This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
The Great One is going to Springfield. That's right, Wayne Gretzky will be making a cameo appearance on The Simpsons this weekend.
Although the show has focused on hockey a number of times throughout its 28-season run, No. 99 will be the first hockey player to lend his voice to the series. In honour of Gretzky's Springfield debut, we took a look back at some of The Simpsons' greatest hockey moments over the years.
Mr. Hockey ("Bart the Lover," Season 3, 1992)
When Bart discovers that his teacher, Edna Krabappel, has taken out a personal ad, he vindictively responds to her notice. Creating an alter-ego named Woodrow, inspired by America's 28th president, he begins corresponding with her. When the relationship escalates to the point where Edna has asked "Woodrow" for a picture of himself, Bart uses an image of former NHL superstar Gordie Howe in one of his letters. Before affixing the photograph, Bart exclaims, "strap on your skates Gordie, you're going in."
While the impetus behind Bart's prank was to exact revenge for detention he had received, he eventually realizes the hurt he has caused and asks his family to help him mitigate the situation before he inflicts further pain on Edna. The Simpsons successfully pen an exit strategy for Bart, aka Woodrow, and the story ends with Ms. Krabappel avoiding further humiliation. When the episode first aired, in 1992, Gordie Howe was still the NHL's all-time leader in goals. Although Wayne Gretzky had surpassed his career point total in 1989, it was not until March 20, 1994 when the Great One vaulted ahead of his idol for the most goals.
*On the night that this episode originally aired, Gretzky's Kings tied the Blackhawks 2-2. No. 99 directed two shots on net but was held off the scoresheet. It was one of only 15 games that season that he was held pointless.
Hockey Mask ("Cape Feare," Season 5, 1993)
Alright, so this is probably more of a Friday the 13th reference, but without Jacques Plante taking a puck to the face in 1959 and becoming the first goaltender to wear a mask on a regular basis, you wouldn't have Jason terrorizing teenagers at Crystal Lake in hockey equipment. And without all that you wouldn't get Homer finding the most inopportune time to show Bart his new chainsaw and hockey mask.
The Philadelphia Flyers ("Treehouse House of Horror IV," Season 5, 1993)
After Homer sold his soul to the Devil for a donut, he is summoned before the Court of Infernal Affairs to determine his fate. Assessing the case is Satan's "Jury of the Damned," an assembly of notorious figures throughout history that featured the likes of Lizzie Borden, John Wilkes Booth, and, of course, the starting line of the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers.
The inclusion of the Flyers speaks to the reputation for brutality and violence that the Broad Street Bullies had cultivated around the NHL in the 1970s. Although the team does not appear in its traditional garb of orange, black, and white, you could make the case that the second player from the left was a loose representation of Dave "the Hammer" Schultz. The moustache is an obvious reference, but if any actual Flyer were to be depicted in this sketch it would unquestionably be Schultz. Not only did he lead the team in penalty minutes in the 1975-76 season, but from 1971-72 through to 1975-76 no other player in the league accumulated more penalty minutes than Schultz. Over that span he racked up 1,386 minutes worth of infractions.
Bart and Lisa Faceoff ("Lisa on Ice," Season 6, 1994)
This one ranks pretty high in the pantheon of great Simpsons episodes and is unquestionably the show's best exploration of hockey. After Lisa discovers she is failing gym class she needs to join an extracurricular peewee team, lest she earn an 'F.' Despite having limited success with basketball and volleyball, Lisa soon discovers she has a knack for being a goaltender. As she sharpens her skills on the ice, her attitude also hardens as evidenced by her instinctual response to instruct her teammates to "hack the bone" after Ralph Wiggum loses a shin guard.
The episode builds up to a head-to-head matchup between Bart and Lisa as they find themselves slated to take on each other in Friday night action at the Springfield Skating Rink. The siblings trade in opportunities, Bart scores against his sister, but Lisa quickly regroups and stymies him on his next shot.
As the tension builds, the game once again shifts to Bart and Lisa as the former is hauled down by Jimbo Jones and is awarded a penalty shot. With four seconds remaining and the contest tied 3-3, Bart has the game on his stick. The only thing standing in his way is his little sister. The significance is not lost on Homer who delivers his best line of the episode when he remarks that the outcome of the penalty shot will determine his affection. "The winner will be showered with praise, the loser will be taunted and booed until my throat is sore," he says.
