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Emrick looks back on Hall-of-Fame career

by Chuck Gormley
When the New Jersey Devils honored the career of Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Emrick earlier this month, the 62-year-old announcer made sure his acceptance speech was short and to the point.

"I knew the Penguins were heading to Toronto the next night for Doug Gilmour Night and they certainly didn't want to be standing around waiting for me to finish," Emrick said. "The good thing is the game started on time."

For a man who makes his living talking, Emrick graciously accepted his gifts, thanked the Devils and their fans for their support and went back to work in the halo that surrounds the Prudential Center.

The following morning, Emrick, who will call Sunday afternoon's NHL on NBC game between the Rangers and Flyers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) sat down for an exclusive interview with and spoke freely about his start in the broadcast business, his favorite moments in the booth and the changes that have occurred in game productions during his 25-year career in the NHL. -- As a boy growing up in La Fontaine, Ind., what attracted you to sports? Did you play hockey as a youngster?

Emrick -- No. I was never built very well. I remember being 6-years-old when my parents bought our first television. I watched everything. I'd sit there and keep score while watching a basketball game. I remember CBS having the rights to the NHL for Saturday afternoon games and watching Bud Palmer call the Original Six. My parents always insisted on me going outside and playing. I guess they thought I lived a sheltered life. In fact, I remember going to the school nurse and she told me I needed glasses because I sat in front of the television too much. That must have been a wives' tale at the time because everyone in my mother's family wore glasses. -- Can you talk about your first experience with the NHL? I understand it was as a newspaper reporter.

Emrick --
I was teaching speech and communications Tuesdays and Thursdays at Geneva College in Beaver Falls (Pa.) and administering to the campus radio station. But I found I had some extra time and I really wanted to get involved in hockey. So I went to John Mitchell, the editor of the Beaver County Times and told him I would cover all of the Penguins home games in the 1970-71 season for nothing if he gave me a pass.

Back then we wrote with typewriters and it was an evening paper, so I'd come home and write and rewrite my story two or three times and drop the story in the slot at 11 at night for the next day's paper. I had a byline and everything, all for free. -- After calling games in the IHL and AHL you broke into the NHL in the Devils' first season in 1983-84. What are some things you remember about that year?

Emrick -- We had a telecast in Washington between the Caps and the Devils and it was back in the one-ref system and Kerry Fraser was the referee that night. We all know that sometimes hockey players use language better fitted for the coal mine. Anyway, the game was slightly attended and one of the teams had a two-or-three goal lead late in the game when Phil Russell of the Devils took a penalty on Bengt Gustafsson. Well, there was a microphone near the penalty box and Phil must have thought Gustafsson went down too easily because he yelled to Kerry, "He's just a fill-in-the-blank European." I knew if I heard it in my headset, everyone watching heard it, but I didn't want to draw attention to it so I just continued on.

Of course, the Devils were not the best team in the League that year and one of their defensemen, Dave Lewis, who went on to become a great coach, had one of the best quotes of the season when he called the Devils "the best bunch of guys he ever played with that couldn't win a hockey game." --
You've worked alongside quite a few color analysts over the years. Can you share some stories about unusual things that happened in the booth? Bill Clement told me a player was once caught on camera picking his nose?

Emrick (laughing) -- David Latta. We had a shared feed from Quebec and there was a shot of him on the bench. They went to the shot and the guys in the truck didn't notice, so they didn't get off the shot right away. After a while, Bill and I couldn't contain ourselves. After that game Bill always referred to Latta as the Nose Auger. -- Any funny stories involving John Davidson?

Emrick -- Well, J.D.'s signature call was "Oh Baby!" We were in Detroit one night and the guys in the truck, Sandy Grossman and Richie Zyontz, knew he liked to say it. Sure enough a guy scores an incredible goal and just as J.D. opens his mouth, the guys in the truck went to a woman in the crowd holding a small child. The timing could not have been more perfect. J.D. belted out 'Oh, Baby!' and I dropped my head on the table and laughed.

"Well, J.D.'s signature call was "Oh Baby!" We were in Detroit one night and the guys in the truck, Sandy Grossman and Richie Zyontz, knew he liked to say it. Sure enough a guy scores an incredible goal and just as J.D. opens his mouth, the guys in the truck went to a woman in the crowd holding a small child. The timing could not have been more perfect."
-- Mike Emrick -- In your 25 years of broadcasting NHL games you have seen a lot of changes, from glowing pucks to shootouts. In what ways do you think the game presentation has changed for the better?

Emrick -- High definition has really made a difference. There is nothing like being at a game and I still think it's best seen live, but with high def and more microphones, television is now reinforcing what the fans are watching live.

Audio has really improved to the point where you can hear the loud music and the rattle of boards when guys are checked, the skates cutting through the ice, the sound of a goaltender counting down the seconds and slapping his stick on the ice at the end of a penalty. Even though every one of us have been trained in radio, it's important to let fans hear the game and there are times you can lay off for 10 or 15 seconds, especially if a crowd in really into it and chanting. -- Your experience includes some of the best Stanley Cup Finals and Olympic games ever played. Are those experiences the most gratifying?

Emrick --
I think the Olympics stand out because those are the times when the eyes of the hockey world are on one game and a lot of people who don't normally watch are being introduced to the sport.

One memory that stands out has nothing to do with hockey, but it shows how prepared the organizers in Norway were for the '94 Games. The Norwegians were so concerned about the athletes being unable to get to their venues after training for four years. Since many of the athletes had to take rail lines to their venues the organizers were worried that the elk along the mountainside would come down and stand on the tracks and stall the rail lines. So to avoid a possible disaster, they went into the woods with an enormous feast for the elk, then they surrounded the wooded areas with wolf urine to keep them from leaving. They must have known what they were doing because there was not one incident of elk coming into the city.
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