NHL Grab Bag: Let’s Celebrate Canada Anyway
Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
This Week’s Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Putin
Via Reuters, here’s the Penguins’ star center making pretty much the exact same face you would have made.
(Honorable mention to Alexander Ovechkin for using his turn to flash a peace sign.)
The second star: Keep Pierre Champoux away from your breakfast
Our old pal Kerry Fraser wrote a blog post this week in which he looked back on some of his favorite moments from his career as an NHL referee, which included the miked-up game he did that we covered a few weeks ago.
But the highlight of Fraser’s post comes at the end, when he recounts a story from 1988 of then-rookie linesman Champoux trying to manage the difficult task of connecting with professional players — and, thanks to the language barrier, instead threatening to do something horrible to their cornflakes.
The first star: P.K. Subban has a good explanation
It turns out that several Bruins were wearing microphones for their second-round games against the Canadiens. This week, the Bruins’ Behind the B documentary show revealed some of the results. And, as you’d expect, Subban won the episode. After Patrice Bergeron called him out for sucker-punching him in the head, Subban fired back with an airtight excuse:
That would be “Marchy,” as in Bruins super-pest Brad Marchand. You’re free to go, P.K. No jury would ever convict you.
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.
Earlier this week we took a look at the various ways in which the Rangers have constructed their roster, including the fact that Henrik Lundqvist was just the 22nd goalie taken in the 2000 draft. The 21 guys taken ahead of him included busts (Rick DiPietro), decent values (Ilya Bryzgalov), and a long list of guys you’ve never heard of (Zdenek Smid). And then, all the way down the list at no. 19, was a familiar name worthy of being named this week’s obscure player: former Flyer Roman Cechmanek.
When I saw Cechmanek’s name on the list, I immediately had four thoughts that basically represented the sum total of my knowledge of his career:
1. Hey, that was the guy who looked like Mr. Bean.
2. He’s definitely on the NHL’s all-time “Players who had good stats but everyone remembers as being terrible” team. He’s the backup goalie, behind Patrick Lalime.
3. That time he gave up a goal because he stopped playing and bent down to look for his glove.
4. And then finally: Wait, how could Roman Cechmanek have been drafted in 2000? Wasn’t he in his 30s like two years later?
The answer to that last question turns out to be yes. Cechmanek was drafted by the Flyers as a 29-year-old, after a long career in the Czech Republic that included winning a gold medal in 1998 as Dominik Hasek’s backup.
He arrived in Philadelphia as an unknown, but quickly won the starter’s job and had three really good seasons, posting a save percentage over .920 and a GAA of 2.05 or lower each year, and was even named to the 2001 all-star team. But he had a bad postseason run during his first year and never really shook the reputation for giving up soft goals in the playoffs. The Flyers traded him to the Kings in 2003 for a draft pick (that would eventually become current Hawks playoff specialist Bryan Bickell).
Cechmanek played just one year in L.A. before returning to the Czech league during the 2005 lockout. He never returned to the NHL. To this day, he’s the only goalie in Flyers history to post a sub-2.00 career GAA.
Apparently, he owns a brewery now.
Now I know five things about him.
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: The NHL unveiled the schedule for the Stanley Cup final this week. Even though both conference finals could have wrapped up before the weekend, the finals still won’t start until next Wednesday, after which we’ll immediately get two more days off before Game 2 on Saturday. Is that a wise move?
In favor: Yes. At this time of year, injuries and fatigue are a huge factor. A few extra days off gives both teams a chance to get healthy, which should make for a better final.
Opposed: That’s fine for the players, but what about the fans? We hate all this extra time off.
In favor: Well, it’s certainly not ideal. But it’s still better than watching games between two beat up and exhausted teams. You want to see the best hockey possible, right?
Opposed: That’s a good point.
In favor: Yeah.
In favor: …
Opposed: [stares at ground]
In favor: [whistles]
In favor: …
Opposed: Then again, extra rest should be a reward for finishing off your last series quickly. And having too much time off can actually leave a team rusty, resulting in a lower quality of play.
In favor: Hm. I hadn’t thought of that.
In favor: …
Opposed: [places hands in pockets; rocks back and forth]
In favor: [gets distracted by a butterfly]
In favor: …
Opposed: [checks watch]
In favor: Then again, there’s TV scheduling to worry about. And building availability. It’s not like the league can just play the games whenever they want.
