Hockey: Voices of the Game


Hockey: Voices of the Game
Feb 20, 2018

Ice hockey is a uniquely tough game to announce. It doesn’t have the slow, methodical pace of baseball, which leaves much more room for analysis and color in between plays.

It doesn’t have the relatively steady forward progression or dramatic passes, catches, runs, and turnovers of football and while it shares much of the frenetic pace of play as basketball, it doesn’t have nearly as many scoring opportunities as basketball does.

On top of this, it’s hampered on radio by its intensely visual nature and (at least until recently) on television by the size of the puck.

In spite of, or perhaps because of this degree of difficulty, hockey announcing can be that much more rewarding when done well. Here are 10 of the play-by-play commentators and color analysts in today’s NHL who best display what hockey broadcasting can do.


It’s hard to think of a voice more synonymous with a major sport than Doc Emrick’s is with hockey. From the heights of the high-scoring 1980s to the depths of the “dead puck era” of the 1990s and through three or four national platforms, five Olympics and two decades of New Jersey Devils broadcasts, the mark Mike “Doc” Emrick has left on hockey is hard for any other announcer to match.

Emrick had already been calling hockey games professionally for almost a decade when he became the voice of the New Jersey Devils in the fall of 1982, the team’s first season in New Jersey. He left to join the rival Philadelphia Flyers in 1986 and by the time he returned to the Devils in 1993, he’d already started calling NHL games nationally for ESPN and at the Winter Olympics for CBS.

As the Devils’ lead announcer from 1993 to 2011, Emrick called all three of the team’s Stanley Cup titles to date. He’s called games for 18 Stanley Cup Finals, eight Olympics (including water polo at two Summer Olympics), and every national NHL broadcast network since 1986.

But above all, the quality that most exemplifies how Doc Emrick has become not just an acclaimed announcer but a minor pop culture figure is his ability to come up with hundreds of different synonyms for the most basic hockey terms. A particularly observant fan once counted Emrick using 153 different verbs just to describe puck movement in the 2014 men’s Olympic gold medal game.

Emrick fills out a cheat sheet before every game listing every noteworthy statistic and trivia tidbit he can get his hands on, from lineups to power play percentages to the birthdays of players both active and retired.


To be honest, you could probably make a good case for putting Elliotte Friedman on the top sportscasters list for a lot of sports. The Hockey Night in Canada mainstay first gained national attention for calling Toronto Raptors games during their Vince Carter-led heyday and has called or reported on baseball, football, swimming, tennis and several other sports in his almost 25 years in the sports media business.

But it’s as a hockey broadcaster that Friedman’s probably best known. He first joined HNIC in 2002 and has remained with the program as a reporter or a panelist ever since, even after its production rights switched from CBC to Rogers Media in 2014.

Compared to the likes of Mike Milbury, Jeremy Roenick or Don Cherry, Friedman can come off as a little more subdued. He’s not an ex-player or coach and he doesn’t wear loud coats. But even so, Friedman has quietly gained a substantial following, both on and off the air (in addition to his role on HNIC, Friedman also writes a popular weekly column for Sportsnet called “30 Thoughts”), for his professionalism, insightfulness, and his ability to share the spotlight with his fellow broadcasters.


If you’ve lived anywhere near Buffalo at any point over the past 45 years, you know who Rick Jeanneret is and you know his voice.

It’s not just that he’s associated with the Buffalo Sabres, they’ve only ever had one season where he didn’t call at least one game on radio or TV, easily the single longest run a play-by- play announcer has ever had with one NHL franchise.

He was there when the legendary “French Connection” line took the ice for the first time, he was there for the last game at the Memorial Auditorium and the first game at what’s now the KeyBank Center, he was there for Brett Hull’s infamous 1999 Stanley Cup-clinching goal, and he was there for the first NHL Winter Classic game in 2008.

Jeanneret was already something of a western New York staple when he began calling Sabres games during the 1971-1972 season, having already called several games for a junior hockey team across the border in Niagara Falls and Buffalo’s AHL team, the Bisons. But as the Sabres’ play-by- play announcer, he’s become an institution, partly because of his enthusiasm and partly because of his amazingly colorful phrases, such as “Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies!” and his call for Brad May’s playoff series-clinching goal against Boston in 1993, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” Though no call sums up the appeal of Jeanneret’s ecstatic approach to play-by- play quite like his call for Jason Pominville’s second-round goal against Ottawa in 2006.


There are big breaks in broadcasting and then there’s Chris Cuthbert’s big break.

Cuthbert wasn’t exactly a novice when the CBC assigned him to cover a playoff game between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils on April 18, 1988, having already served as an anchor and substitute announcer for Western Canadian games on Hockey Night in Canada.

Still, the CBC wasn’t expecting him to give more than the occasional update on the Caps-Devils game while most of its viewers watched the Montreal Canadiens play the Boston Bruins until a power outage hit Montreal, ending the CBC’s broadcast there.

Without any other regular analysts or graphics and replay capabilities, Cuthbert was suddenly forced to provide the entire CBC broadcast himself. Despite the short notice, Cuthbert was a hit and for the next 16 years was one of HNIC’s go-to sportscasters for Canadiens and Western Canadians games.

After the 2005 lockout, he joined TSN and since 2014, has been a regular on Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs broadcasts.


