NHL Grab Bag: Ohhhhhh, Canada!
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: Mike Babcock
Via Reddit, here’s what Team Canada’s coach looked like back in the mid-’80s. ’Sup, ladies?
The second star: The Kessel siblings
With both Phil and Amanda kicking ass for Team USA, Twitter user @CapitalsHill had the creative idea of Photoshopping their faces together to create the ultimate American hockey force. I haven’t looked at the results yet but I’m sure they’re OH GOOD LORD NO. Well, that was horrifying. I really can’t imagine anything more disturbing. What’s that? There’s a second version? Well, it can’t be any worse so I’ll just go ahead and OH GOD NO IT REALLY WAS WORSE. Wow. Time to go give a nice sturdy steel wool scrub to the ol’ eyeballs.
The first star: This GIF of Team Norway
Come for the collision with the referee; stay for the helpful bum push.
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.
Clearly we need some sort of romance-themed name for Valentine’s Day. But which one? We already used Chris Valentine last year. The NHL has never had a “Cupid” or a “Love” or a “Heart.” (There have been a few Harts, but one of them was named “Gizzy” so I think we’ll pass.)
Instead, let’s pucker up and talk about Kelly Kisio, the journeyman center who played 13 NHL seasons for the Rangers (where he was team captain), Wings, Sharks, and Flames. He retired in 1995, and since 1998 he has been the general manager of the Calgary Hitmen.
Here’s everything I remember about Kelly Kisio, in order of importance: He was the top-rated forward on the Sharks in NHL ’94; he was once traded straight-up for Sugar Shane Churla; and by the early ’90s, he was like 30 years old but for some reason always looked 70.
And yes, it is pronounced “Kissy-oh.”
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: The 2014 Winter Olympics are currently taking place in Sochi. But because of the time difference, many events happen when North American viewers are sleeping or at work, and may not be broadcast until later in the day. Should we avoid discussing the results in order not to spoil them for our fellow sports fans?
In Favor: Yes. Not everyone can stay up late or get up at the crack of dawn to follow the events, and many of us would prefer to watch them later without knowing the results. Avoiding spoilers is really just common courtesy.
Opposed: But that’s a little bit presumptuous, isn’t it? Lots of fans do watch the competitions live, and we should be able to discuss them like we would any other live sports without getting “no spoiler” lectures.
In Favor: And that’s fine for events in prime time. Nobody’s saying you can’t talk about the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup. But surely we can acknowledge that it’s a little different when something is taking place at 3 a.m., can’t we?
Opposed: Even if we did, why is the onus on all of us not to discuss it? Shouldn’t people who want to avoid spoilers take responsibility by staying offline and away from media reports?
In Favor: But that’s easier said than done these days. It’s not like you can just turn off the local news. This stuff pops up everywhere. And another thing to consider is …
The Final Verdict: Opposed wins. Complaining about spoilers is stupid.
In Favor: Uh … we weren’t done.
The Final Verdict: Sure you were.
In Favor: We’d barely even started.
The Final Verdict: Actually, this whole thing was written last night. It’s just that everyone’s only reading it now.
In Favor: Oh.
The Final Verdict: And you lost. Big time.
In Favor: I really thought I was doing fine.
The Final Verdict: Oh, sure, at first you were hanging in there. But then you made a few crucial mistakes, based one of your key premises on an easily disprovable logical fallacy, and Opposed just went to town on you.
Opposed: I really did.
In Favor: Well, thanks for ruining it. Now there’s no point in even reading the rest.
The Final Verdict: Oh, don’t be a baby. You anti-spoiler zealots and your persecution complexes are the worst.
Opposed: You really are.
In Favor: Excuse me for just wanting to enjoy something without having the ending given away.
The Final Verdict: Stop it. You’re asking the majority of the world to hold off on discussing a major event they’ve just witnessed, all for the convenience of your own personal schedule. It’s completely unreasonable and you know it. Get over yourself.
In Favor: You’re kind of a jerk.
Opposed: He really is.
In Favor: Fine, I’m out of here. I’m going to scroll down and watch this week’s YouTube clip.
