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FEATURE: Devils Memories and an Iconic Broadcaster

Legendary hockey writer Stan Fischler writes about legendary broadcaster Mike Emrick in the days following his retirement announcement

by Stan Fischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

Mike Emrick liked to call his fifteen-year stint as Devils tv play-by-play voice as "The Camelot" of his broadcasting career.

According to legend, Camelot was a mythical city full of adventure and wonderful characters such as King Arthur, Merlin The Magician, and the Knights of the Round Table.

According to Emrick reality, his Camelot was a New Jersey hockey arena full of adventure and wonderful characters such as Chico Resch, Matt Loughlin and the knights of MSG Networks Devils telecast.

Lou Lamoriello, who orchestrated the Devils three Stanley Cups, considered Emrick as much a champion as his New Jersey titlists.

"Mike was the best of the best," says Lou, now running the Islanders franchise. "He was informative, kind, gentle and as prepared as anyone could be. He was respected and liked by everyone.

"He related to all ages and his style kept you feeling not only a part of the game but part of the history of players and teams. Simply put, there's only one Mike Emrick!"

The beauty part of working with Mike was that he blended humor into his indefatigable work ethic. Emrick and Resch were as close as pages in a book; and as amusing.

"I found working with Mike like being on Wayne Gretzky's line," recalls Chico, "or being a defense partner with Bobby Orr. I always was going to be better than I really was. He gave everyone he worked with a sense of confidence.

"We sure did have a lot of fun. Those Devils pre-game tv production meetings we had taken care of business, to be sure, but we also had plenty of laughs as well."

As anyone who's read the tsunami of kudos that followed Emrick's retirement announcement would attest, Mike broadcast major league hockey the right way -- and then some. 

"Emrick's passion is backed up by an incredible resume," says Hockey News editor Ryan Kennedy. "He's a member of seven Halls of Fame."

But no bloc of fans adored and embraced Doc's work more than those from the Garden State. From the very beginning until his retirement from the Devils broadcast in 2011, he was admired, respected, and loved.

 Mike's MSG successor, Steve Cangialosi, puts it simply:

"Thanks for everything, Doc."

Tweet from @MattLoug: Wishing the best to the best! I was so very blessed to work alongside him for so many years. Congratulations on your retirement, Doc! https://t.co/w94ooKoXlk

For those of us in Mike's Camelot, The Emrick Effect began every morning of every Devils' game. First, there was the pre-game skate followed by the pre-production crew huddle.

Resch: "Doc pushed the rest of the crew to raise their level of performance because of his level. And not simply by saying something but simply by his consistency game after game. 

"He loved the Devils. But because of his level of professionalism, he would never reveal that in any public manner. Here's an inside bit; he loved popcorn. It was the only food he indulged in while broadcasting."

It wasn't that Emrick took a one-dimensional view of his gig. He loved to schmooze with everyone from the visiting stick boy to The Game's royalty. Although he had veto power over them, I must brag that he even liked my jokes.

I treasure the Acknowledgments section of Doc's new book in which he wrote to me, "In appreciation for a decade of production meeting gags."

Well, I must tell you that there was one laughing episode that at least momentarily left Doc and Chico on the verge of lockjaw. It happened this way during a Matt and The Maven pre-game segment in Philadelphia.

A minute before the opening face-off my sidekick, Matty Loughlin, and I were supposed to make capsule comments before the opening face-off and then throw it up to Doc and Chico to start the game.

As it happened, just seconds before Matty and I went on camera, our ever-amusing producer Roland Dratch delivered a bit of pithy patter into our earpieces and we simultaneously broke into at least 20 uninterrupted seconds of laughter.

Then, it was time to toss the chatter up to the guys in the booth.

It may have been the only time in Mike's career that he was -- well, almost -- at a loss for words. Finally, he blurted something like, "What's with these guys?"

Loughlin and I were secure in the knowledge that Doc loved our zany Matt and The Maven routines.

"Doc took his responsibilities seriously," Loughlin remembers, "but he delighted in the mayhem. And that includes the madhouse adventures of Matt and The Maven. Devils hockey was always fun and Doc loved it and encouraged it."

Fans knew what was what with the Emrick behind the mike. Less than a minute after he had heard about Mike's retirement, Devils fan David Jurman dispatched the following e-mail to me. 

Video: A Small Snippet of 'Doc' Emrick's Legendary Career

Like others, Jurman rated Doc the best play-by-play man ever and then recalled Doc's words in the final seconds of Game Four of the 1995 Cup Final:

"THE CHAMPIONSHIP TO NEW JERSEY. THE DEVILS WIN THE STANLEY CUP."

Others, such as journalist Robert Taub, share similar memories of Emrick's Devils years behind the New Jersey mike.

Taub: "I'll miss him screaming 'DRIVVEE' and 'HIT THE POST WITH THE SHOT.'"

