Friday, July 22, 2011

Doc in class by self

Yesterday, we lost a great voice. Sure. Doc Emrick's not going away permanently as we'll still be able to catch the legendary play-by-play man exclusively on NBC and Versus. Home of hockey and Lord Stanley. Thankfully, he'll still grace our TV sets with that boyish charm that makes fans of us all. It's hard to believe that he will no longer be part of Devil games where he became a fixture for 21 brilliant seasons on the Turnpike.

Maybe it was fate for a franchise that hadn't had any true success because soon after, New Jersey would go onto win three Cups with guess who behind the mic. It was Emrick who got to call their first one after sweeping Detroit in '95, where he teamed with another great voice our metro area lost a few years prior, John Davidson on Fox. On national TV, of course he'd make an elegant call as the clock wound down at the old Meadowlands Arena saying:

"The championship to New Jersey! The Devils win the Stanley Cup!!!!!"

It was like Doc was speaking to the entire Garden State, representing them in the best way possible. That's who he is. To have been complemented by the equally classy and well stated Davidson, who represented our city for so many years, is what made them such a dynamic duo. The best Devil broadcaster and the quintissential Ranger color analyst are the best to ever do it at least in The States. Considering that our team broke Devil hearts a year earlier in one of the greatest series ever en route to its first Cup in 54 years, it was fitting that JD would congratulate the Devil organization as time ticked away. That kinda professionalism from both sides of the Hudson is something that makes the rivalry special. No matter which side you're on, our broadcasters are very complementary of the other. Something I'm proud to say still exists thanks to holdovers Sam Rosen, Chico Resch and Stan Fischler. It's still funny seeing Ken Daneyko as part of Hockey Night Live. But he fits in perfectly.

You can't replace a legend like Doc in the booth. Nobody is more knowledgable and as fun. I can still remember some of our production meetings when yours truly worked the Devils truck for home games during a majority of the '00-01 season. A job I got thanks to the most misunderstood hockey guy outside of Don Cherry, The Maven. Unless you work for him, you shouldn't judge. It was also through Fischler that I wound up in Bristol, Connecticut twice as an NHL researcher for another controversial network ESPN. We'll save that for another day.

During each game, the production team gets together an hour before game time to go over the rundown. A lot of relevant info is used but it always began with a Fischler joke. One stands out that can't be repeated and still brings a grin. Emrick was always well prepared like a hockey encyclopedia. Once, I mentioned to Chico that the two clubs with the most hat tricks were playing with a kid named Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers meeting the A Line and the best second line I can remember (Brylin-Gomez-Mogilny). As the game was winding down in the third period while I was logging highlights, suddenly the affable Resch noted my discovery with my name mentioned on air. I barely noticed but thought how cool it was. That's the kind of quality people that work on these games.

As it pertains to Doc, he was the epitome of someone who cared about you. When I improved, he'd tell me, "Good job." Sometimes, you can just tell when a person is genuine. Mike "Doc" Emrick is and that's what matters most. He's not just another broadcaster in a tough business who worked his way up from doing radio for the Rangers to TV for the Flyers (go figure) to becoming an icon with the Devils. This is a quality individual who goes out of his way to meet and greet fans before and during games when there's time as Hasan accurately noted in his post. It reminds me of a game we went to in the mid-90's at The Garden. The Flyers were in town and I sat in the press box right beneath the broadcast booth. After the game, we climbed over and waited for Davidson, who had to leave quickly due to a Fox game the next day. When he came out, he still signed my media guide and greeted Dad and Justin. The similarities between Doc and JD are endless. Rosen too is a great guy. Basically, all four guys we grew up with are terrific. Chico is one of the sweethearts. Even if he can go a little ga ga with the Marty-isms, I still get a good chuckle.

In many ways, we've been fortunate to have such great announcers for all three clubs in this area. Howie Rose will always be synonymous with "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" Billy Jaffe was fun before he left for Versus full-time. The coverage we get even in the offseason is so much better than the TSN run NHL Network. You can thank MSG with their Vault that brings back classic memories for all three fanbases. I could go on here but won't.

This is about losing a man who knew when to be serious but also mixed in sarcasm and expressions that brought joy to our living rooms. Who else can pull off, "pitch forked out" and "hit the post with the shot," with such vigor? There are so many like "iron," "cage," and signature, "waffleboarded away by Brodeur." There aren't enough adjectives with Doc. He makes every game exciting. Who can forget during the lockout when he effectively called Olympic water polo? I was sitting in my room watching and started laughing hysterically. He basically turned it into hockey, which I mentioned to Justin, who also watched and laughed. Only one of the coolest things ever.

Doc is the best. This is coming from a big Rick Jeanneret guy, who enjoys the legendary Sabres' enthusiasm. There is only one Doc, who as one Devil game was going on, spoke through his headset to a production team that still includes director Roland Dratch and producer Larry Gaines and said about some loud music during a break, "Are we in Mardi Gras?"

Never a dull moment for Emrick. Now, at age 65 which I still have a hard time believing based on how he acts, the Hockey Hall Of Fame Foster Hewitt winner finally gets an easier schedule where he can concentrate fully on being the voice of hockey for NBC/Versus. We'll still get to hear him occasionally call our games, which will make it more special. But even more, I'll try to catch Doc as much as possible because of the total admiration I have. You made hockey here better and will be sorely missed. I hope one day the Rangers and Devils meet deep in the playoffs once more so the greatest voice I know can call it.

Our own hockey God.

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