New York Islanders TV broadcaster Brenden Burke had just walked out of the Barclays Center feeling pretty good.
It was the night of Oct. 16, 2016 and the Islanders had just defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime off a goal from Josh Bailey for their first win of the 2016-17 season. It had been Burke’s first big moment as the television voice of the New York Islanders and he was particularly happy with the call he had.
Burke packed up his things and walked back to his home at the time in Brooklyn. It was then that he got a surprise email that capped the memorable night for the young broadcaster.
“I pulled out my phone as I was walking back and I think the NHL had tweeted out the highlight,” Burke said during a phone interview with NYI Hockey Now. “I felt really good about what I had done in that first real test and then I’m still on my walk home and a couple of minutes later my phone buzzes. It’s an email from (Mike Emrick) that says ‘hey you sound great.’ To have that on top of already feeling good about it, and then to have the guy who you think is the best broadcaster in the world tell you so is a very special moment for me.”
The top moment of my career at the time was Bailey’s OT GWG in the 2016 home opener (my 3rd #Isles game). It was a great goal and I felt really good about the call in my first big moment.
And the best part of my night was getting an email from Doc as soon as I got off the air. pic.twitter.com/T3fi5dVMou
— Brendan Burke (@brendanmburke) October 19, 2020
The goal and the email from legendary broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick have gone hand in hand in the mind of Burke since it happened, and it was a memory that came to mind on Monday when Emrick announced he was retiring from broadcasting. Emrick has called NHL games for the last 47 years and has been the voice of the league for the last 15 calling games nationally for NBC.
Emrick is regarded as one of the greatest broadcasters in all of sports and has called 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 Stanley Cup Playoff game sevens, six Olympics, 14 NHL All-Star Games and 19 NHL Winter Classics and Stadium Series games.
“He’s the best,” Burke said. “He became as big as the sport. You’re talking about a guy who won seven or eight straight sports play-by-play Emmys up against the Joe Bucks and Ian Eagles and the big guys. The guys that do the other big sports and he beats them all every year. … I love not only what he’s done for broadcasting and for the profession, but for the sport of hockey and elevating it to another level.”
Emrick’s overlap with the Islanders has been limited on the national stage. Emrick also served as the TV voice of the New Jersey Devils for 21.
Emrick famously called the Easter Epic on ESPN and was behind the mic for John Tavares’ game-winning goal in Game 3 of the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015. Emrick noted the atmosphere at the Nassau Coliseum that game during his retirement conference call on Monday.
Mike Emrick was also on hand to call an early regular-season game in November of 2016 between the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Sitting next to Emrick for the night to shadow the Hall-of-Famer was Burke.
“Just to see him go through the mechanics of (broadcasting), to see the notes that he had, to see what he has scripted out and what is off the top of his head,” Burke said while describing that night. “Just to see the way he goes about the game and interacts with his analysts when they’re off the air. The communication with him and the producer. I think I was 20 games into my television tenure and I was still very raw in a lot of those areas, especially in the ins and outs of television, so to be able to observe him doing those things was a really cool experience for me.”
Burke added: “I figured if I was going to learn a way to do things and to conduct myself in a television booth watching Doc work in my booth, sort of speak, was the perfect way to do it.”
As great of a broadcaster that Emrick was, he has often been described as an even better person. Reaction from across the hockey and broadcasting world poured in on Twitter following Emrick’s announcement on Monday, along with plenty of stories about his kindness and generosity.
Bridgeport Sound Tigers radio voice Alan Fuehring recalled receiving an email from Emrick last August after briefly mentioning that he was getting married. Emrick reached out to Burke as well following the announcement that he would be the new play-by-play announcer for the Islanders.
Doc’s call is legendary. But Doc as a person is something I’ll always hope to replicate. Last summer, I briefly mentioned I was getting married to my wife Emily in August. Then got this email during our honeymoon. It meant so much to me. pic.twitter.com/Wdhrgvq77f
— Alan Fuehring (@AlanFuehring) October 19, 2020
“He’s extremely kind and he’s genuine,” Burke said. “He really is that guy and he’s the person you want to ask a million questions and he keeps asking you questions. He wants to know more about you. That’s not an act, that’s him.”
The two have continued to correspond and talk since which included recently as Emrick prepared to call a game between the Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning during the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Always the consummate professional he was calling me to make sure that he was getting those names pronounced right and wanted to go over the Islanders names and double-check, and make sure he was ready to go,” Burke said.
It’s uncertain when hockey will be played again, but whoever NBC taps to replace Emrick will have big shoes to fill.
“We are all going to be sad that Doc won’t be around and I think the sport for certain is better off for having had him,” Burke said.