The fact is that Emrick re-defined the term "wordsmith." The verbal speed with which he could keep pace with the action matched his encyclopedic use of the language.

"Before Emrick came along," one veteran broadcaster remembers, "you never heard a hockey announcer use the words 'paraphernalia,' or 'snarl' the way Mike did. The way Doc did it fit in perfectly and the fans loved it as well."

Plus, there was nothing pretentious about this King Arthur of Hockey Play By Play. More than anything he was a people-person, always aware that the fans pay the bills. 

"Fans are the backbone of the sport," Emrick asserts "People who care about hockey mean a lot to me, and that includes those who pay the price of admission.

"Fan clubs have meant a lot to me, too, and have always been cordial to me. I always try to attend their meetings. I'm scheduled to be a virtual guest at the Devils fan club meeting next week."

One such fan is literary agent and Devils season ticket-holder Doug Whiteman. Doug and his wife, Susan, met Doc, Chico, Matt Loughlin and Yours Truly at a charity lunch in 2002. 

Whiteman: "It was clear that Doc was the glue that made that (tv) team so incredibly effective. Doc always brought an enthusiasm -- a sheer joy -- for the game that made even the most lopsided contests enjoyable.

"This is what set him apart from virtually any other play-by-play broadcasters from any major sport. I loved the delight he took in fisticuffs and scrums on the ice. When he left his role with the Devils it was a sad day for many of us."

From a professional viewpoint, Emrick was admired for his objectivity, even when doing a home team telecast such as the Devils. Never was there a tilt toward one team or the other.

Earlier in his career, that sense of fairness -- giving credit where credit was due -- cost him a gig with a different NHL team. But he landed right back on his feet and never, ever, was given the hook again.

NHL Commissioner Bettman puts it well about Doc for the entire hockey community: "Mike, you have been simply magnificent in your craft. You have been a magnificent representative of hockey for the past fifty years. I want to thank you for all the incredible energy and effort you've given us."

Imagine what a challenge it was for Devils' current MSG Networks play-by-play broadcaster Steve Cangialosi to follow Doc's act when Emrick left the New Jersey telecast team.

Cangy was suitably nervous but Mike had a calming effect and was as reassuring as any pro could be. Ditto for Lou Lamoriello who had hand-picked Steve for the next play-by-play act.

"Don't worry about following a Hall of Famer," said Lou. "Do your job and the rest will take care of itself."

Those who know Emrick best -- and Chico Resch certainly is one of them -- also regard Mike as a genuinely good guy with no airs of stardom that one might expect from his stratospheric level in the broadcast biz. 

Tweet from @NJDevils: He DRIIIIIVESSSS off into the sunset.Congratulations on a legendary career, Doc! #WeAreOne | #ThankYouDoc pic.twitter.com/PjHzlxckK7

"Doc never forgot his roots," adds Resch. "He started at the lowest level of hockey at that time -- Port Huron -- and loved to reminisce about our early days. He would literally jump another level of excitement talking about that.

"Likewise, he could always identify with the fan who just loved hockey at its purest, most simple level. Mike never tried to sound like a know-it-all. He understood plays like 'The Trap' but stayed away from trying to impress people."

Stu Hackel seconds that motion. For years a key member of the NHL's broadcasting unit, Stu remembers when Doc broke into the league's realm with the Devils as well as a weekly TV show, Hockey Week.

"This was not long after Mike started broadcasting Devils games, and he was chosen to be the voice of Hockey Week," Hackel remembers. "He wasn't well-known at the time but he ended up being a perfect choice.

"I saw every taping and Mike's vocal enthusiasm gave the show a real spirit. He was a pro's pro even back then. He always wanted the game to shine and his knowledge -- down to the correct pronunciation of players' names -- made that happen."

Emmy Award-winning broadcaster and frequent Devils reporter George Falkowski admires Emrick's modest persona as much as his broadcasting skill.

"In a sport filled with wonderful personalities," says Falkowski, "Doc is arguably the nicest guy in the history of nice guys. He has a kind word for everyone. He was meticulous in his preparation.

"Also, let's not forget that Mister Emrick expanded the world's hockey dictionary ten-fold. We were blessed to have him all to ourselves in New Jersey for so many seasons."

Delivering more kudos to Michael Emrick is like gilding the rose or painting the lily. But, how about this for closers from Matt Loughlin who knew colleague Doc so long and so well:

"Final words cannot do justice to what a wonderfully kind, humble, charitable, and good man that he is. Has the time for everyone, knows everyone's name. Makes you feel like you're the most important person in the conversation.

"It's a rare quality. More so for someone who is on the Mount Rushmore of broadcasting!"

Yes, our pal Mike Emrick would have been right at home in Camelot

Or, to put it in a more contemporary hockey sense, he was. 

And every New Jersey Devils fan is lucky for that!

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