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Original Issue

Word to the Doctor

Thirty-nine one-goal games, 20 decided in OT, three Game 7s: Nobody captures the drama of NHL Spring quite like the erudite Mike Emrick


The word is nowhere to be found in either the Oxford English or the Merriam-Webster's dictionary, but it appears prominently in the Doc Dictionary. Mike (Doc) Emrick, the preeminent lexicographer of the frozen game, invented the word, which, despite its ominous tone, is no act of torture, like, say, rooting for the Blue Jackets. The definition: a blocker save in which the goalie purposely guides the puck to a specific area of the ice. The etymology is the old-style blockers, which did resemble a waffle, and the ability of a goalie like the Devils' venerable Martin Brodeur to use it in order to direct a puck anywhere he chooses. Like Emrick himself, who last December became the first media member to be enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, the word is curious, clever and note perfect, an original piece of hockey Americana.

This is the spring of Doc. For the first time, NBC and its sister stations are televising every NHL playoff game: on the Peacock on weekend afternoons and, most of the rest of the time, on the recently rebranded NBC Sports Network. Emrick is the network's lead play-by-play man. He might not be your favorite—like the most delicious flavor of ice cream, this is a matter of personal taste—but he surely is among the most remarkable working in any sport. Emrick is a hybrid. He uses his voice like an instrument, modulating it to impute significance to a moment in the manner of classic old-school announcers, such as Bob Cole of Hockey Night in Canada. But beyond tracking the puck from Player A to Player B, he marbles his calls with information and pertinent digression and wry humor, which makes him as fresh as some of the other leading practitioners of hockey's modern style, such as Jim Hughson, Chris Cuthbert and Gord Miller.

Like Knicks analyst Walt ("stumbling and bumbling") Frazier, the 65-year-old Emrick is foremost a verb man. A defenseman does not simply shoot a backhander out of his zone to center ice. He skyhooks or pitchforks or ladles it. The puck will careen or skitter.

"When I was in grad school at Miami [of Ohio]"—Emrick earned a master's in radio-television there in 1969 and later a doctorate at Bowling Green—"I'd go to the [International Hockey League's] Dayton Gems games," he says. "I interviewed the announcer, Lyle Stieg, who told me that there were many ways to say the same thing. Really, how many times can you say 'dump in'? ... [But] I'm not sitting there with three-by-five cards and deciding what word I should use. I'm reacting to the puck."

He had an even earlier broadcasting influence—Una McClurg, his fifth-grade teacher in La Fontaine, Ind. Emrick recalls he didn't have an extensive vocabulary as a child, but she told him if he could use a word five times, that word would then belong to him.

Waffleboarding. He owns it.