As the Washington Capitals’ play-by- play man since 1994, Joe Beninati has called most of the franchise’s greatest moments: its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998, Alexander Ovechkin’s record-setting 2005-2006 rookie season, and well over half of its playoff appearances.

Throughout that time, Beninati has become known for his sharp suits and expansive vocabulary.

As one of the first announcers on what at the time was called Versus and is now NBC Sports Network after the NHL lockout of 2004-2005, Beninati was instrumental in bringing the league to a much wider national audience and restoring its reputation as a fun sport to watch.


Unlike most of the people on this list, Eddie Olcyzk actually had a solid playing career in the NHL. He was drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, just two picks behind Mario Lemieux, scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, was on the roster when the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup and is still 18th on the NHL points list among U.S.-born players.

His coaching career was somewhat less stellar, ending in 2006, when the Pittsburgh Penguins fired him less than halfway through his second season on the job.

Olcyzk has excelled far more, however, as a hockey analyst. Olcyzk had already spent a couple years as a color commentator for the Penguins when he became their head coach and shortly after he was fired from that job, he was hired to do commentary for one of his old teams, the Blackhawks. Twelve years later, he’s still there, presiding along with play-by-play partner Pat Foley over three Stanley Cups in five years.

One of the first analysts for Versus after it took over NHL national broadcasting rights in the U.S. in 2006, he’s also stayed with that network as it morphed into NBC Sports and rose from a sports media afterthought to become of ESPN’s few true national rivals.

He called the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics for NBC and has used his current battle with colon cancer to raise awareness for early detection.


It’s hard to think of a more seminal figure in Canadian broadcasting than Bob Cole. His first television broadcasting job was announcing for Hockey Night in Canadawhen the program expanded its coverage in 1973.

Behind the scenes of a 2010 Hockey Night in Canada broadcast featuring announcer Bob Cole. (Photo by Naila Jinnah, presented under Creative Commons license.)

Starting in 1980, he became HNIC’s primary play-by- play announcer, calling some of the most memorable games of pretty much every NHL star’s career, from Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mats Sundin to Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

When an NHL All-Star team defeated the Soviet Union to win the Summit Series in 1972, Cole was there. When the New York Rangers broke a 54-year title drought by defeating the Vancouver Canucks to win the 1994 Stanley Cup and breaking the Canadian sports TV ratings record previously held by the 1972 Summit Series, Cole was there. When the NHL first sent players to the Winter Olympics at the Nagano Games in 1998 and when Canada won its first men’s hockey gold medal in 50 years at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Cole was there.

And 45 years after he first hit the airwaves, Bob Cole is still there, still calling games.


Not too many hockey announcers manage to become so iconic as to warrant their own statues outside their teams’ arenas. Not only is Bob Miller one of those rare announcers, he did it in Los Angeles, a city not particularly starved for sports options or known before Miller’s arrival in 1973 as a hockey hotbed.

For 44 years, Miller was known throughout Southern California as the voice of the Los Angeles Kings and the man at the microphone for most of the greatest moments in the careers of Kings stars Marcel Dionne and Luc Robitaille. When Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings in 1988, sparking an explosion of interest in the NHL not just in L.A. but also throughout the U.S., it was Miller who helped familiarize many of those fans with the game.

And almost a quarter of a century later, Miller was there in 2012 to call the Kings’ first Stanley Cup win, both on radio and, in a way, on TV. While Miller, like all local TV announcers at that stage of the playoffs, wasn’t allowed to call the Kings games during the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, he and his broadcast partner, Jim Fox, proved so popular among Kings fans that the team had the announcers call each of the potential clinching games so that they could distribute the calls to the fans afterwards.

And when Miller finally retired in 2017, he was honored the following year with his own statue outside the Staples Center, one of only three people associated with the Kings to receive that honor.


By his own admission, Keith Jones was not really comfortable doing hockey analysis when he was first hired for that job by ESPN in 2000.

Jones had just finished an eight-year playing career in the NHL, retiring relatively early because of knee problems but as he told in a 2009 interview, “I wondered if I could crawl back out on the ice and somehow squeak out a few more playing years after a few weeks of doing it.”

But while the ESPN gig faded away fairly quickly, the job Jones took around the same time as an analyst for Philadelphia Flyers broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet proved much more successful.

Jones became a regular on Philly sports radio and TV and his success calling Flyers games eventually led to him becoming one of Versus and NBC Sports’ mainstays after that network took over national broadcasts in 2006.


If there’s one word that describes what Bob McKenzie brings to his hockey analysis, it’s this: connections. McKenzie’s covered hockey for TSN, Canada’s answer to ESPN, since 1986 and has been covering the Stanley Cup Finals even longer, having also served as editor-in- chief of The Hockey News from 1982 to 1991.

He’s also arguably one of the most powerful and respected figures on hockey Twitter. When McKenzie tweets on NHL trade deadline day, people listen and people retweet (which is also why fake Bob McKenzie Twitter accounts seem to regularly pop up around that time of year).

When the NHL Draft rolls around, fans, other media members, and even teams look to McKenzie for scoops.

When NHL free agency gets started in July, the hockey world looks to McKenzie. Little wonder then that “The Hockey Insider,” to use just one of McKenzie’s many nicknames, has over 1.6 million followers on Twitter. Not bad for a hockey analyst.

Alex Holt in a graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Master’s program. These are his assessments of some of the top voices in hockey

Comments are closed.