NHL Grab Bag: It’s Still Early
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: Barry Trotz might be the devil
Careful with that logo placement, Washington.
Tragically, Scary Barry will not be a season-long theme; the Caps have already fixed their backdrop.
The second star: Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Keslaf
Of maybe Ryan Getzlaf, if you want to get all technical about getting his name right. Which apparently he does:
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I know how you feel, interview guys. My wife has made that exact face at least five times in every conversation I’ve ever had with her.
The first star: This Blue Jackets fan
Apparently his name is Dancing Kevin, and he is about to become your new boyfriend.
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For more Dancing Kevin, check out SB Nation’s GIF gallery. Also, special kudos to the guy in the hoodie on the right for pulling off an all-time great “I am on camera right now and I have no earthly idea what I am supposed to be doing” performance.
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: On Monday night, the Florida Panthers’ second home game of the season featured a crowd that could politely be described as “sparse.”
The outrage: Multiple stages. See below.
Is it justified: Maybe, but that’s not really the point. If you’ve been online for any length of time, you know the drill by now. Some minor story comes along, like the Florida Panthers having a disappointing crowd, and everyone mans the outrage machines. At that point, we go through a series of steps. In the Panthers’ case, the checklist went something like this.
• This is embarrassing. Let’s all make fun of the Panthers and their fans! (I.e., the initial outrage)
• Settle down. It’s one bad crowd and October is always a tough sports month in Florida. (I.e., the backlash to the outrage)
• But this has been going on for years in Florida. Let’s just move the Panthers to Seattle or Quebec City already. (I.e., the backlash to the backlash)
• This is all about ethics is gaming journalism, and if you don’t agree with me about that, then I’ll go to your house and kill you! (I.e., the guy who got confused and wandered into the wrong argument)
• Stop making fun of Panthers fans! I love Panthers fans! In fact, I’m going to randomly start making out with one right now! (I.e., the backlash to the backlash to the backlash)
• Wait, shouldn’t we wait until the Panthers have a winning team before we judge the market? (I.e., the reasonable voice that will immediately be ignored)
• YYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! (I.e., the backlash to the backlash to the backlash to whatever step we’re on now — I can’t keep track)
• This is somehow all Canada’s fault. (I.e., the moment the whole thing descends into an exercise in cheap identity politics)
• Honestly, I’m just happy they’re not all yelling at us for a change. (I.e., the Coyotes fan)
This is standard stuff when people argue about sports, and used to play out over days and weeks. On Monday night on Twitter, I’m pretty sure we went through the entire cycle in roughly 30 seconds.
This is your annual reminder, hockey fans: Being outraged about sports is a marathon, not a sprint. I know it’s been a long summer and you’ve got lots of pent up energy, but you need to pace yourself. Let’s try not to burn ourselves out in the season’s first month.
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 Minnesota Wild got off to a strong start, shutting out the Avalanche in back-to-back games. Youngster Darcy Kuemper earned the shutout in both games and was named one of the league’s three stars of the week for his work.
In Kuemper’s honor, this week’s obscure player is another young goaltender who once went two games without allowing a goal: Mike Murphy. Not to be confused with the longtime NHL winger and coach of the same name, this Mike Murphy was a goalie who played just two games for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011.
He didn’t start either game, making a pair of appearances in relief of Cam Ward. He also produced one of the oddest career stat lines in NHL history. See if you can spot the problem here:
Notice anything odd? Two career games. Zero career goals against. A perfect 1.000% save percentage. And … one loss? Huh?
Yes, Mike Murphy is indeed the only goaltender in league history to have never allowed a goal yet still have a loss on his record. That doesn’t sound like it should be possible. And it’s not, unless you manage to fall victim to an almost ridiculously complicated set of circumstances. And that’s exactly what Murphy did — in his NHL debut, no less.
Here’s how it happened: On December 6, 2011, Murphy came in with 10 minutes left in a game between the Hurricanes and the Flames. Calgary had just scored to take a 6-3 lead, chasing Cam Ward and pressing Murphy into action in relief. Within minutes, Eric Staal scored to cut the lead to 6-4. The Hurricanes pulled Murphy for an extra attacker with two minutes to play, but Calgary’s Jarome Iginla scored into the empty net to make it 7-4 and, seemingly, seal the win.
That’s when things got weird. In the final minutes, the Hurricanes mounted a furious comeback. Chad Larose scored with half a minute left, and Staal added another with just five seconds to go. The frantic finish wasn’t enough, but it did make the final score a respectably close 7-6.
It also made Murphy the loser, since he was the goalie of record for the winning goal — the Flames’ seventh — even though he was sitting on the bench when it happened.
Murphy made one more appearance, also in relief, before he was sent back down to the minors. Three years later, he has yet to return to the NHL, and he currently plays in Europe. You can follow him on Twitter, where he occasionally posts adorable photos of P.K. Subban.
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?
Saturday was the season’s first Coach’s Corner, and this year’s debut felt like a bigger deal than most. That’s because it was Cherry’s first appearance since Hockey Night in Canada became the property of Rogers, the Canadian telecom giant that bought the league’s national TV rights earlier this year for over $5 billion.
I was in the press box in Toronto that night, and during the first intermission it was jammed with reporters crowded around the TV to see how Cherry would do. Would the transition wear on him? Would he bow to unseen pressure from his new corporate overlords? Would Don Cherry finally, mercifully, begin to tone it down?
Nah. Cherry came out spewing fire, delivering an epic rant aimed at the Maple Leafs for picking William Nylander in this year’s draft instead of a good Canadian boy. He wore a crazy outfit, complained about the time, mispronounced simple words, and yelled at Ron MacLean for trying to touch his hamster (don’t ask).
It was classic Cherry. Never mind that he was completely wrong — drafting based on passports is outdated and silly, and besides, Nylander was born and raised in Alberta — because that’s never really the point when Cherry gets rolling. And on Saturday, after an uncertain summer on the sideline, he was rolling right away. It was like watching a guy take the mound without even getting in a few warm-up pitches, then immediately start throwing 98 mph heat high and tight.
You can love him or hate him, but Don Cherry is the best. I hope he keeps doing Coach’s Corner forever.
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.
Last week, I apparently offended a lot of people when I suggested that the 2006 Florida Panthers created the worst season-opening production of all time. Not so, according to Anaheim Ducks fans, who insisted that their 1993 franchise debut was even worse. After reviewing the footage, I think they have a case.
Fair warning: This one’s going to get kind of weird.
• So it’s October 8, 1993, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are about to play their first ever regular-season game. Such an occasion calls for a pregame ceremony of some sort, and we’re in luck, because the Mighty Ducks are owned by the Walt Disney Company, one of the world’s most successful producers of family-friendly entertainment. This is going to be good!1
• What have you got for us, Walt? Movie stars? Famous rock bands? Millions of dollars’ worth of special effects? After a few seconds of suspenseful music, the lights come up and we get a look at the first person to ever step foot on Ducks home ice, and it’s …
• … a candlestick. On skates. A skating candlestick with an exaggerated accent. Huh. I did not have that in the pool.
• A word of advice for our candlestick friend: If you want to keep your career as a hockey mascot, keep those flames away from any local firefighters.
• It goes without saying that this lovable fellow is actually Lumière from the movie Beauty and the Beast, an award-winning animated film that told the touching story of that one time Patrick Sharp played on a line with Daniel Carcillo.
• I wonder if the guy who created this costume ever played on a line with Garth Butcher and Jamie Baker?
• OK, wrap it up, Lumière. If we wanted to hear a French guy drone on and on for an hour before we got to the opening faceoff, we’d go to any Montreal Canadiens game ever played.
• And here come the French maids. They sing a song from the movie with a few of the words changed to make it kind of about hockey. My favorite part of this sequence is that they’re flashing the words on the scoreboard, just in case any fans want to sing along.
• Well, that took a turn. A guitar solo kicks in and the French maids peel off their costumes to reveal that they’re the Decoys, the Mighty Ducks ice-dancing troupe. I strongly encourage you to read this 1993 article about the group, if only for the comments by former Olympian Gary Visconti in which he goes vaguely insane while discussing the Decoys name. Don’t you see???
• Also, they’re dancing with a bunch of dudes dressed as mushrooms. Look, I told you this might get weird.
• 2:30 to 4:30: Absolutely no idea what is happening here.
• And with that, the lights fade, and it’s time to get to some actual hockey, as the Mighty Ducks face off against the … no, wait, I’m being told we’re not done yet. Two of the mushroom men are escorting what seems to be a Zamboni spaceship out to center ice. I’m sure this will end well.
• The door opens, and out jumps what appears to be the reanimated corpse of Beetlejuice’s less successful younger brother after he wandered into a self-locking deep freezer. We can tell he is a rock star because he has sunglasses, which he does not need, and a guitar, which he will not play.
• “Somebody scream!” Oh, don’t worry, everyone already has.
• We can safely assume that Unfrozen Caveman Singer here is named Iceman, because that’s helpfully written on his hat. He insists that the terrified audience sing along with him to “Rock & Roll, Pt. 2,” which they should be able to manage since it just involves yelling “Hey!” while suppressing the urge to immediately follow that with “Get this guy off the ice because he is creeping me out!”
• We get a close-up from about 5:55 to 6:05, during which the two mushroom men mysteriously vanish. Did they quit? Were they fired? Did the Iceman accidentally kick the gear shift into reverse and back over them? I’m concerned about them.
• Now the Iceman wants everyone to summon the Mighty Ducks’ new mascot, which causes the crowd to cheer wildly because they were getting worried that he was the new mascot. He wants everyone to break out their duck calls. Coincidentally, “blow with all your might” was also the Mighty Ducks’ strategy when putting together their opening-night roster.
• It takes them three tries, but they finally summon Wild Wing. He descends dramatically from the rafters and lands on the ice. In what will, in hindsight, be viewed as a positive, he manages to do all of this without setting himself on fire.
• The giant duck waits patiently for his harness to be undone by the mushroom men … is not a sentence I expected to find myself typing today.
• Wild Wing looks pretty juiced. I’d make a joke about him looking like an NFL player, but he has that ridiculous Mighty Ducks logo on his back, and no self-respecting football player would ever be seen in public like that.
• Oh, good, the Iceman is back to yell at us some more. A bunch of random kids also with hockey sticks also hit the ice, which draws a big cheer because the fans seem to think they might be the actual players. No such luck, but we don’t have to wait long, as the official intros start shortly after.
• Guy Hebert gets the French pronunciation even though he’s American and pronounces his last name “Hibbert.” I blame you, Lumière.
• This may be the fastest player introduction I’ve ever seen. Some highlights include Ron Tugnutt being the only one who knows where anyone is supposed to stand; Myles O’Connor appearing to have second thoughts about even going onto the ice at all; and the fact that the players clearly can’t hear the announcer and eventually just go out whenever they feel like it.
• Also, this team is terrible.
• That’s pretty much it for the ceremony, which ends with Wild Wing rocking out on a combination goalie stick/electric guitar that also shoots flames out the end. I guarantee Ilya Bryzgalov owns one of those.
• We close with the announcers talking about how wonderful all that was and how the players’ adrenaline must be pumping through the roof, presumably while rolling their eyes and making wanking motions at each other.
Somehow, the Mighty Ducks weren’t inspired to victory by a singing candle and his army of mushroom men; they lost that night’s game to the Red Wings, 7-2. But the production wasn’t a total write-off. To this day, Wild Wing is still the team’s mascot — he even managed to survive in 2006 when Brian Burke changed the team’s name and jerseys.
As for the Iceman, he didn’t last quite as long. He popped up a few more times during that first game, and by the end of the night the fans had turned on him, booing him each time he showed his face. An L.A. Times article days after his performance yielded this actual quote: “A low-level Disney source, asked to assess the Iceman’s performance, said simply: ‘He sucks.’”
Tragically, the Iceman was never seen again.
Have a question for Sean? Want to suggest an obscure player or a classic YouTube clip? Send all your grab bag–related emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.