’
Unfortunately ESPN didn’t employ Doc when they got the rights to the Stanley Cup Finals games, but he still got to call – and emcee – many memorable Devils moments along the way, also receiving countless individual awards for his work and service – including being honored with hockey’s highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame. When he left the Devils in 2011 to focus on only doing national games, his explanation was typically deep with a touch of self-depreciating, commenting about how sometimes you have to look in the mirror and at your birth certificate (he was 65 then) before making major life decisions.
Even though for the last decade of his career he was no longer our own to cherish, we still felt like he was during a brief, shining moment in the year after he left when he got to call the Devils’ last truly iconic moment in 2012 – Adam Henrique’s OT Conference Finals winner against the hated Rangers – this time on NBCSN.
Maybe it was fitting as the team got worse and the Devils made fewer national TV appearances, we got slowly weaned off of Doc as a local guy but still got to enjoy him from afar. Ironically things came full circle in what’s now the final game Doc ever broadcasted, when former Devil Blake Coleman scored the Lightning’s second goal.
If I knew it would be Doc’s last game I’d have been watching too but typically he didn’t make a meal of his retirement and waited until after the playoffs and the NHL’s warp speed draft and FA periods after that before word got out this morning. Maybe I’ll find that Game 6 online somewhere and watch, or some of Doc’s many Devils highlights. Doc may be gone in terms of active broadcasting, but in the age of YouTube and electronics, his presence will live on forever.