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Fischler Report: Doc Emrick Interview (Part 1)

This week on the Fischler Report, Doc Emrick chats with Stan Fischler about how the NFL once invaded the Blackhawks' Chicago Stadium. Plus, Fischler discusses young goalies, the thriving New York Rangers and what's happening in Edmonton.
doc emrick

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Stan Fischler's exclusive interview with Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike (Doc) Emrick is chock full of interesting angles. We'll present one each week for the next month.

Mike Emrick and I have a lot in common in addition to our shared love of the ice game. Both of us recently moved from one area of the hockey business to another.

I retired from Madison Square Garden Network's hockey telecasts while Doc no longer is doing NBC's NHL play-by-play. But the truth is that neither of us have exited Stage Right. As you can see, we're both front and center, still at work; and loving it.

Thus, it only was natural that my first question for Mike – in this exclusive Hockey News interview – is all about what Sir Emrick is doing these days. The simple answer is that he's doing NBC TV features and his debut segment was a weird one – an NFL title game played in an NHL rink. Take it away, Mike:

HOW THE NFL INVADED THE BLACKHAWKS CHICAGO STADIUM

"I retired from play by play but I'm still on the NBC roster to write and help produce some videos. When NBC had the hockey rights in 2020-21, the subject was exclusively hockey. Now it's on sports in general. One of the features I worked on last month was a fascinating story. Believe it or not it was about an NFL title game that was played at the NHL Blackhawks' Chicago Stadium back in 1932. The home team was the Chicago Bears and the visitors, the Portsmouth Spartans who later would become the Detroit Lions.

"This was before the Super Bowl but it was the NFL Title Game and originally was slated to be played, as usual, out of doors. But the Chicago weather was not cooperating. The Bears boss, George Halas, felt the outdoor conditions were too awful to be playable. There was snow on the ground and the wind blowing off Lake Michigan was bad. So instead of playing at Wrigley Field, Halas chose three-year-old Chicago Stadium for the game. That was the feature I worked on and it was fun for me since it was such an unusual championship match – a football game in a hockey rink. Fortunately, the Black Hawks' Stadium conditions were right.

"The Hawks were out of town and the circus had just left Chicago so the circus dirt still was down for the football game. The challenge now was to turn the hockey dimensions into something akin to football's field lines. Since the Stadium floor prevented a 100-yard field, it was reduced to 80 yards; actually 60 yards once you accounted for the end zones. So, they moved the goalposts right up to the goal lines. It was agreed that no field goals would be tried but point-afters were okay.

"About 12,000 people showed up at what normally was the Hawks hockey rink.

For three quarters it was a tight game even though the Spartans played without their star, Dutch Clark. To compensate, Portsmouth had to play big time defense; which the Spartans did. The game remained scoreless into the fourth quarter when Bears Hall of Famers, Bronco Nagurski and Red Grange, hooked up on a TD passing play.

"Kicking for the extra point, Tiny Engebretsen booted the extra point into the Stadium's second balcony. The Bears also got a safety and won, 9-0. The teams liked the goal posts on the goal line so much that the NFL kept them there for another 41 years.

"The kicker to this NFL playing a title game in a hockey rink is that it really didn't have to be at all. At kickoff time, the temperature at Wrigley Field was twenty degrees above zero so they could have played outdoors with comfort. Nevertheless, we got a good hockey rink-to-football-field story out of it. And all of this new work at NBC is fun for me."

(Next Monday Doc will answer such questions as which broadcasters shaped Emrick's inimitable style and advice he'd give to young play-by-play aspirants who want to be Young Docs.)

BEWARE, THE BLITZING BLUESHIRTS:

Shhhhhh! Don't look now but while everyone's been talking – me, included – Maple Leafs for The Cup and assorted other scintillating subjects, something's sizzling on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Yeah, you guessed it, The Rangers. Yeah, they may lose the odd game – like the one last week in Vegas – but, overall, New York has a team that will be tough down the second half.

In the simplest terms, they've got all the goods in all the right places. That means goaltending offense and, most of all – surprise-surprise – on the blue line. Such potent D-pairings as Adam Fox/Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba/K'Andre Miller could be Number One pairings on 75 percent of the NHL teams.

