NHL Grab Bag: Wayne Gretzky vs. Justin Bieber in a Canadian-Style Fight to the Death (i.e., a Game of Air Hockey)
The Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Jeremy Roenick
I don’t care if the game is in Yankee Stadium, this is why we don’t let hockey players talk about baseball.
Wow, the other Yankee legends must have been really mad when they heard about what Roenick said and … oh, right.
The second star: Phil Kessel
That’s it. Phil Kessel. Just the mere fact that he exists should make every hockey fan happy, every day.
If you want something more specific, you could go with his Twitter account, a piece of online performance art that stays dormant for weeks at a time and then spits out random gold like this and this. Why is teammate Jake Gardiner marrying a trout? Only Phil knows.
Or, if it’s more your speed, you could always just go with something like this. Ladies.
Phil Kessel is the best.
The first star: This photo
Greatest hockey photo of all time? Greatest hockey photo of all time.
A picture says a thousand words. In this case, all one thousand of those words are “HELP.”
What Is the Hockey World Pretending to Be Outraged About Now?
Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. We’ll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if it’s justified.
The Issue: An apparent Islanders overtime goal by Thomas Vanek was overturned after officials determined that he directed the puck into the net with a distinctive kicking motion.
The Outrage: That kicking motion sure didn’t look all that distinctive.
Is It Justified? Probably, since it looked like the goal should have counted. While the puck did go off Vanek’s skate, most seemed to agree that it wasn’t a distinctive kick, including at least one former referee. It wasn’t quite as black-and-white as the missed call that cost the Red Wings a game a week ago, but it was in the ballpark. And that’s a tough break for the Islanders, costing them a point they desperately needed. So it was a questionable call, and the Islanders deserve to be cranky about it.
And as you might expect, just like every other time anything controversial happens in an NHL game, some are calling for the rulebook to be reworked. But here’s the thing: The rule is fine.
The “distinctive kicking motion” rule is basically a compromise between two extremes. The league used to disallow any goal that went off a skate, but that caused a lot of goals to be waved off on what were clearly accidental plays. And you can’t allow just any goal off a skate to count, because then players would be kicking at the puck in scrambles and that’s too dangerous for goalies. So the NHL found a reasonable middle ground: Goals that deflect off a skate are OK, as long as there’s no kicking motion.
It’s a gray area, and when you have gray areas in the rulebook, you’ll get the occasional call that’s questionable or even blown outright. Fans can be mad about that when it happens, but we don’t need to go and rewrite the rulebook every time.
And on a related note, kudos to the NHL for having Kris King from hockey ops appear on the next Islanders broadcast to discuss the decision. You may not buy his explanation, but the league deserves credit for at least addressing the situation.
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.
Apparently there’s some sort of football game happening this weekend. I’m told it’s kind of a big deal. So you know what that means: It’s time for another round of “awkwardly link a current event with the Obscure Former Player of the Week”!
Unfortunately, the NHL has never had a “Seahawk” or even a “Hawk” suit up for a game. There was Todd Hawkins, but his 10 career games and zero points wouldn’t give us much to work with. I was tempted to work in journeyman tough guy Bob Halkidis, but that seemed like a stretch. Sorry, Seattle. Better luck on Sunday.
So instead we’ll give the nod to Denver, and hand over this week’s Obscure Player honors to Bronco Horvath.
Horvath was a center who played in the NHL for eight years between 1955 and 1963. During that stretch, he managed to play for five of the Original Six teams, only missing out on the Red Wings. His best years came as a Bruin as part of the “Uke Line” with Johnny Bucyk and Vic Stasiuk, and in 1959-60 he scored 39 goals to tie for the league lead with Bobby Hull. He had a then-NHL record 22-game point streak that year, and played in the first of his two career All-Star Games.