As Bart and Lisa stare each other down they recount childhood memories of their friendship and love for each other. Ultimately, they decide to let the game end in a tie rather than strain their relationship. While they may have both been viewed as losers in their father's eyes, and indeed many in the crowd, it was a touching moment between brother and sister.
It's worth noting here that the NHL had ties until 2005-06, and during the lockout-shortened season that this episode ran, the league's 26 teams combined for 150 ties.
Krusty Throws Up in the Stanley Cup ("The Last Temptation of Krust," Season 9, 1998)
Following a bad review at a comedy festival, Krusty the Clown went on a bender to end all benders. During the course of a pub crawl through Springfield's famed watering holes, such as the Bloated Liver, Krusty can be seen consuming alcohol from a wineskin, a glass slipper, a hiking boot, and even the Stanley Cup. By the time he drinks from hockey's ultimate prize, he is arguably a little worse for wear and promptly vomits in the iconic chalice.
It turns out the NHL was none too pleased when the episode first aired in 1998. During FXX's marathon broadcast of The Simpsons in August 2014, writer Mike Scully revealed on Twitter that the, "NHL sent a letter about Krusty drinking out of (and throwing back up into) Stanley Cup, but cool Fox lawyer said to ignore." The tweet has since been deleted, but if Scully's claim is true, it's likely that the league was upset with how the Cup was treated in that scene. There's been no shortage of people over the years who have drank out of the Cup, and who knows, maybe a few people have even thrown up into as well. That being said, before the NHL hired Phil Pritchard as it's official Keeper of the Cup in September 1988, there have arguably been far worse things that have happened to that trophy than a cartoon clown overindulging.
*On the night this episode first aired, Gretzky's Rangers lost 3-1 to the Flyers. The Great One fired four shots on net but was held off the scoresheet.
Montreal Canadiens ("Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo," Season 10, 1999)
The Simpsons got more than they bargained for on their trip to Japan. After finding themselves in jail and then doing menial work at a fish cannery in Osaka, they all wind up on the Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show in order to win a trip back to Springfield. The family successfully runs the gauntlet on the popular Japanese game show and secures their airfare home. As they're exiting the studio, they see the next contestants, a Canadian couple, being showered with scorpions. While the duo is fending off the stinging arachnids, Homer taunts them through a closed-circuit feed. "Take that you stupid hosers," he says. The man, clad in typical Canadiana—blue jeans and plaid—is also outfitted in a Canadiens hat. It's a subtle reference because the colour of the cap is beige, but the Montreal CH is unmistakable.
Wearing a hat full of scorpions probably would have been a favourable alternative for many Canadiens fans last season who struggled to watch the team's performance on and off the ice.
Hockey Game ("Helter Shelter," Season 14, 2002)
After Homer falls victim to a workplace injury, Mr. Burns attempts to placate him with tickets to his luxury box at Springfield's Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific Arena. Although the family, and all of the arriving fans, are initially dismayed to learn they are attending a hockey game, Lisa makes the most of the experience.
While the Simpson clan takes in the game from the Skybox, Lisa eagerly watches it from ice level. She's close enough that she can impart some advice to an Ice-O-Topes player. As he is winding up for a shot, Lisa says, "Hey Kozlov, aim for the five-hole, he's got an opening the size of Red Square." Sure enough, he ties the game and in return gives Lisa his "hockey tree."
Shortly after, the rest of the family descends from their seats with Marge informing Lisa that it's time to go. Evidently, the Skybox fans have already been told the outcome of the game, with the Ice-O-Topes beating the Shelbyville Visitors by a score of 5-3.
Hockey Dad ("Regina Monologues," Season 15, 2003)
The overzealous parent tends to be synonymous with hockey. There's always that one who is yelling from the stands, banging on the glass, or even getting violent with other parents, coaches, or officials. Bart and Milhouse are no strangers to video games, we've seen them play classics like Bone Storm and Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge, but in this episode they're squaring off in Hockey Dad. Bart's character, Chuck Shadowski, gets the edge over the Milhouse-controlled Mr. O'Bannon and is hauled off by the police at the end of round one. While the sequence is meant to mock the rare but most insidious kind of hockey parent, it hits home. Just a year earlier, Thomas Junta from Massachusetts was found guilty of manslaughter after he killed Michael Costin, his son's hockey coach, in 2000.
