Olympic Hockey Grab Bag: Is It Time to Panic Yet?
Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of hockey.
This Week’s Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the three hockey personalities who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Jonathan Toews
Earlier in the week, Team USA star Patrick Kane told reporters that Phil Kessel was probably the best player he’d ever played with. That seemed like a veiled poke at Blackhawks teammate (and Canadian) Jonathan Toews. So when he was asked about Kane a few days later, Toews was ready:
That’s not the funniest one-liner you’ll ever read, but coming from Jonathan Toews it’s basically Class Clown. Is he learning how to simulate basic human emotion? That would be pretty impressive. What’s next, an actual goal?
The second star: This sad Russian bear
This shouldn’t be funny. But it is.
The first star: Corey Hirsch
The onetime Team Canada goalie — who wound up on a Swedish postage stamp after the 1994 Olympics — watched T.J. Oshie’s shootout performance, and figured the time was right for a simple request.
Nice one, Corey. Nice one. (The answer is no, by the way.)
Obscure Former Player of the Week
NHL history is filled with legendary players whose stories are passed down from generation to generation. This is not one of them.
With Team USA capturing the nation’s attention over the past week, we’ve heard a lot of callbacks to Al Michaels’s famous “Do you believe in miracles?” sound bite from the American upset over the Soviets in the 1980 Games.
OK, fine, you all believe in miracles. But … do you believe in Maracles?
Specifically, Norm Maracle, the backup goalie who spawned a million terrible puns during a brief NHL career that saw him play 66 games for the Wings and Thrashers from 1998 to 2002. My favorite line from his Wikipedia page: “Maracle earned the nickname ‘Miracle’ because despite being a borderline starting goaltender, Maracle would occasionally have superb games.” Yeah, that’s definitely why he earned that nickname. No other reason at all.
His NHL career ended in part because he earned a reputation for poor conditioning, which is the hockey world’s way of saying that he looked like a regular guy. I love this photo of him from his days in Europe, which is identical to 90 percent of the beer-league goalies playing in Canada right now. Here he is in a 2001 AHL goalie scrap, which is the closest pro hockey will ever come to witnessing a Butterbean fight.
Despite his relatively brief NHL career, Maracle played pro hockey for almost two decades. He was named MVP of the IHL in 2001 and played in Russia and Germany until 2010, and he still seems to be strapping on the pads to this day.
Update: Thanks to @mitja_sega for pointing this out:
Great Hockey Debates
In which we employ the Socratic method in an attempt to settle the issues that have plagued a generation of hockey fans.
This Week’s Debate: As the 2014 Sochi Games wind down, there’s still no official word on whether the NHL will participate in future Winter Olympics. Should the league be in South Korea for 2018?
In Favor: Yes, of course they should.
Opposed: Yes, of course they should.
NHL Owners: No, we shouldn’t.
NHL Players: Yes, of course we should.
Hockey Media: Yes, of course they should.
TV Broadcast Partners: Yes, of course they should.
Corporate Sponsors: Yes, of course they should.
NHL Owners: No, we shouldn’t.
Die-hard Hockey Fans: Yes, of course they should.
Occasional Hockey Fans: Yes, of course they should.
Sports Fans Who Don’t Really Like Hockey But Might Someday: Yes, of course they should.
NHL Owners: No, we shouldn’t.
Everyone: WHY THE HELL NOT?
NHL Owners: Oh … um … well, you see …
In Favor: This is about money, isn’t it?
NHL Owners: What? No! How could you say that? What do you think we are, a bunch of greedy, soulless, money-grubbing gargoyles who don’t care about anything other than our own bottom lines?
NHL Owners: We’re insulted.
In Favor: OK, fine. So tell us, then, what is it really about?
NHL Owners: It’s about the sanctity of the game! The Olympics forces the whole league to shut down for several weeks every four years. And that’s bad for the integrity of the game. (Author’s note: No, really. That’s their chosen spin.)
In Favor: So interrupting the season is a bad thing?
NHL Owners: [Wiping away tears.] It would be so tragic …
In Favor: And just to be clear, this is coming from the same group of guys who have shut down the league for two full years’ worth of lockouts since Gary Bettman arrived?
NHL Owners: Oh. Uh, we kind of hoped you’d all forgotten about those.
In Favor: You know we all hate you, right?
NHL Owners: [Looking up from counting giant pile of money.] Sorry, what? We weren’t paying attention.
The Final Verdict: Sending NHL players to the Olympics makes hockey fans happy, so it has to end. Sorry, everyone. This is just how Bettman’s NHL works.
What Has Don Cherry Gone and Done Now?
Whether it’s Coach’s Corner, his regular media appearances, or a Twitter account that’s presumably meant to be performance art, Don Cherry is everywhere. What’s he been up to this week?
This week, Don Cherry’s main contribution to the hockey world was giving us all nightmares with this tweet:
But instead of focusing on the present, let’s throw some salt in the wounds of our recently eliminated Russian friends by going back in time for a vintage Cherry moment from 1996: the time he said that Team Russia “suck and always have sucked.”
Fun fact: Anytime Don Cherry starts off Coach’s Corner with “I’m going to get in a lot of trouble here,” every TV in Canada immediately gets cranked up to maximum volume.
And he doesn’t disappoint here, getting so worked up that at one point he physically assaults Ron for invading his personal space. He also approvingly cites Bobby Clarke intentionally breaking a Russian player’s ankle in 1972, calls Sergei Fedorov a diver who “died” in the playoffs, and describes a Lindros/Kasparaitis scrum as “Eric grabs the little rat and slaps him around a little.”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about his prediction at the end: He turns out to be 100 percent right. Vintage Don Cherry was the absolute best.
