We are in the midst of playoff time — both in the NBA and the NHL.
While my background has been steeped in NBA history, having called nine NBA finals during that magical decade of Celtics-Lakers dominance, this is about hockey.
A quick look back at the background of a broadcaster who most people link almost exclusively to one sport, and not off-base either, considering most of his great moments.
Growing up, my allegiances were to both winter sports equally. I remember taking the subway to the old Madison Square Garden in New York and, with the luxury of General Organization cards distributed by my high school, got to see my beloved Rangers on Sunday nights from the side or end balcony high above the ice.
It only cost 50 cents to see a game, and after a hot dog, an orange drink and reading the Hockey News, we took either the steps or an escalator upstairs to find our first-come, first-served seats. So I loved seeing the Rangers in person, watching them on TV when the few games were aired and listening to practically every game on the radio.
That wasn’t enough.
On Saturday nights, I would deftly find the legendary Foster Hewitt broadcasting the Toronto Maple Leafs game from the Gardens battling static and the in-and-out reception on the little radio in the kitchen of our apartment in Ken Garden Hills in Queens, NY.
Years later, in Boston in the early 70’s, I corralled Hewitt in person and asked this great commentator how he was able to make a lightning fast sport like hockey sound as if the game were played in slow motion. A true art. Hewitt, who was friendly and cooperative, merely said, “Young man, I cut the wheat from the chaff!” I never forgot that.
I certainly don’t forget that when I listen to Doc Emrick broadcast an NHL game on NBC or the NHL Network.
Emrick was a recent guest on my podcast. I wanted to talk with a man I have known for years because I feel pound-for-pound as they used to compare boxers to Sugar Ray Robinson, Emrick is the best play-by-play announcer out there.
He doesn’t miss a thing. Doc Emrick has a brilliant vocabulary, weaves interesting facts and stories into his call and is wonderfully humble.
I was listening to his call of the Penguins-Capitals duel last Saturday and was once again impressed with his ability to know how and when to use his voice to rise in anticipation to the urgency of a critical moment. The voice is God-given. The rest of it is not.
I am well aware that in the NBA, there is an ebb and flow where teams can squander big leads. A game of runs is the mark of the sport.
In hockey, teams also come back from deficits, as we’ve seen in the Ottawa – Rangers series — and much to the dismay of New York fans.
In basketball you can walk away for a while, come back, and pick it all up again.
In hockey, if you leave the room for one minute, you might miss the biggest moment of the game.
That’s why, when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs, I am a welcome prisoner. I don’t want to miss any of the action — or any of Doc Emrick’s calls.