Three stars of comedy
The third star: Torey Krug and David Pastrnak – The spin is nice, but don't sleep on the synchronized stopping.
Hey, speaking of Bruins pairing off in interesting ways…
The second star: Brad Marchand and Leo Komarov – Look, the heart wants what it wants.
(Here's Komarov's response.)
The first star: Tomas Tatar – The clip is from a few months ago, but Tatar only posted it publicly this week. It's of his first time on the ice at the Red Wings new arena. Literally. He takes on step, and he's on the ice.
Yep, it's the old "forget to take off my skate guards" mistake. We've all been there, Tomas. Good to know if happens to the pros too.
The NHL Actually Got Something Right...Maybe...Depending on Your Perspective
One of the biggest stories of the week was a line brawl that broke out late in a game between the Flames and Red Wings on Wednesday night. The situation began with a fight between Luke Witkowski and Brett Kulak, and it escalated when Calgary pest Matthew Tkachuk tapped Witkowski on the leg on his way to the locker room, causing the Red Wing to return to the ice. That helped lead to another fight that spilled into the tunnel thanks to an open bench door, plus several other scrums and some players getting involved from the benches. At one point it looked like it might include a goalie fight.
Witkowski will probably get ten games for coming back after leaving the playing surface, Tkachuk somehow got a spearing major for that tap, and we can expect plenty of fines and maybe even an additional suspension or two. You can watch the whole thing here.
The brawl has been variously described as "chaotic," "crazy," "out of control," and "an old-fashioned dust-up." References to old-time hockey were plentiful.
So since everyone's talking about the Flames and Red Wings, let's take this as an opportunity for a reminder: Holy crap, has the NHL ever come a long way when it comes to getting fights and brawls out of the game.
I mean, the Wings and Flames thing was bad, there's no doubt, especially when it briefly spilled into the tunnel. Somebody could have got hurt there, and it's fortunate that the officials were able to get things under control before things erupted even further.
But the fact this is headline news in the hockey world right now just shows how much the game has changed. It's easy to forget now—or not to even know, if you're a relatively new fan—but stuff like this used to happen all the time. A line brawl or two used to be standard issue for a night's worth of NHL action. And it wasn't rare to see things get far more out of control.
An old-fashioned dust-up? I'm not so sure it was. I mean, this is what a brawl looked like in the 1960s, featuring a player attacking a linesman and fans throwing punches from the stands.
Here's one from the 1980s, which spans an intermission and includes a career-ending sucker punch.
Heck, here's Dave Manson taking the same 10-game suspension Witkowski will probably get. It's from a brawl that's best remembered for two of the players not fighting. We thought this was funny back then, even though it features a dangerous cheap shot, a linesman getting crushed from behind, two players pummeling one defenseless opponent at the same time, and only stops short of becoming a full bench-clearer because John Kordic of all people pulls Wendel Clark back to the bench.
And of course, I don't have to remind Red Wings fans about this:
Look, I don't want to go all cane-waving grandpa on you kids, but there's a very good chance that if this week's Flames/Wings brawl had happened in, like, 1991, it wouldn't even have made the highlights. You'd have watched your nightly sportscast without ever hearing about it, until it got mentioned in passing when the Wings came to town and they had to explain why Witkowski wasn't playing.
And yes, I realize that your view of whether all of this a good thing or not will vary based on your perspective. Some of you will see this as a clear sign of progress, of a league getting the silly and often dangerous sideshows out of the sport and letting the actual game take center stage for a change. Others will mumble about how the league was better back when this stuff happened from time to time, even though you're well aware that you're not supposed to say that out loud these days.
And maybe others are like me, stuck in the middle between being glad that we've got a far safer and saner league today while also vaguely missing a time when we could enjoy the sideshow stuff without realizing how dangerous it could be.
But whichever group you fall into, it's worthwhile to take a moment every now and then to understand and/or appreciate how much the game has changed, because we've come a million miles on this stuff. The Wings and Flames gave us that chance this week.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
This week's obscure player is Hannu Virta, for reasons we'll get to in a bit.
Virta was a Finnish defenseman who was drafted by the Sabres in the second round of the 1981 draft after coach and GM Scotty Bowman had snuck over to see him play overseas. He was viewed as a bit of a steal at the time, although that was before we realized that the blue-liner the Canadiens grabbed two picks later would turn out to be slightly better. Virta came over to North America and debuted for Buffalo later that season, playing three games before settling into regular NHL duty in 1982-83. That first full season was his best, as he scored 13 goals and had 37 points as a rookie.