"Each pairing complements the other so well," according to Matt Fineman, my man at MSG. "The end result is a blending of skill, puck-moving, ability, grit and shut-down acumen."

When healthy, Igor (Iggie) Shesterkin provides A-1 goaltending while backup Alexandar (Big Al) Georgiev – not that good – also has his moments. And my old Devils buddy from yesteryear, Keith Kinkaid, is a fine a Third Man as you'll find this side of the Hudson.

"Watching them closely as I do," adds Fineman, "I see a defensive core so strong that the Rangers will be a tough team to skate against in the playoffs."

The player to watch is Shesterkin and his recurring injuries. If Iggie doesn't stay healthy the secret words will have to be uh-oh!

P.S. Credit deposed GM Jeff Gorton and successor Chris Drury for knowing how to get a neat blend of players. Plus, the Blueshirts are blessed with organizational depth to boot. (And that's nothing to kick about either.)

YOUNG GOALIES TO THE RESCUE:

As injured puck-stoppers fall to the wayside like old tires on the highway, new netmen are being groomed for future fame. Goalie guru Allan (No Greenhorn) Greenberg has a quick-kid-quartet in mind.

1. Jeremy Swayman: Out of his native Alaska and less-native U of Maine, The Swayman earned his spurs last season when Tuukka and Jaro were sidelined. His 1.50 GAA and .945 save % must have either impressed or depressed – choose one – The Rask Man. Now that Linus Ullmark has a long-term B deal, Swayman may be odd man out if Tuukka comes back. And that's looking more and more like a sure-thing.

2. Jake Oettenger: Out of Lakeville, Minnesota, this Jumpin' Jake filled a gap in the past when Ben Bishop went down and Kookie Khodobin needed an aspirin.

Now Ottie is an ever-rising star with the Stars, sharing crease work with Braden Holtby.

3. Spencer Knight: Stamford, Connecticut never has produced a better goaltender but is this Boston College chap really ready for full-time Florida big-tent work? "He's had a few rough outings this year," says Greenberg. "But he'll be a premier NHL goalie."

4. Alex Nedeljovic: Moving from top-rated Carolina to not-so-top Detroit was a culture shock for The prince of Parma (near Cleveland), Ohio. A mature 25-year-old, he was a Calder Trophy finalist as a Cane but has not been overly impressive with the Wings.

NO NEED FOR PANIC IN EDMONTON: Like the Yankees in baseball, the Giants in football and the Leafs here in the ice world, journalistic mountains are made out of molehills. It's happened for an eternity and I've seen plenty of it including with the 47-48 Leafs which Conn Smythe labeled "my best team ever."

Yet, I still can visualize the headline – WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE LEAFS? – that accompanied a losing streak. And when the W's returned, life returned to peaches-and-cream in Ye Olde Toronto. I expect a duplicate of the experience in Ye Not So Olde Edmonton.

Blessed with a schedule respite of sorts, there's time for harassed g.m. Ken Holland to import a Non-Sieve goaltender either by trade or via The Used Goalie Lot. And, perhaps, beef up his lower liners with a player or two.

Let's face it, the real trick is maintaining maintenance on the heavy tanks, McDavid and Draisaitl; not to mention Edmonton's tank destroyer, Zach Hyman. Should any member of the Blitzkrieg Three go down, neither all the king's horses or PM Trudeau will be able to put these Humpties back together again.

That said, there's no need for such pessimism. Holland knows what to do – I hope – and there's plenty of time to do it in; that's true. But it'll take the kind of smarts Ken's Detroit disciple, Steve Yzerman, has been displaying in the Motor City.

Not that it could happen, but Ken has to be wondering if there's a Bruce Boudreau double out there. You know what I mean; just in case Holland's on good terms with Mike Babcock!

I'M JUST SAYIN':

1. THE PRICE IS RIGHT: Or is it? The Calgary Herald's Mike Traikos ran a piece the other day about Carey Price somehow winding up as Edmonton's goalie. It's a neat bit of fantasy. Really, though, I'm just wondering how the Habs sabbatical-sidelined star is doing?

2. SINGING FOR THE UNSUNG: Back in 2011 there were yawns when the Lightning picked an unknown Czech left wing named Ondrej Palat, 208th in the Entry Draft. The native of Frydek-Mistek quietly worked his way into major league hockey while the yawns turned to glorious gasps. Like: "Hey, this guy can play hockey!"