Horvath was sent to the minors by Toronto in 1963 but continued to play professionally. He’d make a brief return to the NHL years later under less than ideal circumstances: The Maple Leafs lent him to the expansion North Stars in 1968 as a replacement for Bill Masterton, who had just become the first (and so far only) NHL player to die from injuries suffered during a game. Horvath retired in 1970 and went on to a career in coaching.
And in case you’re wondering, “Bronco” wasn’t his given name. He was born Joseph Rudolph Horvath. As you may remember from a previous edition of Obscure Player, no NHL player has ever gone by the name Rudolph. Horvath could have been the one we were waiting for. Those Broncos ruin everything.
Canadian Olympic Panic Watch
Canadians love three things: rolling up the rim, ruining American pop music, and freaking out about our Olympic hockey teams.
Huh? What’s that? Canadian Olympic panic? Nope, none this week, sorry.
[Hits refresh on Twitter search for “Steven Stamkos broken leg recovery.”]
We’re all good up here. Just kind of killing time until the opening ceremonies, you know?
[Goes back to watching frame-by-frame breakdown of Stamkos’s most recent skating session.]
No big deal. I mean, is there even an Olympics this year? We hadn’t really noticed.
[Flips channel over to the recently launched 24-hour-a-day Canadian cable news network devoted to updates on Steven Stamkos’s leg.]
I mean, what would we even have to worry about, eh?
[Casually Googles “They will delay the Olympics for a few months if Steven Stamkos’s leg isn’t healed, right?”]
Don’t you worry about us, America. It’s all under control.
[Composes email to Canadian Olympic committee with subject line “Does Steven Stamkos need a new femur because my kid has two and we can absolutely work something out.”]
Best of luck to you, superstars of Team USA. You go on out there and break a leg. Really. Really, you do that. Preferably soon.
Hockey Pool Owner We All Hate This Week
This week’s hockey pool owner we all hate is the person who had Ben Scrivens in the lineup Wednesday night, when he set an NHL regular-season record by making 59 saves in a shutout victory that will go down in history as one of the greatest goaltending performances of all-time.
But screw that guy. Instead, let’s talk about the …
Hockey Pool Owner We All Love This Week
This week’s hockey pool owner we all love is the person who had Ben Scrivens on the bench on Wednesday night.
Seriously, if your pool is lucky enough to have one of these owners and you haven’t spent the last 48 hours mocking them so cruelly and thoroughly that they had to leave work early to walk the streets alone and reevaluate all the decisions they’ve made in their entire life to this point, then you’re missing the whole point of hockey pools.
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.
This week, Wayne Gretzky made headlines twice. On Saturday, he showed up to drop the puck at the Ducks-Kings outdoor game. A few days later, he was named the fifth most athletic American of all time by Teen’s Digest. That one came as a bit of a surprise, given that Gretzky is not actually an American. Then again, it was Teen’s Digest, and today’s teens are all morons.
Luckily for us, this was not Gretzky’s first run-in with annoying teenagers. So for this week’s YouTube breakdown, let’s honor this great American athlete with one of the most Canadian moments in recent history: that time Wayne Gretzky awkwardly met Justin Bieber.
• So it’s February 2011, and adorable 8-year-old singer Justin Bieber is promoting an album or a movie or an especially nice science-fair project on a CBS daytime talk show called The Talk. I had never heard of this show, so I Googled it. Apparently it was created by Darlene from Roseanne, and its main purpose is to have lots of cohosts who all hate each other and fight on Twitter.
• While this clip is almost 10 minutes long, we’re just going to focus on the part with Wayne Gretzky because I’m not a sadist and would not make you watch 10 minutes of Justin Bieber. So everyone can skip ahead to 1:15 or so.
• That brings us to a spirited game of air hockey between Bieber and Holly Robinson Peete. I thought I recognized that name, and then I remembered why: Her husband is former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete. This led to the discovery of my favorite line from her Wikipedia page: “He proposed by surprising Holly during an episode of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.” Aww, just like I did with my wife.
