Growing up a sports-loving kid in La Fontaine, Ind., approximately 90 miles from South Bend, it’s not surprising that one of Mike “Doc’’ Emrick’s joys was watching Notre Dame football games on television.
“Sad to say it was so long ago,’’ said Emrick, who grew up to become the preeminent hockey broadcaster of his time, “that Paul Hornung was in the backfield for the Irish.’’
What is somewhat of a surprise is that Emrick has never been to Notre Dame Stadium, let alone called an event there. He has called two college hockey games at the school’s ice arena through the years, and he took a tour of the campus years ago, but the football stadium was inaccessible that day.
All of that will change Tuesday when the iconic venue is the host for the NHL’s signature New Year’s Day regular-season game, the Winter Classic, which will feature the Bruins and Blackhawks (1 p.m., NBC).
Emrick will be on the call along with color analyst Eddie Olczyk and rinkside reporter Pierre Maguire. Mike Tirico will host the network’s pregame coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.
“To be in the same place where all of those great things happened and those great players played, and to have the first hockey game there, that’s a great honor for a kid from Indiana, or a kid from anywhere, really,’’ said Emrick. “You could be from Anchorage, Alaska, and it would be exciting to be there.’’
The Notre Dame football teams of Emrick’s childhood played often on national television.
“But they were checkered in the ’50s,’’ said Emrick, now 72. “They had some good seasons and some not-so-good seasons. But what I remember is that in November, they always seemed to play in snow.’’
Emrick and Olcyzk will be situated right behind the glass near the penalty box during the broadcast. They’re not allowed heaters because of the effect they could have on the cooling system. So it’s blankets and handwarmers for them.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get snowed on,’’ said Emrick.
He said he hasn’t been more excited about calling a game from a particular venue since the 2014 Winter Classic, which pitted the Red Wings against the Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.
“We knew that one was going to blow all the doors off all the attendance records’’ — and it did, drawing 105,491 fans, the most ever for a hockey game — “and then what we got that day was a whole lot of magic,’’ said Emrick. “We got snow all day.
“About three weeks ago, I was talking with Tyler Bozak of St. Louis, who was with the Maple Leafs that day. He was the guy that ended that game with the shootout winner, and so I said, ‘What do you remember about the day?’
“Of course, he got a big smile on his face — why wouldn’t he, he won the game? — and he remembered the goal, but he also remembered the crowd reaction too.
The crowd that day was split nearly 50-50, with tens of thousands of Leafs fans making the relatively short trip to Ann Arbor from Ontario.
“You had all the Leafs fans from across the border, and of course all the Red Wings fans there because we in Michigan,’’ said Emrick. “Stands were red and blue, and you had the guys with shovels out there cleaning the ice on almost every stoppage in play because it was really coming down so hard,’’ said Emrick.
“You had the announcement of the Sochi US women’s Olympic hockey team during intermission, and that was special.
“Then you had the game go to overtime, and not every fan knew that because of the weather conditions they were dividing the third period in half and they were dividing the overtime in half.
In overtime, the Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg got a clear breakaway, and it was called back because the horn sounded at the 2½-minute mark for the teams to switch ends.
“So everyone either had a big groan or a big cheer,’’ said Emrick. “He was halfway to the net when that horn sounded.’’
This year’s Winter Classic will mark the Blackhawks’ fourth appearance and the Bruins’ third since the event began in 2008. The Blackhawks are 0-3-0 all-time in the Winter Classic, while the Bruins are 1-1. The Bruins defeated the Flyers, 2-1, at Fenway Park in 2010, and lost, 5-1, to the Canadiens in 2016 at Gillette Stadium.
Emrick has some fond and amusing memories of calling the Fenway game, which the Bruins won on Marco Sturm’s overtime goal.
“Fenway Park, of course, it was such a great place,’’ he said. “The Bruins came back in that one after ‘Sweet Caroline’ was sung. Boston rallied to tie the game, then won in overtime. More magic, right?
“Of course, there were some Flyers fans there, and as I headed out, one of the Bruins fans, a guy probably 60, 65 years old, was saying to some Flyers fans while walking a safe 10-15 feet in front of them, ‘Thanks for comin’ Philly! Thanks for comin’!’ ’’