They usually come to us as little more than disembodied voices, giving us powerful descriptions of the game as it happens far below their perch. We count on them to inform us on the game action, to let us know who has the puck, who's missing from the bench, what players are running hot, what players are running cold. If it's happening on the ice or in the dressing room, they are there to let us know.
I, of course, am talking about the announcers that cover the game we love, professional hockey at the NHL level.
For all the demands of their jobs, we often take these individuals for granted. They've been there as long as we've been fans and they will always be there, as long as the game is being played. However, at one point they weren't there. There had to be a first, there had to be someone to influence the next group and on and on.
This is a tribute to those influential announcers that are all too often overlooked.
Mike Emrick has become the standard for the modern-day NHL broadcaster. Anyone getting starting in the business these days can look to “Doc” to see how to do things correctly. He is knowledgeable, relaxed and covers the game in a way that is inclusive to all, and maybe that’s the reason he has been in such high demand for the majority of his career.
While mostly known as a hockey announcer, Emrick covered water polo for the 2004 and 2012 Summer Olympics.
Emrick has covered professional hockey for 39 years, and with 32 of those years spent covering the NHL, you don’t put together a career like that without being really good at what you do.
Rod Phillips announced Edmonton Oilers hockey games on radio for 37 years. Upon his retirement, an Oilers banner with the No. 3,542 emblazoned on it was raised to the rafters. The number indicated the amount of games that Phillips had called for the Oilers.
For many Western Canadian Oilers fans, Phillips’ voice allowed them to visualize the games they couldn’t witness with their own eyes. There’s no doubt the man that called games for one of the most storied franchises of the 1980s influenced many future broadcasters.
If one loosens the criteria a little bit, Don Cherry has to be included in the mix of most influential announcers. Through his weekly gig on Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry has been in the ear of hockey fans for many years.
Cherry, who is always “well dressed,” holds nothing back on "Coach’s Corner,” and fans either love him or hate him for his candor. He has also spawned many imitators, most notably Mike Milbury.
Cherry is an institution. In 2004, CBC viewers, voting on the greatest Canadians of all time, placed Cherry at No. 7, putting him ahead of Alexander Graham Bell and Wayne Gretzky.
When you are the first to do something, you undoubtedly will influence those that follow. Such was the case with René Lecavalier, the first announcer to cover a game on television.
The first televised game that Lecavalier covered was the October 11, 1952 game between the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.
Lecavalier would have a long career in broadcasting, working hockey games for more than 30 years.
In 1984, he was one of the original recipients of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, an award that was given to radio and television broadcasters for their contributions to the profession of hockey broadcasting.
Danny Gallivan was best known as the English language announcer for the Montreal Canadiens. Over the course of a long career, he announced close to 2,000 NHL games before hanging up his microphone for good in 1984.
While Foster Hewitt, the most well-known announcer that came before Gallivan, was well known for the “He shoots, he scores” call, Gallivan favored much more colorful descriptions for his calls. Gallivan’s narratives made it sound like he had a thesaurus always open to the exact page he needed. The most well-known phrase from the Gallivan lexicon was “Savardian spin-o-rama,” coined for the move made famous by Canadiens defenseman Serge Savard.
Any announcer that has used alliteration or over-the-top phrasing owes a debt of gratitude to Gallivan.
If you have ever watched a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, you have heard what may be the most famous introductory phrase ever used by a hockey announcer: “Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland." It was the phrase Foster Hewitt used to introduce the long-running broadcast.
However, that is not the only phrase Hewitt is famous for. He's also credited with coming up with the line we hear often when a player scores, “He shoots, he scores.”
Hewitt made his name with his broadcasts from the gondola above the ice at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.
Today, he is remembered with the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, an honor presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame to a member of the radio or television media for outstanding contributions in their field.
Hewitt was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965. Without his contributions, it’s hard to say what the calls of live hockey games would sound like.