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 NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Roberto Luongo gets excited
Hey, he’s had a rough year. Let the guy enjoy the draft lottery.
The second star: Brian Burke gets jokes
Boring Sean Monahan is hockey’s best parody Twitter account. Granted, that’s not a very high bar to clear these days, but the account is worth a follow.
So what could make it better? How about the most notoriously crusty personality in the league joining in on the fun?
Huh. Look at that. Brian Burke is willing to have a laugh over a parody Twitter account. That’s pretty cool. I hear that wasn’t always the case.
The first star: Tim Murray gets technical
Whoa, whoa there, Tim. I know it’s your first end-of-year press conference since being named Sabres GM, but ease up on the super-technical hockey terminology, OK?
Is that good? Sorry, I wouldn’t know, I don’t speak NHL GM.
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.
The playoffs are here, which means that within a few days we’ll start hearing about the unlikely heroes who are coming out of nowhere to lead their teams to victory. You’ll get the comparisons to the usual names: John Druce, Chris Kontos, Steve Penney. And maybe you’ll also hear a mention of an amazing run by a rookie goaltender that happened almost 70 years ago, when the hockey world briefly belonged to this week’s obscure player: a kid named Frank McCool.
In 1944, McCool was 25 years old. He’d just returned from serving in the military during World War II, had never played in an NHL game, and was suffering from debilitating stomach ulcers. But he earned the starting job for the Toronto Maple Leafs when superstar Turk Broda headed overseas to fight, and played well enough to earn rookie of the year honors. The Leafs finished just a few games over .500, but made the playoffs and then upset the first-place Canadiens. That set up a meeting with the Red Wings in the final, and set the stage for McCool to make history.
The rookie shut out the Red Wings in Game 1. Then he did it again in Game 2. And then again in Game 3. Those three consecutive shutouts established an NHL record that still stands today, and earned the Maple Leafs a 3-0 series lead despite scoring just four goals.
The Red Wings finally beat McCool in Game 4, and came all the way back to force a Game 7. But McCool stood on his head again, this time in a 2-1 win, as the Maple Leafs captured an unexpected championship.
Sadly, that’s essentially the end of McCool’s NHL story. He sat out the start of the next season in an attempt to earn a raise, and when he finally rejoined the Leafs, he played only 22 games. The Leafs missed the playoffs, and McCool’s ulcers had become serious enough to force his retirement. Less than one year after one of the greatest storybook playoff runs the league has ever seen, McCool’s hockey career was over.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
The NHL draft lottery was this week. Did you watch it? I hope not, because it didn’t exactly make for riveting television. That’s not a knock on TSN, which hosted the broadcast, because it made the lottery as entertaining as it possibly could. It’s just that the current format is awful.
Here’s how it works: The league holds a draw among all 14 teams that missed the playoffs. One team wins the lottery and moves up to no. 1, with everyone else moving down one spot. If the team that finished last wins the lottery, then nobody moves. That’s it. One drawing, one team, and we’re done.
And then Bill Daly stands there and opens an envelope for every spot, counting down from no. 14. (This year was actually no. 13, since the Devils didn’t have a chance at the top pick, but let’s ignore that.) Except we already know the order, other than whichever team is the one to move up. So we’re just waiting for the one time he opens an envelope and finds the wrong team.
That would be dull enough, but Daly’s apparently never played poker, because he gave away the results by always making the same “yep, it’s the team you’d expect” face every time. That whole thing was painful. And on Tuesday, we had to sit through the entire thing because the Panthers ended up winning from the no. 2 spot.
We’ve already been over the various ways the NHL could legitimately improve the draft lottery (my quasi-radical proposal was here). But if we don’t care about basic fairness and competitive integrity, can we at least make it more entertaining for TV purposes? Let’s adopt the NBA model; that would make every spot in the countdown worth watching.
Failing that, let’s at least get Daly some acting lessons. Because as a Maple Leafs fan, I can’t handle the idea of sitting through another decade of these things.
Olympic World Championship Panic Watch
Canadians love three things: rolling up the rim, ruining American pop music, and freaking out about our
Olympic world championship hockey teams.
The NHL regular season is over, which means it’s time to pretend to care about the IIHF World Championship.
If you have no idea what that means, here’s a quick primer: Every year, the International Ice Hockey Federation holds a tournament to determine the world champion of hockey, which would be cool except that it coincides with the start of the NHL playoffs, when all the best players in the world are kind of busy.
If that sounds like the type of thing you’d be inclined to ignore, then you are not Canadian. We care deeply about this tournament, and will spend most of this week being very concerned about Team Canada’s roster.
Here are the five stages of Canadian world championship panic:
- Being outraged about a player not getting invited.
- Being outraged about a player turning down an invitation.
- Being outraged about that player from no. 1 who wasn’t invited but is now being invited because the guy from no. 2 said no and this still makes us angry for some reason.
- Watching Canada lose to Switzerland.
- Remembering we don’t care about the world championship after all.
Hockey Pool Owner We All Hate This Week
You’re in a hockey pool, right? If so, this person is in the pool with you, and you hate them right now.
This week’s hockey pool owner we all hate is whoever ended up winning your league.
Yeah, you. Hi there, Mr. Winner. Quite the victory by you this season. You’re pretty proud of yourself, aren’t you? I’ll just pause here while you listen to “We Are the Champions” for the 300th time. Let us know when you’re done walking around the office, doing the mime-a-title-belt motion to everyone you see.
All done? Good. Keep reading.
Screw you, you idiot donkey luckbox. You’re the worst fantasy hockey player any of us have ever seen. Your team was an abject embarrassment, and the fact you ended up winning makes us all want to quit forever. Not hockey pools. Life in general. None of us want to be alive in a world in which you won our league.
Your draft was terrible — the guy who forgot to show up and let Yahoo autopick injured guys for an hour did better than you did. You worked the waiver wire like a hyper child mashing arcade game buttons at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. You annoyed us all with your ridiculous trade offers, then pulled off a few late-season deals with people who’d already quit. How very admirable of you. We hope it was worth it, because we all hate you and we’re going to hold next year’s draft in an abandoned storage closet to make sure you’re not involved.
But sure, congratulations on your win, because this is the last time we’re ever acknowledging it. Enjoy being the 2006 Hurricanes of our league.
(So … you’re using your winnings to buy pints at lunch, right?)
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. Each week we find one and break it down in way too much detail.
The last few weeks haven’t been kind to the St. Louis Blues. They got hurt, their scoring disappeared, and they lost their last six regular-season games to cough up the Central Division title and earn a first-round matchup with the Blackhawks that nobody seems to think they can win.
Luckily for St. Louis fans, playoff adversity isn’t exactly a new phenomenon for this franchise. So for today’s YouTube breakdown, let’s head back almost two full decades to April 24, 1994. We’re four games into the first round, and the Blues are already facing elimination at the hands of the Dallas Stars, and our friends at ABC Sports are here to set the scene.
• We start off with a dramatic opening graphic, as designed by somebody who has apparently just learned how to use the blur filter. Next year, maybe they’ll learn how to use footage of hockey players.
• I’m always a little thrown off by shots of Bob Gainey with hair. Let’s face it, there’s really no way to make a smooth transition from this to this. Gainey’s both the coach and GM of the Stars, by the way. I wonder if they’re any good?
• Oh, there’s our answer. Apparently the Stars are a “well-balanced team that has all the elements of a Stanley Cup contender.” Cool, good to know, I guess they’re going to …
• “In goal, Darcy Wakaluk …” [record scratch]
• Wait, they’re a well-balanced Cup contender but Darcy Wakaluk is the goalie? Come on, ABC Sports, you can’t just slip that transition by us like it’s no big deal. “This well-engineered car will get your family to their destination safely. Where the brake pads should be, this abandoned bird’s nest …”
• We also learn that Dave Gagner has played his role well, and that Mike Modano is doing what a 50-goal scorer should do, which I’m going to assume means not being a minus-35.
• Hey, it’s a Paul Cavallini sighting! Did anyone else spend most of his St. Louis career thinking that Paul’s nickname was “Gino,” only to eventually realize there were actually two Cavallini brothers on the Blues at the same time? No? Just me then. Great. Note to editor: Delete this entire bullet point.
• We’re 45 seconds in, and we’re already onto our second “rising Stars” pun.
• Meanwhile, the Blues are in trouble and coach Bob Berry is “a worried man.” I’m sure he is, but how can you tell? I’m pretty sure Berry looked like that in every single shot of him coaching that I ever saw. I’m still not completely convinced that his entire coaching career wasn’t one long Newhart sketch.
• No big deal, just Brett Hull literally crying tears of blood. It’s the playoffs, these things happen.
• Now we get a shot of a puzzled-looking Brendan Shanahan, as we’re told that his team has lots of money but can’t figure out how to win. I bet that experience will someday come in handy.
• Sweet-looking autographed Nelson Emerson jersey, lady.
• Our announcers are Tom Mees and, since he hasn’t shown up in one of these YouTube sections for like two whole weeks, John Davidson. Davidson offers up a witty quote comparing the Stars’ defensive system to a windstorm that he attributes to Pat Burns, but I feel pretty safe saying that’s a lie because it didn’t have any f-bombs in it.
• Mees asks Davidson to explain what’s wrong with the Blues when suddenly the lights shut off. The lesson: Never hire a lighting tech who lists the 1987 World Juniors on his résumé.
• Unfazed, Davidson tries to tell us about the Blues’ slumping defensemen, but he apparently goes on a little too long and gets played off Oscar-style.
• And rightfully so, since we need the time to get to a screen that helpfully reminds us this game will feature the St. Louis Blues, in the St. Louis Arena, in St. Louis, Missouri. I think this game might be in St. Louis, you guys. Working to confirm.
• And there’s a live shot of Hull, who’s looking a little … um … frizzy. I think that’s the word I’m looking for. He’s looking frizzy today.
• I’ll pause here so we can all have a collective “Oh man, I totally forgot Petr Nedved played for the Blues” moment.
• We close on a shot of Modano, who is wearing his helmet in warm-ups either because he doesn’t want me to make cheap jokes about his hair or because he’s refused to take it off since a few months earlier when this happened.
The Stars went on to win this game 2-1 on a pair of goals from Modano. Wakaluk’s playoff run lasted exactly one more game — he gave up five goals to the Canucks in the opening game of Round 2 and didn’t see the ice again that year. The Stars ended up losing that series in five games.
Berry turned out to have good reason to be worried; this ended up being the last NHL game he’d ever coach. The Blues fired him in the offseason, replacing him with Mike Keenan. Who, I might add, happens to be available right now. Just putting it out there, St. Louis. There’s still time to shake things up.