The proof is in the arithmetic. Palat recently reached a career 400-point milestone via what my father-in-law, Chuck Walton, liked to call "Swedish Steam," otherwise translated into "Hard Work." The Lightning say it another way: "He's one of the top players that ever was a Bolt!"

3. KEEP YOUR EYE ON: While Florida's upstart Panthers continue playing superior hockey, they're also creating sub-heroes beneath the Huberdeaus and Barkovs. Al Greenberg in Sunrise says, "Ryan Lomberg is the new fan favorite. He reminds me of that Ranger past hero Nick Fotiu. Ryan is a big banger and disturber who gets an occasional goal. They love him here." (Sounds like ole Nicky.)

4. NO NEED FOR A COACH TO SHUT UP: When Dave Tippett recently criticized Mikko Koskinen – arguably the most overpaid goalie, after Matt Murray – there was pushback by at least one journalist. Essentially, how dare the coach wound his darling netminder's confidence in Mikko's hour of need?

I've got news for the Koskinen clan of defenders. With the kind of dough that fine, feathered Finn is making, he should accept the barbs and then grin and beat it. One look at his latest check should bring a hundred smiles to his face.

5. LEAFS LAUGHING: The Leafs have been doing so darn well these weeks that the fact that bust Nick Ritchie was put on waivers doesn't bother anyone on Yonge Street. Then again, why should it?

6. NOT SO UP IN FLAMES: If there's a soap opera in Alberta it should be titled, "Will Calgary ever get a state of the art hockey arena like Edmonton? Sports Business guru Evan Weiner is wondering as well, but also offers an ominous thought: "Flames ownership could look to move or sell the team. The arena game continues!"

7. PENS NOT GOING TO THE PITTS: Gotta tip our fedora in the direction of Pennsylvania and the Ron Hextall-Brian Burke duet as their Penguins continue to find new stars – no, not Sidney – every month. Burkie should write another book!

8. MARC MY WORDS: Just a couple of words for Marc Bergevin to the Kings as aide de camp or consultant or schmoozer: Can't hurt!

WHO SAID IT? "If they took away our sticks and gave us brooms, we'd still have fights." (Answer below.)

BIG WOMENS NEWS:

My late wife, Shirley, would be proud. A half-century ago she broke the "Ladies Not Allowed" ban the Rangers had instituted against women reporters at the Madison Square Garden press box. It was a long, nasty battle that ended up with the NYC Human Rights Commission. In the end the Human Rights group backed Shirley's beef and the press box was opened for women, for good.

Since then – one by one – the barriers have been coming down for women in hockey. Therefore, a big YAY is in order for the Canadiens and their latest press move. The Habs have hired a female publicist – Chantal Machabee – and the Laval, Quebec native has earned her big-time gig.

Among other accomplishments, Machabee has spent three decades as a sports journalist and was the first woman to anchor a daily sports news program in Quebec. It's noteworthy that one of the first to commend Chantal's hire is the Montreal Gazette's vet hockey scribe, Pat Hickey.

"She's well-liked," writes Pat, "and respected by her colleagues and the people she's covered." Interestingly, Ms. Machabee was lured to the press biz by a hockey Hall of Famer.

Chantal: "Watching Guy Lafleur play inspired me to become a sports journalist."

Another woman – this one a distinguished hockey player – recently was supremely honored. Fortunately, I was there to see it at the U.S.A. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies last month in Denver.

Because of a 2020 Pandemic postponement, Jenny Potter received her HOF induction a year late. Nonetheless, it was stirring to hear her acceptance speech at the gala USA Hockey ceremony.

Potter – a 14-time medalist on the international stage – made four appearances in the Olympic Winter Games including a Gold Medal run at the 1998 event in Nagano, Japan. She's only one of three U.S. women's players to compete in four Olympics.

At the same Denver ceremony, I was delighted to applaud Lynn Olson, a champion of girls and women's hockey. Lynn, who helped organize the Minnesota Women's Hockey League and became its president, accepted the 2020 Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the USA, which also had been delayed by the Pandemic.

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Phil Esposito, who didn't fight much with his 1970 and 1972 Big, Bad, Bruins Cup-winners.

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