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Emrick: Neither rain, nor snow ...

by Mike G. Morreale

"We consider this game a really important telecast because of its potential of reaching new people to the sport of hockey."
-- Mike Emrick

There was a time during the second period of the 2008 NHL Winter Classic when any hot dog or refreshment purchased likely was saturated by the sleet that dropped on Ralph Wilson Stadium and the 70,000-plus in attendance in Orchard Park, N.Y.

It was during that same period when NBC play-by-play man Mike Emrick watched in dismay as his alphabetically ordered string of notes wash away before his very eyes.

Today, the 62-year-old Emrick, perhaps the most renowned NHL broadcaster in the business, can laugh about it.

"It was sort of sidebar humor just to give (the viewing audience) some idea what the fans were going through because we were like they were -- out in the elements," Emrick told "We weren't under protection, so just as the fans got drenched and their hot dogs got damp and cold, so did our notes. This year, I'm going to try and bring some kind of plastic covering. The hard thing is, though, if you add to your notes over the course of the afternoon, you have to lift the plastic."

To be perfectly honest, whether or not "Doc" was forced to add to his notes, you kind of get the feeling his encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its players would suffice.

"I think you approach this game differently than a regular season game because you have so many things that can happen, and last year some of them did," Emrick said. "Our (NBC) producer, Sam Flood, has all kinds of things in his bag that he can bring out if he needs to, but I think what all of us strive for is to bring all the elements that you feel people would enjoy. People usually enjoy hearing about the personal elements rather than how many goals a team has scored in their last five power-play attempts.

"Of course, you certainly don't want to overload (the viewers) with information. You want the event to sell itself and, sometimes, as it did last Jan. 1, it will, without a lot of words."

Emrick once again will provide play-by-play for NBC's coverage of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day. Joining the 2008 Foster Hewitt Award winner will be Chicago native and color commentator Eddie Olczyk, ice-level reporter Pierre McGuire and studio analyst Mike Milbury.

"We consider this game a really important telecast because of its potential of reaching new people to the sport of hockey," Emrick said. "Our sport has always been about playoffs, so in one regard it's hard to say a regular-season game has the gravity of playoffs. But in the overall appeal of the sport and the potential that the sport has, it's probably as great on Jan. 1 as it would be on a day in June when so many hockey teams have been eliminated. That's the most exciting time of the year for hockey fans.

"That said, I think the Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are in the same solar system as far as importance, let's put it that way."

Emrick vividly recalls the spectacle that was Ralph Wilson Stadium prior to the opening faceoff between the Sabres and the Penguins last season, and is looking forward to the pregame festivities at Wrigley.

"It was an awesome thing to behold," Emrick said. "We had to do an on-camera thing live at the time the players were marching in, so we had to turn our backs to the celebration, but we could sneak a peak on the monitor. I remember talking to Ryan Whitney a week after the game and he said while walking down the runway, he heard the pipe band and saw the flames going up and he said to teammate Colby Armstrong behind him in line, 'Look around you, Army, we'll never forget this.' The roar of the 70,000 people, plus all the sound from the pipes, the fire and all of those other touches, really made it a grand start to an event."

But as good as the opening ceremony was, it took a back seat to the hockey that was displayed that afternoon.

"I spoke to each of the four officials a few weeks later when it was all over to ask their memories of it all," Emrick said. "One of them told me, 'You know, that whole afternoon, even with the occasional delays and resurfacing, not one player ever complained.' They just played on because that was a part of it."

Despite the fact a heavy snowfall in overtime made it challenging for the broadcast team last year, Emrick knows it also set the tone for a dramatic finish.

"What made the play more appealing was the weather, but the fact the guys played at a high level and played terrific hockey through the elements was even more incredible," Emrick said. "(Referee) Marc Joannette was the checkered-line referee for the shootout and Don Van Massenhoven was at the goal line. At one point, Marc said, 'I was watching (Sidney) Crosby stick handle (on the final shot of the shootout) and in addition to pushing the puck, he was pushing a whole lot of snow, as well.' And I thought, 'Why not?' That's probably the way it was in (Crosby's hometown of) Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, or the way it was in East Lansing (Mich.), when (Sabres goalie) Ryan Miller played outdoors."

Contact Mike Morreale at
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