The Final Verdict: Canada beats the Soviets, 6-5.
In Favor: I HATE YOU.
The Final Verdict: Opposed wins. Complaining about spoilers is stupid.
NHL Olympic-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I complain about things that matter probably only to me.
I enjoy the Winter Olympics. I really do. I’m a hockey fan, so obviously that’s the event I care about the most, but I’m always up for learning about new sports. There are some great individual stories out there, and some of this stuff is really fun and exciting, even if you don’t fully understand what’s going on.
But there’s one problem: Some of these sports have way too many events. Sorry, non-hockey athletes, but not every conceivable variation of your little niche sport needs its own medal. It’s time to start paring down the list.
Bobsled: You get two people or four, not both. Speedskating and biathlon: Settle on one or two distances, please. Crazy guys who slide down icy hills on a sled: Get together and agree on which direction you’re going to face. Snowboarders and freestyle skiers: You guys are clearly just making up events a few days before the Olympics now and hoping nobody notices.
It’s ridiculous. I’m tired of seeing some out-of-breath Dane telling an interviewer, “Well, I’m disappointed in this bronze in the 500 meter, so I guess I’ll just have to work extra hard tomorrow in the 502 meter.”
Meanwhile, hockey has two events: men’s and women’s. That’s it. It’s the biggest and most important sport at the Games, and we’re stuck with two lousy events while everyone else gets a million. Well, that’s dumb, and we need to fix it. And if the other sports won’t scale back, then we’ll just need to add more hockey.
So starting in 2018, I’m proposing that in addition to the normal 60-minute games, we also debut the 45-minute and the 90-minute ice hockey events. Each will take place on both international and NHL-size rinks, as well as whatever it was in the old Boston Garden. And needless to say, each nation will also be invited to enter teams in the four-man, five-man, and six-man events.
There you go. If it’s good for the other sports, it’s good for us, too. And when Sidney Crosby heads home with nine medals, he won’t have to take any lip from Germany.
Canadian Olympic Panic Watch
Canadians love three things: rolling up the rim, ruining American pop music, and freaking out about our Olympic hockey teams.
Man, the Americans looked great Thursday. Sweden is off to a good start, and Finland scored like a million goals. And Russia started off slow against Slovenia, but it woke up in the third period and started looking pretty scary.
Meanwhile, Canada is 2-0 but hasn’t really played anyone good yet and didn’t exactly look dominant in its first game. Did that make anyone else nervous? I got a little nervous.
You know what? Even though they beat Austria, I still think it’s time for a little confidence boost. Meet me in the next section for a little reminder of how these best-on-best tournaments usually end.
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.
The Canada Cup was basically the precursor to the NHL’s participation in the Olympics. It was held every few years during the offseason, and was the only time that every country sent its best players to compete in a tournament. Needless to say, Canada usually won.
In 1996, organizers changed the tournament’s name to the World Cup of Hockey, and then more or less shelved the idea once the NHL started going to the Olympics (there’s been one World Cup of Hockey since 1998). There’s now talk about bringing the concept back, which would be fun.
In the meantime, let’s look back at arguably the most famous moment in Canada Cup history. It’s September 15, 1987, and Canada and the Soviets are tied 5-5 in the third and deciding game of the final. There’s two minutes left in regulation, and things are about to get dramatic.
• Given the importance of this game, you might assume it’s coming to us from the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens. But no, instead we’re live at Copps Coliseum in scenic Hamilton, Ontario. The arena was built in the mid-’80s to house an NHL team. You’re probably thinking Wait, does Hamilton have an NHL team? No they do not. They do have an almost 30-year-old NHL arena, though. Let’s just say it’s a bit of a sore spot.
• In addition to this game, Copps Coliseum’s other claim to fame is hosting the first WWF Royal Rumble in 1988, which is totally worth rewatching just for the agonizingly complicated attempts to explain the rules. I bet this is what it was like for whoever had to explain icing to Gary Bettman. You know, yesterday.
