Hockey fans can thank their lucky stars that Charles and Mary Emrick decided to take in a minor-league hockey game with son Michael more than a half century ago.
The contest played that evening between the Fort Wayne Komets and Muskegon Zephyrs in the International Hockey League had a profound impact on Emrick, just 14 at the time. That night, his visions of becoming a baseball broadcaster were forever changed.
It also had a profound effect on the way America would listen to hockey in the coming decades as that awe-struck boy gradually turned into perhaps the best hockey announcer in the United States, a man who has lent his voice to virtually every seminal moment in the game's history during the past few decades.
What's in a name?
Common knowledge would have you conclude Mike Emrick earned the nickname 'Doc' after receiving his doctorate in radio and television from Bowling Green State University in 1976.
While that may be true, someone had to be credited with hanging the perfect nickname on one of the game's most influential broadcasters.
"I started course work in 1971 for two years, and at the end, felt like I needed to earn a living so I did the second period of Bowling Green ice hockey home games for two years," Emrick told NHL.com. "That's 18 periods for two different years, but I sent tapes out and got my first chance in the pros in Port Huron, Mich., with the Port Huron Flags (of the International Hockey League) and continued to work on my dissertation while I was in the IHL. I finished up in '76."
In 1977, Emrick was hired by the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League, broadcasting the club's Calder Cup titles in 1978 and '79.
"The president of the [Mariners], Ed Anderson, started calling me 'Doc' because I had the degree," Emrick said. "Everyone in Port Huron knew me as Mike because I certainly wasn't a doctorate guy then. But Ed, who later went on to own the AHL's Providence Bruins and still lives up in Maine, was actually the first guy to call me that."
-- Mike G. Morreale
"It was Dec. 10, 1960," Emrick told NHL.com. "I had wanted to be a baseball announcer until that night. When I got out of that place, things were different."
Actually, it was more curiosity than excitement that intrigued Emrick.
"I wondered why the Zamboni didn't chew up the red line and blue lines," Emrick said. "They had chicken wire screens along the side where today we have Plexiglas. But all of those things were really fascinating to me and I was hooked. It turned out to be a real major event in my life."
Growing up in northern Indiana in the small town of La Fontaine, Mike and his brother, Dan, spent their days playing baseball every day. He'd gain an appreciation of sports broadcasting during that time. On those afternoons when he wasn't outside playing catch, he was twisting the radio dial, tuning in to broadcasts of the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.
"We'd listen to games at night, build scoreboards out of plywood and nails and hang the scores, inning-by-inning," Emrick said. "We were fanatics."
Ultimately, the game on the frozen floor would become his passion.
In nearly 40 years as a play-by-play announcer, Emrick has been behind the microphone for many of the most memorable games in modern hockey history, including 13 Stanley Cup Finals and 23 Game 7 playoff matches. He has also called a number of Olympic hockey games.
"The great thing about Doc was his willingness to start at the very bottom and through hard work and crafting his skills, become the best of his generation," Glenn "Chico" Resch told NHL.com. Resch was Emrick's broadcast partner on television broadcasts of the Devils for 15 years. Emrick left the club this summer to broadcast full-time for NBC and Versus
On Dec. 12, Emrick becomes the first media member inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, joining a class that features former players Chris Chelios
, Gary Suter
and Keith Tkachuk
and Philadelphia Flyers
owner Ed Snider. The ceremony is at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel.
"When I first started out, Doc told me this wasn't like doing cancer research or working for NASA; we were part of the entertainment field," Resch said. "He said if I didn't feel comfortable describing the little nuisances other announcers might catch, to just bring enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, he said, will cover you until you start developing your style.
"I always say the reason Doc and I worked so well together was I was quirky and he was witty. I could say something kind of goofy and he could spin it into humor."
The effervescent Emrick has called NHL games for all the major American broadcast networks, while also serving as the voice of Devils from 1983-86 and 1993-2011 and the Flyers from 1988-93.
He received the Lester Patrick
Award, for contributions to American hockey, in 2004 and also received the Hockey Hall of Fame's Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to hockey broadcasting in 2008. He was the first hockey broadcaster to earn a national Emmy Award for "Outstanding Sports Personality -- Play by Play" in 2011 -- beating out Joe Buck, Jim Nance, Bob Costas, Al Michaels and Verne Lundquist.
HALL OF FAME
Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
U.S. Hall of fame inductee Ed Snider has fashioned an undeniable hockey legacy. READ MORE ›
Emrick, who took voice lessons early in his career, said there were three veteran broadcasters who had a major influence on his career.
"Bob Chase is still doing games for the Fort Wayne Komets -- he did play-by-play for that game I attended in 1960," Emrick said. "Bob has talked to more people on radio than any other broadcaster in the U.S. The Komets are 60 years old and this is his 59th season behind the mic. Only Vin Scully [Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers] has been with the same team longer than Bob Chase. Bob used English very well, and I think that was part of why I enjoyed him."
Emrick also credited Canadian radio and television broadcaster Danny Gallivan and longtime Flyers' broadcaster Gene Hart for shaping his career.
"I loved the way Danny could use words that would stick with you and be a part of the fun you had in watching a hockey game," he said. "I got to travel with Gene a lot during my time with the Flyers and he thought about the science of calling a game."
Emrick admits the excitement never fades in the hours leading up to a hockey game. He usually puts in about eight hours preparing for a broadcast prior to puck drop.
"Doc always had the heaviest black bag with statistics," Resch said. "That thing should have been on rollers but he threw it over his shoulder. Doc was my 'Google'. He always wrote down specific plays and events and would then talk to people on the inside to get the story -- he then remembered those stories. His brain was like a little file. His memory was great and that's what separated him from everyone else. He'd always go to managers and ask them about incidents, diving into the second layer of a story that most color or play-by-play guys wouldn't do. Those were the stories he loved to tell to his audience."
To Emrick, hockey is -- and always will be -- one of the greatest sporting events to witness live. His love for the sport hasn't wavered since his indoctrination to the game on that cold December night in 1960.
"I marvel at guys who can use unnatural extensions -- their stick off their arm and skates off their feet," he said. "And to be able to do it at 30 mph, shoot at 100 mph and collide with people inside a walled-in area. The fact there are occasional outbreaks of temper proves that morality still works every once in a while.
"All of these things thrown together just make it a fascinating human experience in watching the sport. I've been married to Joyce for 33 years and [a love for hockey is] almost like trying to explain why you love your wife so much. It's one of those things that's not terribly cerebral; it's really a part of the heart. That's probably the best way to explain why I love the sport so much."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale