NHL Grab Bag: Laugh to Keep From Crying, Oilers FansDerek Leung/Getty Images
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: Taylor Hall vs. Dallas Eakins
Ordinarily, a player getting into trouble for accidentally soaking his coach would rank as kind of vaguely funny. But when it happens to Dallas Eakins, it’s special, because he’s hilarious when he’s just standing around. When he’s wet and overacting, he’s the greatest.
Hey Oilers, you know what you obviously need to acquire in the offseason? That’s right, a water bottle cop! And let’s just say I think one might be available.
The second star: The Phil Kessel version of 2048
You heard me. It exists.
(There’s also a Darryl Sutter version. And it’s animated!)
The first star: The glass-banging fan
Got to admit, the hockey gods have turned a deaf ear to the whole “Please let the Maple Leafs not be an utter embarrassment someday” thing, but they really came through on this other long-standing prayer.
This Week’s One Star of Threatening to Punch Out Coaches
three NHL one boxing personality from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The first star: Former world heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe
He’s apparently a die-hard Maple Leaf fan now, which naturally means he wants to beat up Randy Carlyle.
Colton Orr, the coach would like to see you in his office. Says it’s urgent.
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: For the second time this season, Edmonton fans responded to an embarrassing loss by tossing an Oiler jersey onto the ice in protest.
The Outrage: Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Such an utter lack of respect for the sanctity of the logo, and all the players who’ve worn it over the years!
Is It Justified: This one hurts a bit, because a lot of this “respect the logo” stuff is coming from Ben Scrivens. He’s not only one of the smartest players in the league, but also the slam dunk starting goalie for this year’s All-Grantland Team. But this time, he’s just wrong.
You could make the case that the Oilers are in better shape than their record suggests, and if you want to argue that Edmonton fans’ frustration is misplaced, go ahead. But they are frustrated, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with how they’re choosing to show it. In fact, tossing jerseys on home ice in disgust is a time-honored tradition.
And no, a jersey is not some sort of holy representation of a team’s history. Walk into any arena in the league and you’ll see a store full of these things, many with discount stickers slapped all over them. Sorry, NHL teams, you don’t get to hand a jersey over to every random fan that wanders in and waves a credit card in your direction, then turn around and claim it’s a sacred artifact when that same fan finds it too humiliating to wear.
Besides, “respect the sanctity of the jersey” is a nice concept, but in today’s NHL it goes right out the window once some marketing consultant decides there’s a dollar to be made. Teams are constantly unveiling new variations and pushing them on fans. In fact, just a few years ago the Oilers felt their jersey was so sacred that they let a comic-book artist redesign it from scratch. So the average fan is expected to throw his jersey into the back of his closet (or the trash) every few years when his favorite team does yet another redesign, but throwing it on the ice is somehow disrespectful? It doesn’t work that way.
So whether you’re a fan in Edmonton or Toronto or anywhere else, if your team is hopeless and you’re mad as hell about it, you know what to do. Let the jerseys rain down.
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.
Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly is now 10 games away from becoming the first player in 33 years to go a full season without taking a single penalty. It’s an exceedingly rare feat, as you can see here. There’s only one player who has achieved that feat more than once, and it’s this week’s obscure player: small but speedy winger Val Fonteyne.
Fonteyne broke into the league as a 26-year-old rookie with the Red Wings in 1959. He was claimed by the Rangers in 1963, but wound up back in Detroit two years later. That was his sixth NHL season, and he’d spent them all gooning it up to the tune of 22 career PIMs, including a career-high six in 1964-65.
Luckily for the rest of the league, Fonteyne finally reeled it in and decided to stick to hockey. Beginning in 1965, he played 156 NHL games over three seasons without earning a single PIM. Sadly, he relapsed to his old ways in 1968, taking a single minor in back-to-back seasons, before recovering to post two more penalty-free years with the Penguins.
Those would be his last two NHL seasons, though he played two more in the WHA. For his NHL career, Fonteyne finished with 820 games played and just 26 PIM, all of which came from minors. Somehow, he never won the Lady Byng.
According to this profile, Fonteyne quit hockey in 1974 to take a job driving a mail truck. I’m willing to bet he never got a ticket.
Great Hockey Debates
In which we employ the Socratic method in an attempt to settle the issues that have long plagued hockey fans.
This Week’s Debate: This week saw two star players, Mike Richards and Dion Phaneuf, criticized for not being available to reporters when requested. Do players have an obligation to speak to the media, even when they don’t want to?
In Favor: Of course. It’s literally part of their job description. And that goes double for guys like Phaneuf who are supposed to be in leadership roles.
Opposed: True enough, but surely you can understand why they’d want to skip out occasionally.
In Favor: Maybe, but that’s still no excuse. Remember, the media serves as the link between the players and the fans who pay their salaries.
Opposed: Is that still true, though? These days, there are plenty of ways for fans and players to connect directly without it being filtered through a reporter.
In Favor: Even so, refusing to talk to the media is just gutless and cowardly.
Opposed: Whoa, slow down. Really?
In Favor: Absolutely. By refusing to face the tough questions, they’re revealing a lot about their character. And what’s worse, they just wind up forcing their teammates to face the music for them.
Opposed: Tough questions? Character? Are you sure you’re not going overboard?
In Favor: I know it can be intimidating to face a skilled interrogator and find yourself laid bare for all the world to see, but a noble man would find the courage within himself to be held accountable for his sins.
Opposed: Um …
In Favor: Dost thou cower at the sight of my mighty pen? Will thou run and hide, rather than suffer the slings and arrows of my questions? What shall your trembling heart reveal, when I turn my gaze to you and peer inside your very soul?
In Favor: WHO??? WHO AMONG YOU SHALL HAVE THE COURAGE TO FACE MY WRATH???
Player: Hey guys, sorry I’m late. Got held up there for a minute.
In Favor: Oh … uh … hey.
Player: I heard you’ve got some questions. Fire away.
In Favor: …
In Favor: Well … uh … tough loss tonight. Can you talk about how it went out there?
Player: Well, it’s disappointing for sure. We need to be better. Just got to be smart with the puck, chip it out, play our game. Tomorrow’s a new day.
In Favor: …
Player: Are we done?
In Favor: Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.
Opposed: Well, that was …
In Favor: [Awed admiration] … so courageous.
The Final Verdict: Players should absolutely talk to the media, because it’s part of their job whether they like it or not. But let’s all dial down the dramatics when they don’t, because it’s making us sound completely ridiculous.
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 has he been up to this week?
Don Cherry didn’t really do anything notable this week, other than demonstrate that he clearly didn’t read my recent post about on-ice shooting percentages. That’s OK, Don. You’re a busy guy. No hard feelings.
But 24 years ago, Don Cherry became a ballet dancer, and I feel like that’s the sort of thing you’d want to know about.
So with a glove tap to must-follow Twitter account @NHLhistorygirl, let’s travel back to 1990. Cherry found himself in hot water after making a disparaging comment about “ballet practice.” So he agreed to make amends by attending one, and even trying out a few moves.
He’s not bad. And I thought the pianist breaking out the old Hockey Night theme for him was a nice touch.
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.
It’s been a rough week for the Oilers. Well, it’s been a rough better part of a decade, but it’s also been a rough week. I feel like Edmonton fans could use something to smile about, so for this week’s YouTube breakdown, we’re going to reach back almost 30 years to happier times: the moment the Oilers captured their first Stanley Cup.
• It’s May 19, 1984. The Oilers are one win away from beating the Islanders for the Stanley Cup, and Dave Lumley has just scored an empty net goal to make it 5-2 with a few seconds left. It’s all over but the celebrating.
• For some reason they make everyone stand around for 30 seconds before dropping the puck, which is just fine with me because we get to enjoy a classic dose of Bob Cole. “There’s a new bunch on the block in the National Hockey League … the Edmonton Oilers … by name.” This is your weekly reminder that Bob Cole is the best.
• By the way, Wayne Gretzky had a 72 percent Corsi percentage for this game, in case you were wondering. That’s very good, but not quite as good as Dave Semenko’s 83 percent. I did not make either of those numbers up.
• The fans are counting down and throwing balloons, which they presumably brought from home and inflated at the game. You don’t see that much these days. I feel like we should bring that back.
• Let’s take a moment to enjoy the one Oiler who winds up in the offensive zone all by himself. He starts to celebrate, realizes nobody else is joining him, then kind of goes “Screw it” and just goes for it solo. I’m not sure who that is, but I like his style.
• Meanwhile, the rest of the Oilers celebrate at the other end of the rink. Nothing screams “1980s sports championship” quite like “random fans jumping into the celebration pile.” Why did we think that was a good idea again?
• A reminder this is taking place in 1984, so no, I’m not going to stop and make fun of the wardrobe and hairstyle of every fan shown. Because they won’t let these posts be 30,000 words long, that’s why.
• Peter Pocklington is shaking hands. To this day, none of those people can figure out where their wristwatches went.
• Also, one person behind Pocklington seems to have brought a single sparkler. I swear, these Oiler fans put more thought into packing for this game than I have for any vacation I’ve ever taken.
• Now we get a shot of the Islanders, who are sad. It’s worth mentioning that this loss snapped their run of four consecutive Stanley Cup wins, as well as their streak of 19 consecutive postseason series wins. I don’t even have a joke for that. That record will never be broken by any team in any pro sport. Just amazing.
• I like the one fan in the stripes at 1:14 who executes a top-notch vertical leap on the edge of the pile, then just turns around and leaves. He’s 10 feet away from Gretzky, but he’s like “[Jump] OK, my work here is done.”
• Glen Sather and John Muckler share a hug. Someone will need to explain to me why Sather looks like he’s aged roughly five years since this night, while Muckler has aged 70.
• Next we get a classic Gretzky fist-pump, at which point he’s immediately grabbed by a guy in a suit who presumably wants to show him that one dude’s pink sweater.
• A small child runs over and leaps into Gretzky’s arms. Is that his little brother Brent? A nephew or cousin? Not sure. I’m just going to pretend it’s some random kid who he’s never met who yelled “Mommy says you’re my daddy!” and then refused to let go.
• Dr. Randy Gregg bright red beard alert!
• The handshake line ends, and that’s basically the last we’ll see of the New York Islanders. I don’t mean in this clip. I mean ever.
• And here comes the Cup. It will be presented by John Ziegler, who served as the NHL’s president for 15 years but still somehow found time to play the bad guy in every 1980s action move.
• And now somebody on the ice has a homemade banner. What is happening here? Did nobody come to these games empty-handed? Was every mid-’80s Oilers fan lugging around a trunk full of props like Carrot Top?
• Gretzky just skates over and takes the Cup from Ziegler. What, no speech? No awkward handoff? No sight of your sport’s leader being booed and pelted with garbage? Weak sauce, 1984. Weak sauce.
• This was during that stretch when the team skating around with the Cup had become a tradition, but handing it off from player to player hadn’t. So instead, we get 20 guys all trying to grab it at once, while shrugging off random fans in denim jackets trying to jump on their backs. I’m going to go ahead and say the current system is better.
• But here’s something I do miss: cameras in the winning dressing room. And this one captures Andy Moog, who has left the ice and is getting changed by himself while his teammates all celebrate. That’s … weird, right? OK, just wanted to be sure.
• Strong moment at 5:30, as two Oilers either almost drop the Cup, or intentionally slam it onto the head of some guy walking in front of them.
• Seriously, I don’t know who decided to let every fan in the building take part in the victory skate, but god bless you for it. We get to enjoy Weird Al’s camouflage hat, a dude who seems to be wearing suspenders, and, of course, this moment.
• They finally get around to telling the players what the TV guys told us five minutes ago: Mark Messier has won the Conn Smythe. No ceremony, though, because the trophy has just been kind of abandoned in some hallway. I bet Tim Thomas wishes they’d stuck with that system.
• And our last shot is of Messier crying. He promised Gretz he wouldn’t do that.
Until this game, there was a consensus in the hockey world that the Oilers weren’t built to be winners. They’d go on to win five Cups in seven years, the last of those in 1990. They came within one game of getting another in 2006. They haven’t played a postseason game since.