PTM Interview: Mike “Doc” Emrick, Part 2

I continue my conversation with the voice of hockey in the United States, Mike Emrick. We talked about hockey’s difficult off-season, predictions for the upcoming NHL campaign, and a baseball team from Pittsburgh. Enjoy.

PTM: It was reported by Tom Gulitti that Steve Cangialosi will be your replacement [on MSG Plus’ Devils telecasts]. Could they have picked a better guy?

ME: No, good for Steve, I’m happy for him, because he’s done a great job whenever he’s stepped in, and that has been frequently. He’s earned his opportunity, and I’m sure glad he got it.

PTM: We’re coming off a terrible week for hockey and an awful summer for hockey with all the tragedies. At some point you’re probably going to have to talk about this, and it’ll probably come up during a game. Does that enter your mind?

ME: Yes, because one of the hardest things to do, especially after just three days from that awful plane crash, is to take a chance opening your mouth at a time that is very difficult for a lot of people, particularly family members, and say anything that is going to make sense. I was very heartened by the fact that the first thing Mike Babcock did when he learned of it was that he and his wife went over to Brad McCrimmon’s house, because Brad still has his family in Detroit.

Long ago, when I was covering small-market radio in college, a sheriff and I got in a discussion one day in his office about the hardest part of the job, and he said “it’s delivering bad news to people who haven’t heard it yet.” And I said, “How do you do that?” and he explained “Well, you do have information you have to give, then you just sit there. There’s not a lot more you can say, but you need to be there for them just as company, even though there may not be anything that you can say, you need to be with them while they’re understanding it.” I think we’re still in that phase.

I still wouldn’t know what to say. I would still think that if I said anything, it better be really, really good, and I better be really, really sure of it because it’s hard to be eloquent and override the emotion of loss.

PTM: To switch to a lighter topic, how was following the Pirates back into relevance this summer for you?

ME: It was okay until that 18-inning game with that call, you know, that was hard to swallow. They won the next day, then they go into Philly. I think I was in Chicago at the time, listening to the game on my Blackberry. Their announcers are really good and they tend to be very frank if it was a terrible performance, and it was. They were out of that first Friday night game against the Phillies probably in the first half hour. They were mentioning precise things, and they said “the team just looks fatigued.” Well, they never came out of that [18-inning game]. That was the beginning of their decline, that series in Philadelphia.

It was very hard to, in light of the hope that we had for the first four months, it’s hard to think of what’s happened that last two, where they’ve gotten back to normalcy again. The normalcy of the last 18 years. I guess, unlike other Pirates fans that are a lot younger, I can remember having watched Clemente play, and seeing the 1959 team that eventually won the World Series the next year. I have a lot of good memories, and I still listen to the Pirate games, almost all of them because, you know, they’re my team and it’s a part of summer for me.

But to answer your question, it was great fun to see what they could do. I think we sensed that the depth of their pitching had really come to the floor, but was probably going to get taxed before the summer was over, and I think that happened, and their hitting just didn’t come through for them. So there’s at least something positive to build on for next year, as long as we don’t give ourselves the idea that a bunch of guys had career years that they’ll never have again. If that’s the case, we’re going to be looking at 95 or 100 losses [laughs]. I hope not.

PTM: Finally, it’s a little bit of a different trip for you around the league this year, but what are you looking forward to the most?

ME: Getting the season underway, I think, and seeing a few things. First of all, which way did the shake-up in Philadelphia turn that team. Is it going to turn the Flyers into a magnificent squad? Or is it going to, as some Flyers fans fear, cause them to regress? Who knows? We don’t know, it’s not rigged.

Will the moves in Los Angeles and Buffalo and Washington make those teams better? In Washington, we’re looking at a season that will still not be judged until April, but will it make that defensive commitment that they made in the final two or three months last year, that actually started in the tail end of December after that eight game losing streak. That springboarded them into what The Hockey News says is going to be the Eastern Conference regular season champion, and then can they go on and win from there?

I think there could be some situations like that in Buffalo and Washington and Philadelphia; and in the West, Los Angeles, maybe St. Louis. I think the other question, around Detroit, is they didn’t do a lot of change over the summer. Rafalski retired, they added a couple of okay defensemen, but are those guys gonna’ have enough left to be a Stanley Cup challenger as they were on their way to being last year, until they got way behind against San Jose and couldn’t come back in the seventh game? Those are the questions that I think will be interesting.

I leave the league to deal with the headshot question. Amateur sociologists that we’ve seen a lot of are trying to speculate on the future of the guys that are involved in fisticuffs. Obviously, there are an awful lot of them that seem to have had pretty good lives for themselves, but for real reasons, the focus has shifted to three situations, that are very rare that happened [all immediately following one another], you have to stop and think about that. The answers, I don’t have today, but they will be among things I’ll be looking for at the start of the season. But I think I’m more interested in how the teams are gonna’ play and whether the forecasts that we have for them are born out on the ice.


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