NHL Grab Bag: The Cup Runneth Over

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: Gary Bettman

Specifically, the 10 most awkward photos of Gary Bettman posing with random celebrities, as compiled by New York magazine.

The second star: An apple that looks like Darryl Sutter

Now I want to see a photo of this apple posing with Gary Bettman.

The first star: Don Cherry dancing in Times Square

Yeah. It happened, and we’re going to talk about it a little further down in the Cherry section. I just wanted to give you time to mentally prepare yourself.

What Is the Hockey World Pretending to Be Outraged About Now?

Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. Each week we’ll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if it’s justified.

The issue: A good player went a few games without scoring in the playoffs.

The outrage: That good player is now a terrible player.

Is it justified? No. Stop doing this, everyone.

Rick Nash has been ripped on and off all postseason. Max Pacioretty has a former Habs legend trying to run him out of town. Joe Thornton has the Sharks looking for an ice floe to send him out to sea on. Sidney Crosby has been passed by so many players in the “best player in hockey” debate that I’m pretty sure he’s now officially considered the worst player in hockey.

And all because those players saw their numbers drop during the playoffs — which, in today’s NHL, means there must be something fundamentally wrong with them. Only bad people don’t score at will when the Stanley Cup is on the line. If these players would just try harder, we’re told, they’d win every time.

Look, I know that most hockey fans can’t hear the words “small sample size” without immediately flinching at the droning analytics lecture that’s sure to follow, but too bad: the playoffs are a small sample size. Slumps happen in hockey all the time, and some of those slumps will coincide with the playoffs. That’s just how it works.

The whole “this player didn’t score because character/compete level/intensity” narrative can be fun every now and then, but we’ve all gone overboard. The playoffs may not be the regular season, but they don’t morph into a different sport entirely. And you shouldn’t want your favorite team to overreact to every slump and cold streak as if it’s some sort of insight into a player’s very soul.

I know it will be a difficult habit for some of you to break. But the good news is, all you need to do is try. That’s apparently all it ever takes.

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.

Today is Friday the 13th, so I figured it would be fun to choose an obscure player named Jason who wore a goalie mask. That turned out to be slimmer pickings than I expected — there just haven’t been that many goalies named Jason in NHL history. There was Jason Bacashihua seven years ago in St. Louis, and Jason LaBarbera is still kicking around. And then there’s this week’s obscure player: mid-’90s journeyman Jason Muzzatti.

Muzzatti was taken by Calgary with the last pick of the first round in 1988, and he took five years to crack the NHL. He played just two games with the Flames before being picked up on waivers by the Whalers. From there it was on to the Rangers and later the Sharks. He never started more than 31 games in a season, and his best year was probably his first with Hartford, when his 4-8-3 record was good enough to earn him a lone fifth-place vote on someone’s ballot for that year’s Calder.

His NHL career never amounted to much, and it was over by 1998 (although he went on to spend a decade in Europe, and even got to play for Team Italy in the 2006 Olympics). But Muzzatti does have two interesting claims to fame, and given our Friday the 13th theme it’s probably appropriate that both involved acts of violence during death scenes: one of an arena, and the other of an entire franchise.

On April 14, 1996, Muzzatti was the Whalers’ starting goalie in the last game ever played at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Midway through the third, he got involved in an ultra-rare goalie vs. skater scrap with Garry Galley, earning him the distinction of taking the last fighting major in the building’s history. Almost exactly a year later, on April 13, 1997, he was the backup goalie for the last game in Whalers’ franchise history. He didn’t play in that one, but that minor detail didn’t prevent him from getting involved in a stick-swinging altercation with Shawn Burr between periods. That one earned him the last misconduct ever received by a Hartford Whaler.

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: Both the Stanley Cup final and the NBA Finals are being played this week. Is hockey better than basketball?

In favor: Yes it is. I like hockey better.

Opposed: I disagree. I prefer basketball.

In favor: Oh yeah?

Opposed: Yeah!

In favor: Well you know what that means, don’t you?

Opposed: Why don’t you go ahead and tell me, smart guy!

In favor: It means we have different opinions about which sport we enjoy more.

Opposed: Oh. Well that doesn’t sound like all that big a deal.

In favor: No, it’s not, because it’s perfectly acceptable for people to like different things.

Opposed: Cool, you enjoy your favorite sport and I’ll enjoy mine and that can just be the end of it because we are not children.

The final verdict: This concludes this week’s presentation of “Conversations that can apparently never happen ever, but would sure be nice.”

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 did this:

Like you, I have a lot of questions. In no particular order:

• Did they have the music playing on a speaker while he danced? Was he dancing in silence? Did he make the camera guy go “Um shh um shh um shh” the whole time?

• How is it possible that he didn’t learn from the “Rock ’em Sock ’em Techno” debacle?

• Why is he wearing an earpiece? Is somebody directing him? “Dance harder!”

