If Bob Chase was responsible for introducing the Fort Wayne Komets to North America, then his protege Mike Emrick made sure the world knew about them, too. Emrick, 73, will be the latest media member inducted into the Komets Hall of Fame on March 7, which is a little odd considering he’s only called a couple of Fort Wayne games as the home broadcaster during his 46-year career. There’s much more to the story than that. As he was growing up in La Fontaine (located just north of Marion), Emrick dreamed of becoming a baseball announcer until Dec. 10, 1960, when he attended his first hockey game, the Komets vs. the Muskegon Zephyrs. Emrick, then 14, and his brother Dan had watched hockey on TV through snowy reception because their home wasn't close enough to Indianapolis or Fort Wayne. They also listened to Bob Chase describe Komets games on WOWO, with Emrick jiggling the radio dial to give the signal a little extra strength. After frequently bugging their parents to drive from LaFontaine to see a Komets game at Memorial Coliseum, the boys got their wish. He'd never seen anything as white as the ice or as blue as the Muskegon uniforms, Emrick remembered. "You are forming wonderful opinions, and everything is fantastic," Emrick said. "There's nothing jaded about anything at all. It was one of those fantastic nights."A year after setting their all-time record for points and wins in a season, the Komets had lost four games in a row heading into the Muskegon game. The Zephyrs led 3-1 with 10 minutes left when Len Thornson scored to give the Komets a chance. Then, Con Madigan tied it with 17 seconds remaining, skating backward around the rink to celebrate. Neither team scored in overtime, but Emrick's highlight was watching Madigan fight Zephyrs' player-coach Moose Lallo with two seconds left. There was also organist Norm Carroll playing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Another favorite memory was watching Chase standing in the press box to lean over the WOWO banner and call the play. "I still enjoy baseball as much as a Pirates fan can, but after that night I became a hockey fanatic," Emrick said.Whenever possible, Emrick and his friends would drive up to be part of the Saturday night crowds. Eventually, he started taking along a tape recorder, sitting in the upper-deck corners to practice calling a game. Then he'd take the tape to Chase at WOWO, and they would talk about it. "I gave him a few little hints and stuff to get started, but holy cow, you could already tell he had so much enthusiasm for what he was doing," Chase said in his biography. "This just kept rolling, and he got better and better at it." After graduating from Southwood High School, Emrick attended Manchester College and continued to attend Komets games, building an even closer relationship with Chase. Emrick kept sending out applications and audition tapes to every minor-league hockey team, finally finding a job for the 1973-74 season with Port Huron. "For $160 a week, I was in hog heaven," Emrick said. "I had finally arrived."Actually, he was just getting started, and is now the best hockey broadcaster in the world, maybe the best announcer in any sport. During his career, he has called 37 NHL seasons,19 Stanley Cup Finals and seven Olympics on his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s won just about every broadcasting and journalism award. He was the first media member inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and the first to win the NHL’s Foster Hewitt Award for contributions to the game in the United States. And he’s taken the Komets and their fans along with him for the ride. It’s always a rush when he mentions on national TV how things are going in Fort Wayne such as wishing the Komets luck before the 2012 Central Hockey League Finals, or when he wore a Len Thornson jersey on air in 2013. Or how about the time he convinced NBC to do a feature on Chase for a “Hockey Day in America” segment? More than anyone, Emrick made sure Chase received the national acclaim he deserved, playing a huge part in the 2012 Lester Patrick Award going to Chase. But what many fans may not realize is how closely Emrick maintains ties to the Komets and Fort Wayne. He called Chase at least weekly while he was alive, regularly talks with Komets ownership to offer suggestions or advice and was always generous with his time when approached for odd bits of trivia. Remember when the Komets’ outdoor game against Toledo was postponed by rain in 2015? The question was if there had ever been another outdoor game that had to be postponed or canceled. Emrick, who had called almost every other outdoor game, knew that was the first. Though Emrick has attended maybe 10 Komets games over the last 25 years or so, he has always been around the Komets as a huge influence and resource. He’s still just as huge a Komets fan now as he was as the kid growing up in La Fontaine.
FW KOMETS HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2020: Mike “Doc” Emrick
Thursday, March 5th
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