• So there’s a faceoff in the Canadian zone, we’re told, though we can’t tell because somebody is waving a Canadian flag directly in front of the camera. See, Hamilton, this is why you can’t have nice things.
• Canada sends out a line of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Dale Hawerchuk. If that line was Destiny’s Child, Hawerchuk would totally be LaTavia Roberson. Canada loses the faceoff and immediately gets a three-on-one from its own blue line, because this is the 1980s and defense hasn’t been invented yet.
• If you watch closely, you’ll see that one Russian player almost catches up to the rush, but then decides to do a random pirouette at center ice instead. What an odd choice. I probably would have kept skating.
• The third man on the rush is defenseman Larry Murphy, by the way. He’d later describe himself as “the greatest decoy in the history of hockey” on the play. I’m not even sure that’s right. To be a decoy, doesn’t there have to be one person in the entire world who thinks you’re getting the puck? I don’t think there was.
• I love the crowd reaction to this sequence. You can actually make out four distinct levels — “Hey they have a three-on-one” … “Gretzy’s wide-open” … “Wait, now Mario is wide-open” … “AHHHHHHHH!”
• Lemieux scores by going high glove side, which we’re told is the scouting report on the Russian goalie. You know what other goalie that’s the scouting report on? All of them. Every single goalie, ever.
• We get lots of crowd shots of delirious Canadian fans. Um, was there some sort of organized effort to wear white for this game? Or was the entire country just going through an awkward “tight white sweater” phase? You know what, I don’t think I want to know the answer to that.
• Here’s the reply, and oh, look, there’s our pirouetting Russian friend. As it turns out, he has a pretty good reason for his little spin: Hawerchuk blatantly interferes with him. I mean, it’s not even subtle. He looks directly at him, then just pitchforks him right in the gut as he goes by. Nobody ever mentioned this again, by the way. I can’t wait until some Russian returns the favor on Crosby in the gold-medal game and the two countries have to go to war over it.
• For some reason, I always found it funny that they made Mario wear “M. Lemieux” on his jersey. Otherwise, I’m sure lots of people would have seen the 6-foot-4 guy wearing no. 66 and deking out an entire team and got him confused with Claude.
• The announcers mention the way that Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov always berates his players. Yeah, when you’re one of two coaches in a series and Mike Keenan is considered the easygoing one, you may be wound a little tight.
• Nice job working in the flag in there, clapping hands ball cap guy.
• While we wait forever for the next faceoff, we get a helpful reminder of the score. It’s good to see that even the guy in charge of designing the little flags for the TV broadcast has no idea how to successfully draw a maple leaf.
• They finally drop the puck for the faceoff, and Canada immediately gets a two-on-one. Literally right off the faceoff. I wasn’t kidding about 1980s defense. There’s a reason that every player in the NHL was a 30-goal scorer back then.
• Glenn Anderson tries the Darryl Sittler move but fails, and the Soviets head back. Fun fact — this Canadian team featured three future Hall of Famers on defense: Murphy, Paul Coffey, and Ray Bourque. So naturally, the two defensemen out there with one minute left to protect this lead are Doug Crossman and Normand Rochefort. See, P.K. Subban? Maybe Canada has just always made weird decisions about its blue line.
• The Soviets press but never really come close. Notice how they’re down one in the last minute of regulation but don’t pull their goalie. This was a Soviet trademark that nobody else has really ever understood. They did the same thing in Game 8 in 1972 and during the Miracle on Ice in 1980.
• And that’s pretty much it. The rest of the clip is basically Canada celebrating. Just two more highlights from this clip: Ron Hextall’s way-too-personal extended hug on Lemieux at 7:25, and the excited guy running with the flag at 7:40 who isn’t watching where he’s going and sprints chest-first into the crossbar in front of 20,000 people.
Tragically we don’t get any footage of the postgame awards. Seriously, check out this footage from Game 2, in which they awkwardly give Vladimir Krutov a camera, followed by Gretzky receiving, and this is a direct quote, “a complete set of 10 1988 Winter Olympics Games coins, courtesy of Canadian Tire.” A career highlight, no doubt.