"Mellon Arena Memories" is a semi-regular feature that will appear in this forum from time to time during the remainder of the Penguins' final season at Mellon Arena. We will attempt to interview several individuals inside and outside the Penguins about the arena which has served as the franchise's home facility since its inception. Today's subject is Mike Emrick.
Mike "Doc" Emrick is currently the lead play-by-play voice for NHL broadcasts on NBC, Versus and MSG Plus which carries Devils games. His career as a hockey journalist started in the 1970s when working as a teacher in Geneva College's speech department, he worked as a freelance reporter for the Beaver County Times covering Penguins' games in 1970 and 71. Since that time, he has worked as a broadcaster in places like Port Huron, Mich. and Portland, Maine before becoming the lead play-by-play man with the Flyers in 1980.
He joined the Devils in the same capacity in 1983 and since that time has worked for virtually every major television broadcaster of hockey in the United States including ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN.
Emrick, a big Pirates fan, was inducted in the the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008 when he won the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for broadcasting.
First Memory of Civic/Mellon Arena:
"I parked here (at the Marriott City Center). Had a little Volkswagen. It was 1969. I had never seen an NHL game. I was teaching at Geneva. And on the weekend, the Penguins were playing Minnesota Saturday night and the Steelers were hosting Green Bay at Pitt Stadium the next day. My little Volkswagen, which I had to park on an incline because I had to pop-start it – it had a lot of years and I was just hanging on, I was making $7,000 a year teaching school."
"I got a room in this hotel. Across the street on the marquee, I’ll never forget, Janis Joplin, one night concert was the night before. And the next morning, Bill Goldsworthy (right) from the North Stars was standing outside the hotel and that was the closest I’d ever been to an NHL player before. Saw the game that night, and saw the football game the next day and drove back to Beaver Falls Sunday night. "
"I had the cheapest seat in the house. I was pretty far away but it struck me as being a place that was kind of normal for hockey. I didn’t have any great memories of the place because I guess I was more focused on the game. I don’t know if there was anything about the structure that really struck me. However as time passed, it became one of my favorite places. And part of the reason are the memories you have associated with it."
The first game he covered as a newspaper reporter at Civic/Mellon Arena:
"It was against the Los Angeles Kings. Ross Lonsberry was playing for the Kings and had a couple goals I think. Red Kelly was the (Penguins’) coach. He was terrific to work with. The Penguins had a bunch of injuries and after the game (a Penguins loss) was over, another guy got hurt in the game. The only two of us who went down to see Red after game were myself and Myron Cope (right). Myron had a unique way of taking notes that I had never seen before and I’ve never seen since. He had a roll of cash register tape that he would keep in the palm of his hand. And he would unfold it and he would make notes on the paper as it rolled over his index finger. It was kind of neat in a way."
"And Red started to tell about this story – Red had a farm up in Canada – he said, ‘I’m an old farmer, and I’ve always felt, that whenever the worms were close to the top of the soil, that bad things happened. And I wouldn’t be surprised if right now, if I stuck a spade into the ground, there’d be a lot of worms at the top because we’re sure having a hard time.’"
"And by the time (Cope’s) tape had touched the floor, Myron was still making some notes on Red’s story because Myron liked things that had odd twists that he could really dress up for television. "
Favorite game to cover at Mellon/Civic Arena:
"It wasn’t a favorite of Penguins fans, but the sixth game (of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final) against Detroit was really something. It was very impressive, it was riveting and it was close. It’s theatre that you can’t script and if it were WWE, I suppose we'd think they planned out a good show."
Favorite people to deal with at Mellon/Civic Arena:
"I really like Dan Bylsma. Michel Therrien and I had some good conversations too. Red Kelly was special. Anybody that’s been around Bob Johnson will never forget the experience. I think players would say that. "
Favorite thing about Mellon/Civic Arena:
"The thing that makes it great for me is that the people are so nice. When I first came here to teach at Geneva, my high school principal, said ‘You’ll love it out there because hill people take care of each other.’ I found out he was right. This is just a marvelous city because of the people that are in it. And the ushers and the people I’ve gotten to know (at Mellon Arena), that’s part of making it a friendly place. "
(Photos: Emrick-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Goldsworthy-eBay; Cope-Post-Gazette archives)