Mike “Doc” Emrick retired Monday after a 47-year career broadcasting professional hockey, including the past 15 as the lead play-by-play voice for the NHL on NBC. Eddie Olczyk, Emrick’s longtime broadcast partner on NBC, shared his thoughts on Doc.
I was driving in my car in the pouring rain on Sunday when Doc called. I was on my way to see my folks and he asked, ‘Do you have a couple of seconds?’ Then I knew what was coming on the other line.
I knew Doc was going to retire at some point, but I didn’t think it would be yesterday. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be this year. But Doc is very much at peace and he’s healthy, and with him and his wife, Joyce, it was certainly a team effort and decision. I couldn’t be happier for them, the pups, the horses and everyone else involved in Doc’s life.
There are a lot of emotions, not only about Doc and the impact he’s had on the NHL and hockey community, up and down all levels, but individually and collectively on our team at NBC. You look at it from a selfish point of view, too. I mean, I’ve been his partner for the past 14 years, and it’s obviously going to be very different heading into the next hockey season, whenever that is.
I remember very early in my broadcast days with NBC. Our boss Sam Flood was also producing at the time, and I remember when we got late into a game Sam just got on talk-back and said, ‘OK, it’s Doc time.’ In other words, unless there are 15 guys on the ice for one team, just shut up and let Doc do his thing. I guess I’m a lot smarter than I look, but that was a quick read by me going, ‘OK, yeah, you’re right.’ That’s how we pretty much lived with the broadcast is that there’s a time and a place, and there’s the understanding. That’s where our cadence and our chemistry, whether it’s the first or third period, whatever, it’s there. You know when to let Doc do his thing. He also had that incredible ability to be calling a play or describing the play and then be able to work in a story without breaking the play-by-play, which is pretty impressive.
Look, when it came to work and preparation and expectations, Doc was very, very demanding of himself, and I think when you work with somebody as long as you do, you know when to put your foot in the water and you know when to sit there and let the storm ride out. Then you’re there to talk about it, pick up the pieces. I think that’s why our relationship both on the air and off the air grew. Our philosophy was: We’re there to tell the story and not be the story. How could we have handled a situation a little differently? What did we think we did right? What did we think we did wrong? There was always that microscope that Doc would have, and he helped me immensely.
It was, and is, a very intimidating chair to sit in, when you’re sitting next to a legend and you know what the broadcast is supposed to be. There’s that pressure, but we enjoyed that pressure. I was lucky enough to do the foreword in Doc’s book (“Off Mike: How a Kid from Basketball-Crazy Indiana Became America’s NHL Voice,” with Kevin Allen), and I wrote that the greatest compliment Doc ever gave me was, ‘I hope that when Eddie Olczyk is 65, he has someone who takes care of him as well as he’s taken care of me.’ That means a lot.
Not that I would think about writing another book, but I could write a book on our relationship as two guys in the booth just because of everything that I saw as an aspiring broadcaster on the national stage, then working with Doc Emrick and seeing this journey through with him.
Doc has always carried himself with great respect and common courtesy, whether it’s dealing with Mario [Lemieux] or Ron Francis or Patrick Kane or broadcasters or anyone else. He just always had that incredible ability to have time to talk to you in a way that you felt there was great interest, and it wasn’t anything other than because he had the time to do that. His demeanor, his care for people and society is something that really separates him from a lot of people.
Doc has always been a very special guy. We’re lucky, the League is lucky, and individually, I’m lucky that he’s been such a big part of my life. We’re going to miss him. I just relish all of the drives in the car, from Detroit to Pittsburgh during a Stanley Cup Final, and the dinners and laughs and stories. There are so many emotions over the course of the past 28 hours.
I’m very happy for Doc, and I know he’s content and at peace. But it’s a tough day to think that Doc’s not going to be calling games anymore. It’s a huge void, no doubt about it. I will miss a lot about Doc, mostly his trust in and out of the booth.