Mike "Doc" Emrick, the iconic voice of the "NHL on NBC," will have a virtual front-row seat for all the remarkable hockey that's about to begin.
Emrick will call the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which begin Saturday with five games, and the subsequent Stanley Cup Playoffs from an elaborate, custom-made studio outside of Detroit. Its exact location, the network joked Monday, is undisclosed and "remains secret."
Working almost in witness protection in his own private bubble, the highly decorated Emrick will be the centerpiece of NBC's broadcast team, calling play-by-play with analyst Eddie Olczyk, who'll be seated at monitors in the network's International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Connecticut. Other NBC announcers, as well as massive production crews, will be stationed in Stamford, Toronto and Edmonton (the two hub cities) to cover the Qualifiers and then the playoffs, reporting on games that will have no fans in two arenas yet will be pulsing with sound to accompany visuals never before seen.
As the NHL returns after pausing its season on March 12 because of concerns about the coronavirus, NBC Sports and Canada's Rogers Sportsnet will use multiple platforms to provide blanket coverage of the Qualifiers in Toronto, where 12 Eastern Conference teams will play at Scotiabank Arena, and Edmonton, where Rogers Place will be home to 12 Western Conference teams, and the playoffs to follow. In French, TVA Sports will carry all Montreal Canadiens games as well as all four rounds of the playoffs. Additional programming will be offered throughout in the U.S. on NHL Network, NHL Center Ice and NHL.TV.
NBC's plan is to have its on-air crew in Edmonton for the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final, but the network is assembling this huge jigsaw puzzle one piece at a time.
"The sun has finally burst through and we've got finalized plans to return to play," Emrick said Monday, joined on a call by Olczyk, fellow analysts Brian Boucher and Patrick Sharp and by Sam Flood, executive producer of hockey for NBC Sports. "Seasons in jeopardy because of injury have now changed. Full recovery has enabled some athletes to return to their teams and contribute toward going to the Stanley Cup. … And try to pick a winner in all of this -- I challenge you to do that."
Emrick got his start calling hockey games on radio in 1974-75 for the defunct Port Huron Flags of the International League. He joked that his broadcast setup today doesn't much resemble what he had in the nearly empty 900-seat Metro Ice Arena in Lansing, Michigan, describing his current studio of multiple monitors, an iPad, microphones and an audio mixer.
Production of games in hub cities is presenting television with challenges never before faced. Cutting-edge technology, historically high numbers of cameras and microphones, enhanced audio and rich graphic elements promise to give fans a unique, compelling look at the action in the weeks ahead.
Telecasts will follow the NHL's directive to be on a five-second delay -- built-in protection because, as Flood suggested, "We do know there will be some words that Doc knows not to use on television."
A device known as a JitaCam will hang beneath the scoreboards over center ice, providing 360-degree views of the action. It's one of many innovations designed to bring viewers closer to the sights and sounds of a game than ever.
Emrick, for one, can't wait to get started. More than four decades into his broadcast career, he sounded to all the world like he was preparing to call his first game. In many ways, that's exactly what awaits him, his colleagues and fans eager for the puck to finally drop again.