Canadian Olympic Panic Watch
Canadians love three things: rolling up the rim, ruining American pop music, and freaking out about our Olympic hockey teams.
Who, us? The nation that barely beat Norway in the round-robin? Who needed overtime to beat Finland? Who, just a few days ago, came this close to losing to Latvia in an upset that would have made the Miracle on Ice look like a coin flip?
There’s no panic here. Panic is for the weak.
Bring on the semifinals. Do your worst, Team USA. You’re stepping on the ice with the greatest hockey nation the world has ever known, and it’s go time.
[Goes back to projectile vomiting around the room like the guy from Team America: World Police.]
Awesome and/or Horrific Old YouTube Clip of the Week
In addition to being a great source of adorable pet videos and functionally illiterate commenters, YouTube is a gold mine for old hockey clips. In this section we find one and break it down in way too much detail.
With the big Canada-U.S. men’s semifinal showdown happening today, I thought it would be a good idea to look back on a famous moment from the rivalry. However, when I search for “USA” and “Canada” and “hockey” and “Olympics,” all I see is clip after clip of Canada winning gold medals while Americans looks sad, and it seems like reminding you of that would be rude.
So instead, let’s turn to an event where the Americans do have a history of beating Canada … once. It’s the World Cup of Hockey, successor to the Canada Cup, the occasional best-on-best international tournament that dates back to 1976. Last week we watched Canada’s dramatic win over Russia from the 1987 event. This time, let’s go back to August 31, 2004, as Canada faces the U.S. during the opening game of the round-robin.
• So yeah, I know what you’re thinking, so let’s just get it out of the way now: What’s the deal with those horrible, nontraditional uniforms? It’s distracting, I know. I hear you. And I don’t really have much of an explanation for you. I’m not sure why the referees aren’t wearing stripes, either.
• Oh, you meant Team Canada. Yeah, this is that game where Canada decided to ditch their traditional red-and-white and go with mustard yellow instead. Apparently somebody was watching a Nashville Predators game and thought Yeah, we should do that, but uglier. We’re not proud of this as a nation, OK?
• The official Canadian name for this shade is “peed-on snowbank yellow,” by the way.
• The yellows have never been seen again, but having an alternate jersey in the wrong colors has become a bit of a Canadian tradition. This year, it was the weird black uniforms with the stripe. I think it’s supposed to be a marketing thing to sell more merchandise. Related note: There is no record of any Canadian ever buying a yellow jersey. One guy tried, and was immediately deported.
• So, back to the game. It’s 2-1 for Canada late in the second period when Steve Konowalchuk plows into the Canadian crease and gets tangled up with Martin Brodeur. Officials and Canadian players immediately race in to grab him, probably because they’re jealous he’s wearing a normal jersey and doesn’t look like an idiot.
• And yes, there was fighting in the World Cup. I know that may come as a shock to those of you who’ve been exposed to years of cookie-cutter “There’s no fighting in international hockey” columns, but the World Cup was played by NHL rules. It turns out that when you don’t eject hockey players for fighting, they tend to fight. Weird.
• For example, here’s the first few seconds of the final between Canada and the U.S. in 1996, featuring Bill Guerin fighting Keith Primeau and Keith Tkachuk squaring off with Claude Lemieux. I’d tell you how the latter fight ended, but 18 years later, I’m pretty sure Tkachuk is still awkwardly shadowboxing.
• But while fighting is fairly common at the World Cup, the Canadian combatant is a little unusual. It’s Mario Lemieux, who only had a half-dozen fights in his NHL career (not counting that one against Kerry Fraser). Oddly, pretty much of all of them seemed to come against the Washington Capitals.
• And here’s where guest analyst Jeremy Roenick has decided to weigh in. “And you say there’s not rivalries in hockey! Holy cow!” Wait, what? Who says there’s no rivalries in hockey? That is literally the only thing that nobody in the United States criticizes hockey about.
• Seriously, J.R., we love you, but you can’t just make a mundane observation and then claim everyone disagrees with you. “And you say there’s no tall people in basketball!” No, actually we didn’t say that, stop yelling at us.
• Lemieux eventually backs off after Konowalchuk explains that the Capitals traded him to Colorado a few months ago. And yes, the mustard-yellow jerseys all had “Canada” on the back. Probably because the players refused to have their names on them. Let’s never speak of them again.
• And now it’s time for an underrated hockey scrum moment — the fight that breaks out off to the side that nobody notices right away. In this case it’s Scott Niedermayer and Jeff Halpern, who have been punching each other by the boards while everyone paid attention to Mario. That has to be frustrating. You’re getting punched in the face in front of 20,000 people and nobody even cares. It’s basically every Twitter flame war ever, except in real life.
• We’re told that U.S. coach Ron Wilson is yelling, “You got to be kidding!” either because of the penalty calls or because he just saw into the future and realized how his next NHL coaching job is going to go.
• By the way, can we just point out that this was an international best-on-best tournament and Steve Konowalchuk and Jeff Halpern both made Team USA? And this was less than 10 years ago. Remember that before you get all lippy about being a hockey superpower today, America.
• On the replay, it looks like Brodeur kind of maybe sort of may have grabbed Konowalchuk’s jersey a little bit. It’s hard to tell. Our view is obscured by Brodeur blatantly grabbing Konowalchuk’s jersey.
• “And Konowalchuk just picked up a deuce.” Ew. That seems like a good place to end.
Canada went on to win this game and the tournament, which nobody remembers because they wound up playing Finland in the final. The U.S. lost to the Czechs in the bronze-medal game. Shortly after the tournament ended, the NHL’s CBA expired and the lockout that wiped out the season began.
Let that be a lesson to you, USA: When you get feisty with Canada, the whole sport gets put in a timeout. Let’s not do anything today that we’re all going to regret.