‘Doc’ Emrick talks career, ‘Edzo’ and Blackhawks rebuild

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Dr. Mike Emrick speaks after being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony and dinner in Chicago, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

by Scott King

“How are ya!,” exclaims Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick in the United Center press box with almost every step he takes to individuals eager to say hello to the legendary broadcaster and explain how they know him.

It’s less than an hour till game time before the Blackhawks take on the Maple Leafs and Emrick has time for everybody. The reason for the insurmountable meet and greets that Emrick handles like a pro and a gentleman are the same reason the people at home turn up their TVs when he’s calling a game.

The nickname isn’t for show, and it’s not just because he has a Ph.D. in Communications, it seems to fit more appropriately because Emrick is a doctor of words. When the red light goes on in the booth, ‘Doc’ is a surgeon operating with the English language as his tool, telling the story of one of the fastest games on Earth.

When did the nickname ‘Doc’ start to stick in the hockey world?

I got the doctorate at Bowling Green in 1976 and most everyone in the IHL knew me as “Mike” and they kept calling me that. When I got my next job in the American [Hockey] League, the president of the team in Maine, Ed Anderson, was the first person to call me that and it started to get around. It’s not a very creative nickname, it’s what most people call people who have D-R.

I don’t use it very often myself because I figure they’ll probably wind up on an airline ticket and they’ll go down on the manifest and if somebody has a calamity they’ll think that I can help them. All I can do is read to somebody, I can’t solve their problems.

Have you always been able to turn a phrase and speak as eloquently as you do on the broadcasts?

It’s kind of you to say that. It’s not a conspiracy at all. It’s just the way I talk. My dogs at home don’t understand that, my wife does, but they don’t. They react more [to] ‘sit’ and ‘shake’ and things like that. It’s just how I talk and how I think when I watch a hockey game. It’s just how it comes out.

I haven’t written out phrases and carried them into the booth with me that ‘I’m going to get those in tonight,’ nothing like that. I probably have more of those now than I did when I started 45 years ago. That’s just because of the raw number of doing games. I haven’t really tried.

How hard is hockey to call with the speed involved with it?

The great educator Suzuki said that all that skill is knowledge plus doing something 10,000 times. I’ve done about 3,550 games, somewhere in there, so I’m not anywhere close to 10,000.

I’ve never done a perfect game, the most recent ones are better than the first few were. That’s just from learning the geometry of the sport, and also the guys that play it at this level are better than the ones that I saw in the lower minors. So you get fewer surprises at this level than I used to get in the IHL.

Are the two elements to your broadcasting that have made you so successful being the wordsmith and also the moments where you have unbridled enthusiasm?  

You don’t get too creative, you’re right. You don’t get too creative when there’s something exciting going on. You don’t search through your vocabulary for that, you just react like a fan would. Sometimes, I suppose, I haven’t studied it much, I suppose that the vocabulary, the varied words come out more when there’s not as much happening, than when there’s very close plays and things like that. So I think that’s probably when you have the time to relax and search through it more, than otherwise.

How remarkable is Eddie Olczyk doing given the circumstances? 

He’s an inspiration to all of us whenever he comes in and works. And the fact that he is now 10 treatments in, two to go, and by the end of February, god-willing, he’ll have a clear scan and he’ll be back working games.

When he comes in here, he’s so charged up that he inspires the rest of us, and if he comes in with what he deals with, that we don’t see at home, and recovering from chemo therapy, how can we be anything other than 110 percent when he comes in and does what he does? So he makes all of us better.

It’s a tough time for the Blackhawks, currently. Some of the veterans seem to have lost a step, and they have more younger players than they’ve had in a long time. Should the team focus on getting some of those young players as many NHL minutes as they can versus shipping them back-and-forth from Rockford (AHL)?

It is a job for guys with multi-million dollar paychecks to decide, not only the ones who play, but the ones who determine who plays and the management of the team. And I’m not passing your question off because it’s very good.

The decision will have to be made in the next four weeks as to whether this roster is going to be together after the trade deadline. My guess is it’s not. My guess is that Stan Bowman is going to make some moves.

Because the fans have seen better, and if they turn the clock back another 10, 15 years, they’ve seen worse. But the more recent fans that have been won by the Blackhawks since the Rocky Wirtz/ John McDonough era came about, don’t pay attention to what was there before. They know now, and they know now that this is probably the poorest of the teams over the ten years, that’s in the basement, that hasn’t performed well, and that looks slower than the other teams that they’re playing against. So it strikes me that we’re probably going to see some changes made if it doesn’t get better.

I think the coach has done a marvelous job with what he can do, changing lines around and bringing guys in, swapping guys in and out of Rockford. Those are the things that you can do as a coach.

***Listen to Friday’s “Blackhawks Crazy” podcast for the full response to this question!***


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