Hockey broadcasting is the hardest job in professional broadcasting. From names that sometimes have 15 or more letters, to names where you have to almost dislocate your jaw to pronounce, the art of play-by-play calling is fantastic. The action of the game is so fast, so intense, so passionate, that you sometimes forget there is a man behind a microphone, telling you what is going on.
My dad once met Jack Buck. For those of you who do not know who Mr. Buck was, he was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals for half a century. He called many other things, like the AFL, several football telecasts, the first few Blues games in their history, and covered countless numbers of events for CBS.
He was the voice of multiple generations for St. Louisans, and is as synonymous with the Cardinals as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and “The Man.”
(pictured is Jack Buck and Harry Caray behind a mic for now defunct St. Louis radio station, KXOK, during a promotional photo shoot for the St. Louis Cardinals)
When my dad met him, my dad asked why he is so good. (My father always wanted to go to broadcasting school, but real life halted his dreams.) Mr. Buck (I am paraphrasing) told my dad that he always pretended he was telling his best friend, who was blind, what was going on. For some reason, I always held that with me.
In the sport of Hockey, nowhere is this more valuable than in the broadcast booth. Any person can sit behind a microphone and call out names of who has the puck. It takes a special talent to bring the events of a game to life. In no particular order, for no particular rhyme or reason, these are the best names (at least in my mind) that have done this thing.
(pictured is the late Foster Hewitt, behind the mic for CBC)
To begin this list, we have to start at the beginning. There is a reason that the Hall of Fame award is named after this man. Mr. Hewitt was the voice of Hockey Night in Canada for 40 years. While a bunch of those years were pre-expansion, your grandfathers would tune in to hear “Hello Canada, and all you hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.”
He was one of the first to pioneer the phrase “He shoots, he scores!” The NHL and Hockey of Fame have honored this man by making his namesake award a recognition of continued success behind the mic at a game.
This one holds a special place in my heart. It is no secret; I am a fan of the St. Louis Blues. I grew up with Ken Wilson and his calls of “Oh BABY!” in my ears as I would try to fall asleep on school nights. Before Mr. Wilson was on the air, another man dominated the hockey landscape in St. Louis. His name is Dan Kelly.
Mr. Kelly was the voice of hockey, for not just St. Louis, but for millions of fans in North America. He was on the call for 16 different Stanley Cups, the 1987 Canada Cup and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. His call of the Bobby Orr “flying” goal in the 1970 Finals (against his employer the Blues), goes down in history as one of the most famous calls of any goal in history.
His call on Lemieux’s goal in the 1987 Canada Cup may be the best ever. Sadly, his career was cut short at the age of 52. Two of his children, John and Dan, both followed him into the booth, and John does the play-by-play, in a press box that has his father’s name, in the ScottTrade Center, for the Blues.
Dan Kelly calls the last 30 seconds of the 1970 Stanley Cup finals Game 4, and the clinching goal by Bobby Orr.
Growing up as a hockey fan in the early and middle 1990’s, there was a great thing that ESPN was doing. They actually covered the sport of hockey. In fact, ESPN 2 (then nicknamed the Deuce), even carried several NHL games.
Gary Thorne and Bill Clement would be on the calls for these games, that seemed to feature either the Penguins (they covered every game of Mario Lemieux’s comeback), the New Jersey Devils, or the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was the voice you often hear when Ray Bourque raises the Stanley Cup for the first time. He still calls games from time to time for MASN, and can also be heard on the WWE Network, narrating a show called WrestleMania Rewind.
The awarding of the Stanley Cup to the Colorado Avalanche in 2001
Doc is the best voice broadcasting hockey games going today, and one of the best, EVER.
Certain things just seem right. John Madden and Pat Summerall covering a Thanksgiving game is a perfect match. Joe Buck calling the World Series (feel free to disagree with me in the comments) seems to fit very well together. Doc Emrick and the Winter Classic are perfect.
His calls of the Wednesday Night Rivalry games (the early/Eastern Conference) are as much of a staple of the hockey fan’s week as the argument over who is better, Crosby or Ovechkin, or how their team is one piece away from the Cup.
Often teamed with Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olczyk, NBC, and the NHL, has found gold with Doc. He presents the game in a manner of a calm, soothing, almost relaxed father figure who teaches the game as much as he calls it.
Mr. Emrick on the call for the highlights of the 2017 Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks in Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
A Special Nod
A piece on announcers in hockey would not be complete without mentioning two men. One is as beloved for his hockey acumen and pieces during Hockey Night in Canada as he is for his fashion, Don Cherry. The other is the man who had the greatest call in the history of Hockey, Al Michaels.
Cherry, a stanch Canadian nationalist, a smart hockey person, and an eccentric personality, has entertained fans for almost 40 years. He is often outspoken, so much so that CBC has put him on a seven second delay, but he comes across as a fan’s fan and often says what a lot of us are thinking (except for the harsh criticisms of French Canadians and European players.)
Anyone who can call themselves a hockey fan knows the story of the 1980 United States Men’s Ice Hockey team. The movie "Miracle" (which I think is the best hockey movie ever) highlighted this team’s gold medal win, and their game in the Semi-finals against the Soviet National Team.
Al Michaels was behind the mic for NBC when the Americans beat the Russians. His call of “Do you believe in miracles?!”, might be the most famous call of any Olympic sporting event. In a time where the U.S. needed something to bring them out of the recession, Mr. Michaels did just that.
Al Michaels calling the final minute of the semi-final game of the Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
Do you disagree with me? Did I leave someone out? Let me know in the comments!
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