With about a dozen games to go, the 2008-09 NHL regular season is coming to a close, but it’s been one heckuva year. A sea change has come over the league and while the caliber of play has steadily been improving since the lockout, this season saw personalities and – gasp! – fun return to the NHL consistently for the first time since the early 1990s.
So in order to beat everyone else to the punch, here’s a quick All-Fun Season in Review.
Randy Moller – Former first round draft pick, rugged NHL defenseman, radio man extraordinaire. The rare player-turned-call man, Moller does play-by-play in Florida now and his famously viral Panthers goal calls – culled from a list of pop culture catch phrases suggested by listeners – are both hilarious and surreal. One YouTube compilation has been viewed more than 208,000 times in just over a month and his exuberant outbursts of “Weiss…he shoots he scoooorrrres! I’m never gonna dance again!” (George Michael) and “Empty net goal…Come with me if you want to live!” (Terminator) still make me chuckle.
Orland Kurtenblog – Helmed by Vancouver Province writers Mike Halford and Jason Brough, this blog makes me laugh like no other. The boys attend Vancouver Canucks games from the cheap seats and love picking on their home team’s personalities, from the Sedin Twins and Kyle Wellwood to assistant coach Ryan Walter’s days as a motivational speaker. Kurtenblog’s Friday messenger chat transcripts are addictive comedy, though I fear today’s may be pre-empted by the pair’s field trip to the NCAA basketball tournament in Oregon.
Stars acting like stars – For me, this notion first crystallized at the All-Star Game skills competition in Montreal. Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, being an arch-rival of the Habs and their fans, was booed lustily by the Canadiens partisans in attendance, until he unleashed a record-breaking 105.4 mph blast in the hardest shot competition. The crowd immediately did a 180 and cheered him with all their hearts. Chara, who donated his winnings to the Right to Play charity, donned a yellow toque from the organization and had this look on his face that just beamed pride; there was an aura of something special there.
And just this week there have been two instances I never thought I’d see in hockey. Perhaps the most incredible was Martin Brodeur celebrating his NHL record 552nd win by cutting the netting straight off his goal. It was an amazingly bold and creative move – something Terrell Owens would have thought of – and the confident message behind it (I own this net) was more than fitting.
Last night, Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season, the third time he has reached that mark in his four NHL seasons. In a pre-planned celebration, he dropped his stick and held his hands over it as if it were too hot to touch. Awesome.
Now people are going to freak out about this – most of the Tampa Bay Lightning did, since they were the victims – but let’s not forget how stars used to celebrate big goals. From Theo Fleury’s playoff slide to Teemu Selanne’s duck hunt routine when he broke Mike Bossy’s rookie goals record in 1993. That flavor gave us the enduring images that are till shown on broadcasts to this day.
Hot dogging? Whatever. Ovechkin’s job is to score goals. Let’s worry about showboating when John Erskine pulls his jersey over his head or Sammy Pahlsson sticks his arms out like an airplane after scoring.
Of course, you can’t have fun without anti-fun, so a quick raspberry to a couple entities hurting the game this year:
TSN 2 – As much the fault of cable provider Rogers Communications as it is TSN’s, this channel is not available on the aforementioned company’s dial due to money-grabbing between the two corporate giants and naturally the fans lose out. Even though I have the NHL Center Ice package, I couldn’t watch Philly play Detroit the other night because of TSN 2 exclusivity. Good job, boys. You’re really helping grow the sport.
Rumor Mongers – I’ll keep this one quick and scant on details because I don’t like to dignify unsubstantiated stories, but for all the hangers-on who work the fringes of the hockey world and love to spout off about the alleged illegal activities of players (last year it was mostly Ottawa Senators, this year it’s the Habs’ turn), I pose a question: Where’s your camera phone? If so much of this scandalous behavior is being seen by so many people – or a friend whose sister is a waitress in Gatineau – why has none of it come to light? We’ve seen everybody from Kate Moss to the Abu Ghraib guards busted in the media, but a bunch of jocks are outsmarting them all like the mastermind in The French Connection? Evidence, people. And Halloween pictures don’t mean anything.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.