The calendar year of 2014 will be remembered for a lot of things, not the least of which was that it was the year in which a bunch of NHLers looked like Harry ‘Apple Cheeks’ Lumley. An outbreak of the mumps caused a number of players to log sick days and for the league to take precautions against a more widespread outbreak.
It will also be remembered for double gold for Canada…again, and a host of on- and off-ice developments that shaped the game. Here are the top 10 stories from 2014:
10. Slava Voynov’s legal troubles: Just when the National Football League was dealing with domestic abuse situations involving Ray Rice and Adrien Peterson, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was arrested for domestic violence and was hit with a felony charge a month later. The NHL reacted decisively and swiftly, suspending Voynov with pay and barring him from all team activities and fining the Kings $100,000 when it discovered he participated in a practice. Voynov has claimed his innocence and his wife has asked the charges to be dropped, but it looks as though it will go to trial in 2015. If guilty, Voynov faces the possibility of deportation and having his contract voided.
9. Real life hits Pittsburgh, Ottawa: There were times in 2014 that what transpired on the ice was secondary in Pittsburgh. Defenseman Kris Letang discovered in February that he had suffered a stroke and in November, defenseman Olli Maatta had a cancerous tumor removed from his thyroid gland. Both recovered and were back on the ice relatively quickly. In Ottawa, GM Bryan Murray revealed in July that he had colon cancer and later in the year, said it has reached Stage 4 and is terminal. He did so to create awareness around the importance of early testing. “A simple colonoscopy, in my case, probably would have solved this problem I have,” Murray said.
8. Sad goodbyes: Among those the hockey world lost in 2014 were two of its giants – former legendary coach Pat Quinn and Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau. Quinn died in Vancouver Nov. 24, Beliveau died in Montreal three weeks later. Both deaths were followed by a public outpouring of affection and grief and both were honored with touching pre-game ceremonies in Vancouver and Montreal, respectively.
7. Perfection in Sochi: Any time you can clearly remember in minute detail each goal a team has given up in a tournament, that indicates dominance. And based on that criteria, Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics was perhaps the most dominant team ever assembled. Even though it experienced its own trouble scoring goals, Canada gave up just three goals in six games, including posting shutouts in both the semifinal and gold medal games.
6. The Babcock Files: Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock coached the Canadian Olympic team to its second gold medal and cemented his status as a giant among coaches. It also touched off a frenzy concerning where Babcock will end up next season. Even though the uncertainty hung over the Red Wings for the first half of the season, they were among the top teams in the Eastern Conference, thus reinforcing Babcock’s value and making him a shoo-in to be the top paid coach in the NHL next season, whether that’s in Detroit or somewhere else.
5. Comeback Kings bring Stanley back home: If there is one team in the NHL that can flip a switch, it’s the Los Angeles Kings and nowhere was that more evident than in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the first round, they faced a 3-0 deficit to the San Jose Sharks, losing the first two games by a combined 13-5 scored, then became just the fourth team in NHL history to battle back to win the next four games. They again faced elimination in Round 2 before rallying to win the next two games. In the Western Conference final, it was the Kings who almost blew a series lead, but managed to move on with a 5-4 overtime win in Game 7 in a game and series that were both classics. They won the Cup in five games over the New York Rangers, but not before falling behind by 2-0 scores in Games 1 and 2.
4. Speaking of comebacks…: Canada’s women’s Olympic team looked dead in the water in the gold medal game in Sochi with USA leading 2-0 late in the third period and looking dominant. But Canada scored twice in the final three minutes of play, then capped the comeback with an overtime winner by Marie-Phillip Poulin on a 5-on-3 power play. Poulin and veteran Hayley Wickenheiser cemented their reputations as two of the greatest clutch players the women’s game has ever seen and Canada crushed USA’s hopes for gold for a fourth straight Olympics. In the bronze medal game, the Swiss overcame heavy favorite Sweden.
3. McDavid vs. Eichel: It was at the World Junior Championship in January where American Jack Eichel served notice he would not go quietly into the night and simply cede the No. 1 overall pick to Connor McDavid and the two spent much of the rest of the year waging that battle, culminating with the New Year’s Eve head-to-head meeting between Canada and USA at this year’s World Junior last night. McDavid, who was on pace to threaten the single season scoring record in the Ontario League, had his plans thwarted when he broke his hand in a meaningless fight. Eichel, meanwhile, established himself as the top player in college hockey in his freshman year at Boston University.
2. The mumps: The childhood affliction of the 1970s exacted its revenge on the NHL in 2014, with 14 players on five teams sidelined with the illness through mid-December. And it certainly didn’t play favorites, hitting superstars such as Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry among others having apple cheeks for a considerable spell. Since the virus is spread through sweat and saliva, the NHL is a perfect breeding ground. The spread of the virus put teams on hyper-vigilant alert and most were having their players and staff inoculated with a booster shot.
1. The new television universe…in Canada: Even though the NHL’s landscape changing 12-year, $5.2 billion deal for Canadian television rights with Rogers was announced late in 2013, it took effect when the puck dropped for the 2014-15 season in October. Since then, it has been all-hockey all the time in Canada. Canadian viewers are slowly beginning to find a comfort level with the new broadcasters.