Win or lose, Doc Emrick says Red Wings fans are lucky

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Change is the essence of professional sports. Players change. Coaches change. General managers and owners change. Broadcasters change. The essence of being a fan is not changing at all.

Well, broadcasters usually change. But not for the Red Wings. Not for quite some time.

If you've listened to the Wings on the radio since the 1995-96 season, you've heard Ken Kal and Paul Woods. If you've watched them on TV since 1997-98, you've heard Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond.

One voice you won't hear anymore is that of Mike Emrick, who retired this year at the age of 74 after calling the action -- coloring the action -- for nearly 40 years in the NHL. Kronwall spears it ahead to Datsyuk, who dances on in and drops it for Zetterberg. For Wings fans, Doc meant hockey in the spring. He meant the Winter Classic. He meant bright lights and big games, the kind of stage Detroit hasn't seen in a while.

The kind of stage it probably won't see for a good while yet.

But win or lose, Emrick wants those fans to know they're lucky. The voices they count on are as enduring as their hopes.

"What you have locally is not only excellence, but stability," Emrick told the Stoney & Jansen Show on 97.1 The Ticket. "Do you know that the tandems of Ken and Paul, and Ken and Mickey are the longest-serving two tandems in their media in the league? And you have that. You have one that’s 25 years and one that’s just short of 25 years. That’s stability and that’s predictability.

"So the fans know that the fortunes of the team may change, as they have, but those guys are going to be together year after year. That’s refreshing and it’s also comfortable, to have those announcers and knowing that they’re going to be there each year."

Another Detroit broadcaster Emrick was fond of? Ernie Harwell. Emrick, an Indiana native who now lives in Port Huron, said he walked into a hotel once in the Upper Peninsula city of Escanaba -- about 450 miles from Detroit -- and saw a picture on the wall of Harwell speaking to a local service club.

"I’m thinking, 'This guy is like Gordie Howe was,'" Emrick said. "He was such an ambassador. He was all over the state of Michigan. And I always enjoyed his call, especially on Opening Day when he would talk about the voice of the turtledove being heard in the land and quoting the bible every year."

Speaking of ambassadors for Detroit, Emrick said he considers Gordie Howe the greatest hockey player of all time, over Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr.

"His style of play sold me on the sport," Emrick said. "Now granted, I was watching at an earlier time than you were, but what I admired about Gordie Howe were a number of things. One, his ability to score. Two, his ability to play-make. Three, his ruggedness. Four, occasionally he fought -- although the 'Gordie Howe hat trick' is probably overdone because he didn’t fight that much. And five, the fact that he was such a gentleman away from the ice."

Emrick added that when the topic came up on a recent roundtable he hosted that included Gretzky and Orr, they both "concluded that it was Howe."

Given all the games he called over the years -- he estimates more than 3,750 in professional and Olympic hockey, including 45 Game 7's (!!) -- it'd be impossible for Emrick to name the greatest one. "There'd be about 100," he said with a laugh.

That said, the 2014 Winter Classic stands out.

"One of them that comes to mind really quickly, just because of the magic of the event, was that 105,000 biggest attendance ever for an outdoor game at Michigan Stadium," Emrick said. "It snowed all day and the game went to a shootout -- and it was cold. I think it was 18 (degrees) at face-off. And nobody cared because it was such a magnificent event.

"It normally takes me an hour and a half to get home from Ann Arbor. It took four hours, and I didn’t care either. There were Red Wings fans pitching in to help Toronto fans push their cars out of snowbanks, and vice versa."

Finally, Emrick is eager to make a trip to Little Caesars Arena next year, assuming COVID-19 allows it. He thinks Steve Yzerman has the Red Wings moving in the right direction, and, if nothing else, Doc knows who -- and what -- awaits him in the press room.

"Once we get through this dilemma I’m certain I will get down to see the Red Wings play, because I admire some of the changes that Steve Yzerman has made. I think it will at least enable them to win 10 more games, which may still not get them in the playoffs. Hard to know. But at least it will improve the team.

"And I look forward to watching them in person because I like seeing Ken and Ken and all of those guys down there, too. So we may see each other in the press room. And as you know, the press room food at LCA is really good."