Doc Emrick said he was “honored to be asked,” but many Islanders fans will consider it an honor to have him.
Starting with Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday, NBC’s lead play-by-play man will pick up the Islanders-Lightning series, then call the Stanley Cup Final, all from a studio in his home near Detroit.
John Forslund, who has been calling the series, will shift to the Western Conference finals between the Golden Knights and Stars when Kenny Albert leaves the Edmonton bubble to join Fox’s NFL coverage after Game 3 on Thursday.
As much as Forslund is a respected hockey voice, some Islanders fans have wondered why having enjoyed their deepest playoff run in 27 years, they have not gotten to hear Emrick on the team’s games.
They need not wonder any longer.
“I’m very happy that I get to continue to work through these circumstances in this very unusual year,” he told Newsday on Wednesday.
Emrick called the Bruins-Lightning second-round series, which ended in five games. He said he did not switch immediately to a conference final in part because of new equipment being installed in his home studio.
One change is that he will be linked electronically directly to NBC’s Edmonton operation rather than being routed through its headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, which should smooth logistics and avoid video delays.
Analysts Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher are on site in Edmonton, but Emrick does not expect any glitches there, particularly given how long he has worked with Olczyk.
“Fourteen years means a lot, so that’s going to make a great difference, I think,” Emrick said.
Emrick said he preferred to pick up the Eastern finals rather than replace Albert in the West because he had been calling Eastern games earlier in the playoffs, including those of the Lightning.
As a 74-year-old cancer survivor, he chose not to travel to Toronto or Edmonton to call games in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emrick said he is in good health but added, “You realize that as time passes your colds hang on a little longer in the dead of winter than they used to, and you just don’t take as many risks.
“We haven’t been going out and going thick into restaurants or doing any of that. We have been very careful, so we’re continuing to do that.”
Emrick said the thing he misses most about being on site is the chance to interact with coaches and players, but such opportunities are limited even for those inside the bubble.
As for being able to see the action clearly, he said, “The screen they give me is really good, so I don’t know that there’s that great of a difference for me.”
Emrick likes what he has seen from these Islanders.
“I love them a lot, because 17, 53 and 15 remind me of 8, 16 and 21 for the Devils; they remind me of the Crash Line that I used to see playing,” he said, referring to the Isles’ fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck and the former Devils Mike Peluso, Bobby Holik and Randy McKay.
Emrick was the longtime Devils announcer in an era when current Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello ran that franchise.
“It’s a team that’s structured in a lot of ways similarly to a team that was very successful and brought [Stanley Cup] rings to a lot of people, myself included,” he said. “So it’s a style that can work.”
Marv Albert, 79, Turner’s lead basketball voice, skipped the NBA bubble in Orlando because of COVID concerns. Emrick said he was grateful to be able to avoid health risks and still work.
“These people have been really good to me,” he said of NBC Sports executives. “This is what I love doing. I love doing the Final and I’m getting a chance to do it and that’s not owing to me, that’s owing to them.”
It doesn’t hurt that many viewers want him on the job.
“God bless them for saying that,” Emrick said. “Of course it makes you feel good if someone says that about you. You realize that not everyone can like you, but if somebody does, that’s wonderful, and I look forward to doing it.”