By John Rolfe
It was not quite a typical year in hockey, what with the lockout-shortened season that began last January, the mad 48-game dash to the playoffs, a realignment plan that yielded the widely snickered-at “Metropolitan Division” and a raft of new regulations that included the NFL-esque and equally ridiculed “jersey tuck rule.” In all this commotion there was a goodly amount of unusual and even downright odd doings. Here are our top 13:
13. Gravity of the situation (1/12/13)
The puck drop for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ home opener vs. the Buffalo Sabres after the lockout ended literally was out of this world. The crowd and the teams watched on the Air Canada Centre’s video screen as astronaut Chris Hatfield, aboard the International Space Station, dropped–or tried to, as he was in zero gravity–the ceremonial first puck. An Earthly Olympic Torch-style relay ensued with Leafs icons such as Felix Potvin and Johnny Bower delivering the disc to the arena. The puck didn’t actually come out of the sky, of course, but something else did a month later, which leads us to …
12. It came from outer space (2/13/13)
After the KHL’s Arena Traktor in Chelyabinsk was damaged by the shockwave from a meteor, the noted cosmologist Ilya Bryzgalov was moved to expound on the threat to mankind while he guested on the Philadelphia radio station WIP. “It’s one thing that’s very interesting.,” the then-Flyers’ goalie said. “On the other hand, it’s dangerous. And you know we can’t protect ourselves from the space danger .. the asteroid bigger sized fly close to the earth. Make us think .. like a metal thing at huge speeds in the earth .. It’s going to be a disaster right now … Probably not going to be thinking about hockey. It’s going to be how to recover the earth, how to survive. I think we need to be thankful and be happy. Enjoy our every day with our relatives, our wives, kids. Enjoy our work every day.” True words to live by.
11. Paranoia strikes deep (10/31/13)
In the wake of Semyon Varlamov’s arrest for an alleged assault on his girlfriend, senior parliamentarian Igor Ananskikh, a member of the nationalist LDPR party, smelled an insidious plot to deprive Russia of gold in Sochi. “I’m confident of Semyon’s innocence,” Ananskikh said about the Colorado Avalanche goalie who was off to a 7-1 start and among the NHL’s leaders in GAA and save pct. “I think it is a sports and political move, as Varlamov is a candidate for the Russian national team. The main goal is to suspend him from training and games so that he loses practice and misses the Olympics.” Varlamov, a candidate to start for Mother Russia, faced an assault charge that jeopardized his ability to leave the good ol’ USA for the Winter Games, but apparently Ananskikh’s exposure of the U.S. Government’s devious ways saved the day. The charge against Varlamov was dropped on December 20.
10. Low glass maintenance (12/10/13)
This season, the Florida Panthers have had a hard time drawing flies to their home games, let alone fans. So why not make it more difficult for the ones (fans, not flies) who do show up–especially those who fork over $300 a seat–to view the action? During the third period of a sparsely attended game against the Red Wings at the BB&T Center, a shot by Florida’s Nick Bjugstad broke the glass behind Detroit’s net. When the crew couldn’t get the protective paper off the new sheet, they simply left it on and installed the glass, much to the dismay of the paying customers who were forced to move. Fortunately, they had plenty of empty seats from which to choose.
9. Stitches in time (8/15/13)
Among the most notable hockey memorabilia to go on the market this year were the stitches that sewed up Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who took a puck to the face during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. After a week on Ebay (opening price: 65 cents), the threads went to Harry Caray’s Tavern at Navy Pier in Chicago for the princely sum of $6,500, the proceeds going to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer research.
8. Ring of justice (8/12/13)
The trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, 84, took on a decidedly puckish cast after he willingly forfeited $822,000 in cash, firearms and other loot that had been confiscated when he was captured in June 2011 after 16 years on the lam. One memento, however, the notorious Boston crime boss insisted on keeping: a 1986 Stanley Cup ring that had reportedly been given to him by former Canadiens enforcer Chris “Knuckles” Nilan. The two were connected in that Bulger had paid for Nilan’s wedding to the daughter of Bulger’s ex-girlfriend, but Knuckles publicly insisted that the ring in question was still in his family’s possession. Bulger was sentenced to two life terms for 11 murders, and the ring, which turned out to be a replica valued at $3,000, was designated for auction to help raise money for his victims’ families.
