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Even heading toward retirement, Mike “Doc” Emrick had the right thing to say

Before Mike "Doc" Emrick drives off into the sunset, he made time to share some highlights with his fans.
Before Mike "Doc" Emrick drives off into the sunset, he made time to share some highlights with his fans.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

It would seem fitting, given Mike “Doc” Emrick’s poetic genius at bringing a hockey game to life, to find just the right verb to describe his decision to retire this past week from his role as NBC Sports’ lead NHL play-by-play voice.

Finding the verb, the perfect one like Emrick would evocatively deploy when telling us a puck “skittered” or “knifed” its way around the ice, has proven as elusive as young Bobby Orr with the puck on his stick and a plan forming in his mind.

The closest I can come is to say that Emrick, 74, is ambling off into retirement, eager to spend time with his wife, Joyce, and their menagerie of beloved animals.

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I’m not sure ambling is perfect, but it suggests geniality, and that is his mood as he shifts into the next phase of a life well lived.

I’m sure Emrick himself would find just the right verb of appropriate color and context. I’ll hear your submissions.

That deft, yet unforced, use of vocabulary is one of the things I’ll miss most about Emrick, whom I’ve been listening to since he was the radio voice of the Maine Mariners' back-to-back Calder Cup champions (1977-79), back when the tally of my years was just hitting double digits.

I think there is one aspect I’ll miss more, though — his skill, or perhaps gift, for sharing a quick anecdote in the midst of the action without ever sounding like he was trying to shoehorn it in.

Emrick could tell a worthwhile story while the game he was calling was hitting peak chaos. I could never figure out how he pulled it off without once stumbling over his tongue or skipping a beat in his play-by-play call.

Maybe that’s the best way to salute him as he ambles away. To share one more story from perhaps the greatest sports play-by-play voice of his generation.

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Emrick shared it during a conference call Monday when discussing the whys and whats of his decision to retire.

It’s a fond recollection from his days as a Beaver County Times freelance writer, when he covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for no pay but for something he considered priceless: a press pass, and the potential access to a dream it provided.

He covered his first game during the 1970-71 season. Unsure of what to expect, he came prepared, deciding he would talk to the Penguins' Bryan Hextall about his experiences playing at Boston Garden.

"He was from the famous Hextall family,'' said Emrick. "And I remember one of the questions I asked him was about the Bruins, who were the reigning champions then.

"Boston Garden was regarded as a tough place to play. And, of course, I said, ‘Do you have any stories about Boston Garden and about it being a tough place to play?’

"And he said, 'Last year, we were standing at the blue line before the anthem, and they were making a presentation on the ice. I was standing because I was a starter, and then somewhere out of the second tier came a lock like you would use to lock a garage door from the outside. The lock barely missed me and hit the ice and it cracked it right through the concrete.

" ‘Anything more you want to know about Boston Garden?’ "

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Emrick chuckled at the recollection.

"I said, ‘No, that’s good now.’ "

Leave it to Emrick to have a great story from the start of a career that, almost 50 years later, no one wanted to see end.

Changing channels

News regarding low television ratings for sports has become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the depths of the valleys still can surprise. The fairly compelling NBA Finals between the Lakers and Heat averaged just 7.5 million viewers over six games, an all-time low and a staggering 51 percent decline from the Raptors-Warriors Finals in 2019. Thus far, the World Series between the Dodgers and Rays is also setting the kinds of records television executives would prefer not to consider. The Rays' 6-4 win in Game 2 was the least-watched World Series game of all time, drawing just an average of 8.95 million viewers. The previous low? You probably guessed it: Game 1, in which the Dodgers' 8-3 victory averaged 9.20 million viewers. Look out below.


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.