• Bieber is losing when we join the action, and he’s already making excuses: He can’t see very well, because he’s wearing what appear to be his mother’s sunglasses. Dude, every Canadian knows you always take the sunglasses off right before the match starts. Are you even from here?
• Bieber scores, and Peete decides to call in some backup. For a brief moment the audience goes absolutely crazy because they think she’s going to choose one of them. That was cruel. Also, funny.
• But no, it’s Wayne Gretzky, who apparently just hangs out backstage at daytime talk shows in case anyone ever needs him.
• We get a dramatic close-up of a stunned Bieber, who is staring Gretzky down like he’s a mug-shot camera. He immediately goes in for the hug. At this point I’m 90 percent sure Gretzky has absolutely no idea who he is.
• Gretzky is also ominously carrying a box. It looks like some sort of gift, but I’m hoping for a Seven-style ending to the segment, where a frantic Bieber shouts, “What’s in the box?” at Peete and then finds the severed head of one of the guys from b4-4.
• We’re also introduced to Gretzky’s adorable little girl Emma, accompanying him under his new “I will never let one of my daughters out of my sight ever again” policy.
• We start off with one of the three mandatory moments that must take place in every game of air hockey: when nobody can remember where they left the puck.
• Luckily, Peete is on top of things. She’s in charge of this game, and she is not messing around. If Holly Robinson Peete had been reffing the Flames-Canucks game, the opening faceoff would have just been her yelling, “We’re not going to have any trouble, are we?” and then 10 enforcers mumbling, “No ma’am” and avoiding eye contact.
• We’re under way. Bieber slams his first shot past Gretzky for a 1-0 lead, then offers up a little swaggy-bro shrug while smirking at him. Gretzky calmly snaps his fingers, at which point Marty McSorley and Dave Semenko appear and drag Bieber into an unmarked van. I may have imagined that last part.
• Actually, Gretzky touches the puck for the first time and immediately snaps one past Bieber, because he is Wayne Freaking Gretzky and he does not suffer little punk kids trying to get in his kitchen.
• Mandatory air hockey moment no. 2: the puck flying off the table and almost getting lost.
• The preteens in the audience start up a “Bie-ber!” chant, which I initially misheard as “De-fense!” That really threw me off for a second. The next time I see some kids playing air hockey at a movie theater, I’m going to chant that at them.
• You can tell Gretzky’s a little confused by the whole setup, since there’s no space behind the net for him to set up shop in.
• Mandatory air hockey moment no. 3: the puck getting caught at the center line and just bouncing back and forth while nobody can reach it. Are we sure air hockey is actually fun? I’m not completely convinced it is.
• Peete starts telling them to wind it up, at which point Bieber throws his mallet at Gretzky. Wait, people are surprised this kid turned out to be a criminal? He tried to cheap-shot Wayne Gretzky at a game of air hockey! How did we not arrest him on the spot? Do your job, Mounties!
• He misses, by the way. This kid is no Bill McCreary.
• Peete has seen enough, and ends the game. Make the final 1-1. Somewhere, Gary Bettman bursts into tears at the thought of a hockey game ending in a tie.
• Now it’s time for Bieber to open his present. He lifts the cover off the box, looks inside, and immediately exclaims, “No!” So I’m assuming the gift is a newspaper clipping from 2014.
• No such luck; it’s actually a no. 99 Team Canada jersey. It’s also has a captain’s “C” on it, so it’s clearly not from the Olympics — right, Bobby Clarke? Not that I’m still bitter about that.
• At this point we go to commercial. There’s six minutes left in the video, but Gretzky is never seen again. I don’t blame him. I thought he actually demonstrated amazing self-control by not yelling, “To hell with this!” and sprinting through a wall Kool-Aid Man–style mid-segment.
You should feel free to skip the remaining six minutes of the video, which feature Bieber sitting on a couch with the show’s 18 different cohosts and answering fan questions. You won’t miss much, with the exception of him being asked to name the one thing that would cause him to give up on his music career. Sadly, he does not answer, “Prison.”