Behind the scenes
Those who listen to Mike Emrick call a hockey game are amazed by how easy he makes the whole effort sound. The right descriptors. The proper phrase. A terrific anecdote. It all looks like a seamless, no-sweat effort by one of hockey's top play-by-play men.
That's the way it looks, anyway. But anyone who has spent time around the television voice of the New Jersey Devils and the NHL on ABC knows that Emrick sweats the details in a big way. His binder of statistical information looks like the New York City phone book. He reads just about every newspaper and magazine around and his work day begins when the teams report to the rink for the morning's game-day skate, not just before the opening faceoff.
Over the years, the evolution of NHL hockey has made Emrick's life more challenging. With the influx of players from around the globe, pronouncing names can become a sport in and of itself.
"Each year, there seems like there are more names, Czechs, Slovaks and Russians," Emrick said. "I was in Hershey the other night for a game and the Bears' power play had all European players. It was like a European all-star game, so the minors are just as diverse as the NHL, and a lot of those players will be on NHL rosters before too long."
For men like Emrick and his broadcasting brethren, preparation has become the cornerstone to success. So it comes as no surprise that Emrick had a hand in the creation of a pronunciation guide that is now in use by not only broadcasters but many people involved in hockey.
"We were in Montreal at the old Queen Elizabeth Hotel and a meeting of the NHL Broadcasters Association," Emrick said, recalling the birth of the guide that has become so handy. "I think there were only 12 of us present because not everyone traveled to the NHL Entry Draft at the time.
"Chuck Kaiton was calling the Hartford Whalers games and I was with PRISM in Philadelphia. We were talking about asking players the correct pronunciation of their names and said wouldn't it be great if there was one central source. Dick Irvine was chairing the meeting and he agreed. He said; 'Mike, you do it.' Now, this is the 19th edition.
"I remember Chuck saying he would take care of Hartford, Pittsburgh and Quebec and I would take the other 15 teams. The first edition was just six pages, largely because there were only 21 teams at the time and the European invasion hadn't begun yet. Of course, there were a few Swedish names, but they were simple to figure out. There weren't that many that were a challenge, all the French names on the Quebec and Montreal rosters being the rare exception. So, doing the first guide was pretty much a breeze. But as time went on, we found it necessary to extend it to cover draft picks, college players and players in the minor leagues."
"The process begins in training camp," Emrick says of the yearly process. "Announcers will call me and leave a message on my answering machine. They will read all the names on their team's roster, including Clark and Smith. We like to have the guide completed by Labor Day.
"Over the years, it's become more complicated and comprehensive," Emrick said. "Now, we include the names of the referees and linesmen, so there is a lot to put together. My nephew has helped me with it because he's a computer whiz. And because the computer makes it easier to the point where we list all the names both alphabetically and by team. Over the course of the years, and this is the 19th edition, there have been so many trades that it just made sense to handle it alphabetically too." And thanks to computers, Emrick is able to get the guide done all the more quickly.
When Emrick or another announcer has a question regarding a player's name, they often go right to the source to get it correct.
"Players will tell you about their names," Emrick said. "For instance, (former Islander Alex) Kharitonov last season told the team's public relations department that it his name has the hard H sound like Nikolai Khabibulin. In Montreal, Jose Theodore's last name is now anglicized to Theodore.
The way I look at it is how a player's name is pronounced in his hometown is how it should be pronounced. Now, saying that, I always had problems with the Stastny brothers in Quebec. It is pronounced Stash-ny, but when all three of them were on the Quebec power play, they were throwing the puck around so much that I couldn't keep up with it. By the time I said Peter Stash-ny, the puck already was gone, so in that case, I did say Stastny, because it was quicker."