Don Cherry and Barry Melrose Parodies ("Eeny Teeny Maya, Moe," Season 20, 2009)
If you have enough Duff Beer, even a "Mid-Atlantic hockey league conference, semi-final, do-over game" can be exciting. As Homer watches the matchup, we see that the broadcast includes a team of commentators that includes Jean-Pierre Pétomane, Doc Jacques Lalonde, and Wayne Bockhorn. But don't let Lalonde's French-Canadian name fool you, that bright green suit is unquestionably a nod to Don Cherry and Bockhorn's hair and moustache makes him a dead ringer for Barry Melrose.
Hockey Opening ("Angry Dad: The Movie," Season 22, 2011)
The whole family got into the action during the couch gag sequence at the start of the 14th episode in the 22nd season. As Homer goes careening through the garage door into the living room, all members of the Simpsons are suited up for a hockey game. Before they even play the puck, Bart decides to Marty McSorley Homer, while Lisa lunges at her brother to defend her fallen father. As Marge attempts to break up the donnybrook, referees Lenny and Carl escort the entire family to the penalty box. There, in true hockey fashion, Homer discards a tooth that Bart had presumably knocked out during the raucous.
Quebec Nordiques Relocation ("Covercraft," Season 26, 2014)
During a trip to King Toot's, Homer talks with Lisa about what NHL fan bases fear the most: the dreaded spectre of relocation. As they stroll toward the music shop, Homer is just wrapping up a story about "the terrifying tale about how the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche." While the viewer is not privy to the details that preceded the conclusion of the tale, Homer presumably told Lisa about how a struggling Canadian dollar, an aging facility, and stagnant revenues coalesced to push the Nordiques ownership group to sell the team to the Denver-based COMSAT Entertainment Group. When the sale was officially made public on Canada Day in 1995, Nordiques fans mourned the news but Coloradans rejoiced as it signalled the return of NHL hockey to the Centennial State for the first time in 13 years. The Simpsons is currently in its 28th season, which means it has outlasted the NHL era Nordiques by 12 seasons.
NHL Entry Draft ("Lisa the Veterinarian," Season 2017, 2016)
Homer Simpson is exactly the fan the NHL is looking for during broadcasts of its annual entry draft. Glued to his couch, he's spellbound by the proceedings even though it's well into the 14th round. That's twice as many rounds than the actual draft, but you can't knock his enthusiasm. We already knew Homer had a soft spot for expansion teams but this episode confirms it, as it appears as though he's a Coyotes fan. When the team selects Cedric Belanger instead of Lubachek, he is visibly distressed. At that stage in the draft, it's unlikely that the Coyotes were going to catch lightning in a bottle, but it's worth remembering that Brett Hull, Dominik Hasek, Doug Gilmour, and Henrik Lundqvist were all taken in the fifth round and beyond.
A final stick tap to the only Simpson in the Hockey Hall of Fame. "Bullet" Joe grew up in Selkirk, Manitoba. Before serving in the First World War, he led the 61st Battalion team to the 1916 Allan Cup, Canada's senior men's national championship. When Simpson returned from overseas, he played for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League before making the jump to the NHL in 1925. He played six seasons for the New York Americans before retiring in 1932. Simpson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.
There you have it, some of the best hockey moments in the show's history. If there were NHL awards for animated sitcoms, The Simpsons would have won the Art Ross Trophy for 10 straight seasons. But in many ways, the show's trajectory has mirrored the career of a hockey player who has stayed on the ice for far too long. Instead of hanging up the skates after an incredible run, it has continued on despite a significant drop off in production. Relegated to the fourth line of television, it has been unable to recapture the glory of its earlier years. The Simpsons are now akin to a retired hockey player who laces them up once a week for beer league. Although it has lost a step and can no longer keep up with the younger players, it continues to have smooth hands and is still capable of putting up highlight-reel goals from time to time.