• Did any tourists ask to take a picture with him, assuming he was a Don Cherry impersonator working alongside the weird Times Square guys in the Elmo and Hello Kitty costumes?

• Should I feel weird that he’s a way better dancer than I am?

• Seriously, what the hell is happening here?

• How angry am I that I was in New York all week and walked through Times Square several times a day but wasn’t there when this happened? Oh wait, I can answer that last one: beyond angry. I’ve punched at least one wall every day since. If I could go back and trade witnessing the birth of my children for being present for this moment, I’d pull the trigger faster than Dean Lombardi when the Blue Jackets call.

And what the hell, we might as well stick with the awkward hockey dances theme …

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 Kings and Rangers are facing off in the Stanley Cup final this week, as you may have heard. But as older fans can tell you, this is actually a rematch of a showdown between the two teams that took place roughly 25 years ago: the time that “Forgive My Misconduct” went head to head with “Hockey Sock Rock.”

• Hey, it’s our old friend John Davidson. He hadn’t shown up in something for like three or four straight YouTube sections, and I was starting to worry.

• So this is a skit from a Davidson-hosted 1989 VHS tape called Super Dooper Hockey Bloopers. That’s not to be confused with Hockey, the Lighter Side, which Davidson also hosted and which gave us the immortal “J.D.’s Famous Goaltending School” sketch. John Davidson was to late-’80s hockey blooper tapes as Bruce Lee was to martial arts movies, except he made more.

• So the premise here is that we’ve got two songs performed by hockey players, and we’re doing a radio call-in vote to determine a winner. That sentence made no sense to anyone under the age of 30, by the way. Just go with it, kids; this is what we used to do for fun before the Internet came along.

• How many cue cards is Davidson reading off here? And why are they all in different spots around the room?

• Our first song is “Forgive My Misconduct,” by the Los Angeles Kings’ famed Triple Crown line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylor. I’m going to pause here and point out that neither of the songs in this clip were jokes made for this tape — both were real songs from 1979. They were sold in stores and everything.

• So here come our stars; in order, Dionne, Simmer, and (very reluctantly) Taylor each pop up and start working their way through the worst choreography in hockey history.

• Now they’re “dancing” in the crease. Where’s Dwight King when you need him?

• Shots of our dancing trio are interspersed with various highlights of their time with the Kings. One of those highlights is a door closing. That’s it. I’m guessing not a lot of time was put into the production side on this one. The shots of players walking around in the Don Cherry techno video think this was out of place.

• Dionne’s a little too into this, right?

• Also, does his belt buckle say “LOO”? Or is it a James Bond–inspired “007” and he’s wearing it upside down? I may have thought about this too much.

• Lyrically, this one’s pretty heavy on the hockey puns. It’s all pretty catchy, as long as you don’t think too hard about what they’re singing about, at which point the whole thing becomes exceedingly creepy.

• Thankfully, Davidson cuts things short so we can get to our second song: “Hockey Sock Rock,” as performed by New York Rangers stars Phil Esposito, Dave Maloney, Ron Duguay, and Davidson himself.

• If this tune sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve already featured it once before, in a YouTube breakdown last year. But that was a different version, in which it was covered by Alan Thicke and The Unknown Comic. I’ll leave it to you to decide which supergroup performed it best.

• Esposito is clearly the lead singer here. He’s not even hiding it — he’s in full-on Axl Rose “don’t even acknowledge the rest of the band” territory. I bet he kept taking off to go sit in his oxygen chamber.

• For tonight’s performance, the role of Dave Maloney will be played by Paul Rudd.

• Ron Duguay was the greatest. He was like Sean Avery, but cool. I bet he didn’t even know he was shooting a music video when he pulled that purple shirt out of the closet that morning.

• And that’s it for Part 1. At this point, the tape goes back to showing old-school 1980s highlights, presumably featuring lots of hilarious shots of badly concussed players with bird chirping sound effects spliced in. But we just skip ahead to Part 2, as Davidson checks in on the voting.

• Hmm, 0-0. Somewhere, future commissioner Bettman thinks about how popular the NHL would become if every game finished with that score for most of a decade.

• “Loooove that sax player.” Always sad to see a former hockey player hitting the sauce.

• Finally, we get to the punch line: Davidson picks up the exact same phone that today’s referees use on goal reviews and reveals that Phil Esposito himself has cast the winning vote, giving “Hockey Sock Rock” a 1-0 win. Hope you enjoyed that, dudes and dudesses.

So there you go, Rangers fans. You may be one game away from seeing your team’s Cup run fall short, but at least you already beat the Kings when it really counted: in a blooper-tape showdown between terrible novelty songs of the 1970s.

Filed Under: NHL, NHL Playoffs, 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, NHL Grab Bag

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Sean McIndoe ’s work can be found at Down Goes Brown. When he's not writing, he makes hockey jokes on Twitter at @downgoesbrown.

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