PITTSBURGH – At about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Mike Tirico was near the 18th green at Augusta, watching Tiger Woods win the Masters.
At about 2:30 p.m. on Monday, he was checking into a hotel room in Pittsburgh, preparing to work his first career NHL playoff game.
In between, he watched a recording of Game 3 of the Islanders-Penguins series at the Atlanta airport, flew to New York, appeared on the “Today” show to talk golf, then flew here to call Game 4 on Tuesday night for NBCSN.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s cool,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Tirico, who grew up in Queens, increasingly has become the face of NBC Sports in the post-Bob Costas era. But he is not the face of the network’s hockey coverage. That is Mike “Doc” Emrick.
Still, he dipped his skate into the hockey pond this season, calling his first two games of any kind during the regular season, one in February and one in March. The reviews generally were positive.
Tirico said it helped to be surrounded by experienced analysts and production people, “but you still have to be able to call the game,” he said. “Once the game got going I answered the unknown for myself: that I could keep up with it and at least make it presentable.
“If I was bad, I don’t think they would let me do another game, or do a playoff game. I don't pretend to be Doc or Kenny [Albert] or Brendan [Burke], for that matter. They do it all the time and they’re the top of the class. But I tried to do a representative job, and I think I did that the first couple of games.”
Tirico said he is not sure whether he will do more games and has a small scheduling window before horse racing's Triple Crown season starts. NBC’s staffing in the first round is complicated by the fact that local announcers such as MSG’s Burke still are doing local games.
“I’m happy to be among the group on the team to take a shift or two here in the playoffs,” he said.
Tirico, 52, grew up a Rangers fan – “Excuse me Islanders fans for that blasphemous term,” he said – and when he worked at ESPN had Hartford Whalers season tickets.
But he was a teenager during the Islanders’ Cup years and said he went to many games at Nassau Coliseum.
“If you wanted to give me the 1980 Islanders on the ice tomorrow night, I’d be gold,” he said. “Gillies, Tonelli. I don’t just remember Bossy and Trottier and Denis Potvin. I remember Dave Langevin, (No.) 26, playing defense and all those guys. Lorne Henning killing penalties. Those were great, great teams."
Tirico said when he was growing up, he considered the Islanders “the one franchise that was Long Island’s own . . . It was Nassau and Suffolk County’s team, and I think that’s the passion that I hear when you turn on the TV and watch the games from the Coliseum.
“When you hear those ‘Let’s Go Islanders’ chants, and they’re not just fans being prompted by the [score] board – they just start it when they need to – it just brings back all those memories of how great those teams were. I love the passion in the building.
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to see the series go five to see the Islanders have a chance to win a series and get one more game in that building this year.”
Tirico will work with analysts Ed Olczyk and Brian Boucher. When he got the assignment, he could not have expected he might call an Islanders clincher.
“If you said it was 3-0 you would have thought it would be Pittsburgh because of the offensive talent, but what [Barry] Trotz has done with this team is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s great for the league and it’s great for the Islanders fans to get the Coliseum back in the mix and to have the team do this somewhat unexpectedly. I think it’s awesome.”
MSG also will carry the game, which if the Islanders win, will mark the network's final game this season. There are no local broadcasts in the second round.
Burke will call the game for MSG and presumably will attract more avid Islanders fans than Tirico’s NBCSN production.
“I would not begrudge Islanders fans; Brendan is great,” Tirico said. “He is one of the young talents. I love listening to him . . . I certainly would not expect an Islanders fan to come spend the whole night with us, especially a clinching night, but come on over [to NBCSN] for a little bit and I’ll buy Brendan a beer and let him know it’s OK.”