In favor: …
In favor: …
Opposed: I guess that’s a good point.
In favor: What was?
Opposed: Whatever you just said.
In favor: I can’t even remember.
Opposed: Neither can I.
In favor: All of these unnecessary pauses are really destroying the flow of what’s going on.
Opposed: Yeah, it’s almost as if this format was a bad idea that’s killing anyone’s ability to stay interested.
In favor: …
In favor: Interested in what?
Opposed: Nobody remembers.
The final verdict: The NHL’s scheduling process is clearly an example of a very, very [to be continued in three days]
Trivial NHL-related annoyance of the week
In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.
Henrik Lundqvist was pulled during Tuesday’s game after giving up two quick goals that left the Rangers trailing the Habs 4-1. Within a few minutes of the move, the Rangers had rallied to tie the game. That led to Hockey Night in Canada cameras catching a bemused Lundqvist emerging from the dressing room to take his spot on a stool in the hallway and glancing up at the scoreboard to see that his teammates had come back.
But wait … his spot in the hallway? On a stool? Yes, because Montreal’s Bell Centre is one of those NHL arenas where the visitors’ bench doesn’t have enough room for the backup goaltender. So he has to sit somewhere else. In Montreal’s case, that’s on a little stool in a hallway across the ice, surrounded by Habs fans.
How is this still happening? I could understand it when we had arenas that were built in the 1930s, when the maximum roster size was “however many guys you can find” and the backup goalie was the starting goalie with a blood-soaked bandage and a shot of whisky in him. But the Bell Centre was built in 1996. We had the Internet back then! Surely someone could have searched “how many players does a hockey team have?” and then, when the results came back in 1998, added some extra room.
The NHL has rules about this sort of thing — Detroit’s Scotty Bowman once installed a makeshift bench extension in Colorado because he thought the Wings were being shortchanged — and Montreal is undoubtedly within those guidelines. But the whole thing just looks silly. These are professional athletes. They shouldn’t have to sit by themselves in a hallway because the home team needed one more platinum-priced seat to sell.
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?
Don Cherry had a fun week. On Friday, he went on a Twitter rant about not understanding why people don’t take their shoes off and why people abandon expensive stuff on Storage Wars. He got so worked up that he forgot how to count to five, which I’m sure Bruins fans can tell you has never happened before.
He went on to make several appearances on Hockey Night in Canada, during which he continued his weird recent obsession with showing players walking around in dress clothes. On Tuesday, he showed his support for the Rangers by wearing a suit dedicated to Henrik Lundqvist.
And then, in what was probably the week’s Don Cherry–related highlight, we found out that Tomas Hertl hates him but is afraid to say so because he thinks Canadians will stab him. He really said that. I thought I was enjoying the Tomas Hertl era as much as humanly possible, but apparently not, because I’ve just moved him up my rankings.
(Which is kind of a shame, because he said something bad about Don Cherry and now I have to stab him.)
Awesome and/or horrific old YouTube clip of the week
In addition to being a great source of adorable pets 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.
The Canadiens were eliminated last night, meaning that a Canadian team won’t win the Stanley Cup for the 20th season in a row. So today seems like a good day for a look at the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. Let’s head back to June 9, 1993, as the Habs are putting the finishing touches on a Game 5 win over the L.A. Kings.
• We join the game in the final minute with Montreal leading 4-1, so it’s all over but for the celebration. It might get a little loud.
• “Faceoff to the left of that not-so-bad goaltender, Patrick Roy.” Oh, did I mention this is a Bob Cole clip? It’s a Bob Cole clip, which is appropriate considering that this weekend could represent the final games of Cole’s long career. As always, hockey fans who don’t like Bob Cole are entitled to their opinion and are welcome to skip this clip while the rest of us watch. No hard feelings. Go ahead and wait for us in the anti–Bob Cole meeting room, which is located just beyond the doors of that abandoned elevator shaft.
• So the puck is shot over the glass for a stoppage, at which point an official skates in signaling touchdown, because NHL rules are confusing.
• Here’s a shot of two Montreal fans enjoying the final minute. I know you’re expecting me to make fun of that one guy for getting a little too excited and trying to kiss his friend, but trust me: If the Leafs ever win a Cup in my lifetime, I’m making out with everyone. I hope you like wet, sloppy kisses, because unless you can outrun an old man with a walker, you’re getting one.