7. Red light district (2/3/13)
The marketing campaign of the year had to be Budweiser’s offer to install red goal lights in the homes of hockey fans. The lights, which sold out within 45 minutes after an ad for them ran during the Super Bowl, were programmed via Wi-Fi or a smartphone to go off with a siren any time the owner’s favorite team scored a goal. Fans in Toronto were so inspired by the idea that they lobbied via online petition for turning the top of the city’s landmark CN Tower into a flashing red beacon any time the Maple Leafs scored during the playoffs. Alas, the owners of the tower preferred turning it blue on nights the Leafs were skating during their first postseason appearance since 2004, and blue were the team’s fans after Toronto’s epic Game 7 collapse against Boston in the first round.
6. The lid lifter (11/6/13)
When the glass gave way during a game at Chicago’s United Center, Jets defenseman Adam Pardy ended up far enough into the crowd that a Blackhawks fan was able to steal the helmet off his head. The fan, who drolly donned the lid, inspired morning radio host Dave Wheeler in Winnipeg to call for a “Helmet Pardy” at MTS Center when the Hawks played there on Nov. 21. All fans attending the game were to wear hockey headgear. Alas, the Jets’ brass put the kibosh on the idea in the name of respect, citing an apology from the Blackhawks.
5. Licking the competition (4/11/13)
Buffalo’s seasoned pot-stirrer Steve Ott was hoping to taste victory against Montreal when, while waiting in the face-off circle for the puck to drop, he leaned over and licked the visor of Canadiens center Jeff Halpern. The fact that Halpern was a former teammate in Dallas may have emboldened Ott to be so forward, but he lost the face-off and was left with a nasty aftertaste when the Sabres went down to a bitter 5-1 defeat.
4. Love bite (9/1/13)
It may not be in the same league as Dustin Penner’s infamous run-in with a stack of pancakes, but the weirdest injury of the year had to be the one suffered by Mike Fisher. The Predators forward went to the rescue of wife Carrie Underwood when a chipmunk was discovered in their pissoir and he got a bite on the hand for his effort. This stark human drama was posted on the web in the form of Vine videos. Honorable mentions go to the Penguins’ James Neal, who allegedly strained an oblique while playing Wiffle ball on ice (the team denied the report) and Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who needed surgery on his right finger after his golf club shattered during a round in August.
3. Four score and a stroke of genius (10/10/13)
After Sbarks rookie Tomas Hertl became the center of a debate about hotdogging (he’d scored four goals against the Rangers on Oct. 8, the fourth coming off a showboat move), the subject really caught fire, courtesy of teammate Joe Thornton. San Jose’s captain was on the outskirts of media scrum when he objected to a question and defended Hertl’s actions by saying, “I’d have my [rooster] out if I scored four goals. I’d have my [rooster] out, stroking it.” The non-Bowdlerized version was reported by Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province, who was accused of a locker room ethics breach because Thornton insisted he’d been speaking off the record. Meanwhile, as SI.com’s Allan Muir put it, the world of hockey began to pray that Thornton never scores four.
2. Double vision (1/21/13)
Anyone who saw him did a double take when a man who looked eerily like Paul MacLean was spotted sitting behind the Senators’ coach during a game in Ottawa. All kinds of speculation ensued on Twitter–he was MacLean’s brother, a fan playing a prank, maybe even an alien replicant. TSN, which was broadcasting the game, sent Ian Mendes to investigate. Turns out the doppleganger was an auto supply shop manager named Mike Watson, 54, who immediately earned the nickname “Paul MacClone.” He was attending his first game in two years (before MacLean had been hired as coach) and the seats belonged to his company. Though Watson admitted to deliberately dressing like the coach in order to get his attention, neither MacLean nor his double acknowledged each other during the game, which is a pity because they could have recreated this classic Marx Brothers scene.
1. I am The (Bug-Eyed) Walrus (5/13/13)
The zinger of the year was delivered by Montreal’s Brandon Prust in the wake of a vicious hit by Ottawa’s Eric Gryba on the Canadiens’ Lars Eller in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, a 4-2 win by the Senators. Gryba was suspended for two games and Eller wound up in the hospital. Senators coach Paul MacLean blamed Montreal defenseman Raphael Diaz, saying, “(If I’m Eller), I’m really mad at (Diaz), whoever he is, because he passed me the puck in the middle of the rink when I wasn’t looking.” Prust fired back: “We don’t care what that bug-eyed fat walrus has to say.” Naturally, MacLean’s doppleganger took the comment personally. “Is that what he said? Seriously?,” Mike “Paul MacClone Watson said to the Ottawa Sun. “Well, he better be ready to see two fat walruses on Tuesday night. Because I’m going to be right back there at the glass behind the players’ bench. If it was 4-2 with one fat walrus there, than it’s gonna be 8-4 with two fat walruses. Double. Ya, that’s right. Double.” Unfortunately, the walruses lost their mojo. The Canadiens won that night, 3-1.