• And there’s the Cup, waiting in the wings. Wait, who’s that guy holding it? That’s not Phil Pritchard. And why isn’t this guy wearing gloves? I’m confused.
• (Ah. Apparently this was the only Cup presentation since 1990 that Pritchard didn’t do. Thank you, Internet!)
• Harry Neale mentions something about the Canadiens playing an exhibition game in Europe to start the season. That may not sound all that interesting, but teams that played in Europe went on to establish a weird pattern of winning Cups, including the ’94 Rangers, ’09 Penguins, and ’10 Hawks. This means something. I have no idea what.
• As the final minute ticks down, we’re reminded that this is an old building where it’s apparently impossible to have camera angles that don’t get blocked by fans standing up. I’m not sure if everyone is on their feet because they’re happy, or if they’re confused about why a 1993 Canadiens playoff game is actually ending in regulation.
• The final horn sounds, and the Habs pile onto the ice for the celebration. Tough call for Most Obscure Guy In The Pile here, but I’m going to go with Paul DiPietro, only because I couldn’t get a solid visual on Ed Ronan.
• In case you’re wondering, the little guy in the suit they keep showing is Denis Savard, a future Hall of Famer who played for Montreal but had been scratched for much of the playoffs. He was this year’s official “Old Guy Chasing His First Cup.” He’s really happy.
• At some point the video skips ahead to the moment after Patrick Roy is announced as the Conn Smythe winner. He makes a beeline for center ice. Somebody probably told him Kelly Hrudey was waiting there to fight him.
• And it’s our first look at 1993 Gary Bettman! This was his first year as commissioner and first time handling trophy duty. We covered this back in our “20 years of awkwardness” retrospective of all of his Cup presentations, but let’s just say he doesn’t quite have the whole thing down yet.
• Let’s take a moment to savor the hairstyle Bettman rocked for his first two years as commissioner. The haircut he got in 1995 was the worst thing that happened to the NHL that year, and I’m including the neutral zone trap and the lockout.
• And now we skip ahead again, this time to the Cup presentation. We’re used to the drill by now: Bettman calls the captain over, forces him to pose for a few photos, and then grudgingly hands it over. But this one goes down a little different, with Habs captain Guy Carbonneau calling over some teammates. Bettman is quickly surrounded, and you can sense the panic rising inside of him.
• There’s Ed Ronan!
• Tragically, this clip skips over Bettman’s attempt to address the crowd in French by reading from a postage stamp, which was absolutely hilarious. You can find that at the 8:15 mark of this longer clip.
• Now it’s on to the traditional skate around the rink. Is it me, or is Brian Bellows a little too eager for his turn? He’s practically ripping it out of guys’ hands.
• And now it’s team photo time. This tradition started with the ’88 Oilers, and this is one of the best ones ever because everyone is so happy. I’m telling you, it’s the Denis Savard factor. Jacques Demers even jumps in.
• Kudos to the guy in the white sweater, who I’m assuming is a trainer or equipment guy, who just piles right into the middle next to the Cup and Patrick Roy. I would 100 percent do that too. Screw your social hierarchy, this is every man for himself. If I had the chance to be in one of these photos, I’d be throwing exaggerated gang signs while sitting in the actual Stanley Cup.
• Oh man, it just occurred to me: We’re only a few weeks away from somebody taking a horribly contrived team selfie during the Stanley Cup celebration, aren’t we? I just got physically sick thinking about that. Ellen, you’ve ruined everything!
• Our clip ends with a last shot of the happy Habs, including Savard waving his arms with joy. For some reason, I always kind of assumed that he retired after this year. Nope. He played four more seasons for Tampa Bay and Chicago. I feel like I knew that, but suppressed the memory because it just makes the moment better if you pretend he immediately retired and has been running around Montreal in his suit frantically hugging people ever since.
Since the Canadiens won the Cup, five Canadian teams have made the finals. Four of those went to a seventh game. But none have managed to win, which has led to endless hand-wringing over what the country is doing wrong. That’s a debate for another day. The key is that all fans, whatever your nationality, stay focused on what’s really important over the next few weeks:
Seriously, NHL, do not let the selfie thing happen.