He'd play three more seasons in Buffalo before heading back home to Finland at the age of 23 to complete his military service. He stayed, and quickly became a star in the Finnish Elite League. He'd earn top defenseman honors four times, and also became a regular on the national team. After retiring, he became a head coach in the league.
But despite all of that, the unquestioned highlight of Virta's hockey career came in 1991. And we'll get to it in the Classic YouTube section. Here's a hint: It involves ice hockey.
New Entries for the Hockey Dictionary
Goal DNA – A neat historical project that I'm guessing readers of this column might appreciate, especially as the league's celebration of its own history kicks into overdrive this weekend. Goal DNA is the work of Twitter's @suicidepass, based on a similar idea used in baseball by Jesse Spector, and has been unfolding over the last month or so.
It works like this: Take any player from any point in league history, and figure out who he scored his very first NHL goal against. Then you take that goaltender, and figure out who he gave up his first goal to. Then you keep going, alternating back and forth between goalies and players, and see how far back into history you can reach.
Sometimes, it's not all that far—if a player and goalie had their first goal against each other, for example, then that kills the thread. And sometimes you can run into problems with the historical record, which isn't always clear about who was in net for a specific goal.
But sometimes you get something really cool. For example, here's Erik Karlsson, who's Goal DNA stretches all the way back to the first game played by the original Ottawa Senators 100 years ago.
Or here's Auston Matthews, whose chain links to Maple Leaf legends Terry Sawchuk and Syl Apps, by way of Hall-of-Fame forwards Paul Kariya, Mike Bossy and Marcel Dionne.
Here's the Sedin twins, who sadly don't turn out to have identical Goal DNA but do converge in the 1960s thanks to Cesare Maniago. (For reasons that aren't completely clear, Cesare Maniago shows up in a lot of these.)
So far, efforts to find a Goal DNA that traces all the way back to the NHL's very first goal—scored by Montreal's Dave Ritchie against Sammy Hebert one minute into the first ever game—have come up empty, but it's out there somewhere. You can follow the fun on Twitter with the #GoalDNA hashtag.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Teemu Selanne was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, and everyone has spent the week saying nice things about him. And rightfully so – he's one of the most talented and popular players of the modern era. But it's not like the guy is perfect. So today, let's head back to 1991 as we remind ourselves that even the greats occasionally do things they'll regret.
(A huge thanks to reader Niklas for sending in the clip. Remember, if you have a clip you think I need to be aware or, email me.)
- So it's 1991 and Team Finland is preparing for the World Hockey Championships. They're the host country for this year's tournament, and are seeking what would be the country's first ever medal at the event. The team features plenty of talent, including a certain winger who's about to head to the NHL, and they're feeling confident. But how best to show that to the world?
- Yes, by now regular readers know the answer: With a terrible song. Here we go.
- As best I can tell, the three wacky characters at the start of the clip are from Kummeli, a Finnish comedy crew. I'd make some sort of crack about the humor being lost in translation, but my country is responsible for The Love Guru, so I can't throw stones.
- Last chance to hit mute if you don't want a Finnish hockey song stuck in your head for the next week. You've been warned.
- We see some mysterious hands working a sound mixer, and the music begins. We're quickly introduced to our singers: five guys in Team Finland jerseys and a guy I'll just refer to as "Way Too Enthusiastic Dude." The hockey players include national team members Esa Keskinen, Pasi Huura and Sakari Lindfors, plus our old pal form the obscure player section, Hannu Virta.
- The final player looks vaguely familiar, in the sense that it's Teemu Selanne and he looks exactly the same as he did at Monday night's induction ceremony. Seriously, he and Paul Kariya were best friends, teammates in Anaheim, followed each other to Colorado when they were free agents, went into the Hall of Fame on the same night and also neither one of them has aged a day since the early 90s. If everyone else wants to just pretend this is OK then I'm fine with that, but don't act surprised when this all turns out to be the plot of some weird Stephen King novel.
- As per terrible hockey music video bylaws, shots of our singers are interspersed with clips from one and only one game. In this case, it's a matchup with Finland's top rival, Team Sweden. It's a real mixed bag, featuring genuinely cool highlights of a Swedish player being checked into the bench and a nice Finnish goal, as well as shots of guys winning faceoffs or just falling down. Look, it was 1991—if you wanted highlights of Team Finland in international tournaments, you took what you could get.
- We also meet the star of the video: Whoever did the "ICE HOCKEY" text animations. I think that guy burned through all 16 fonts we had back in 1991.
- My very favorite moment in the video comes about a minute in, when you can pinpoint the exact moment Selanne realizes this is a bad idea:
- Here's my best attempt at transcribing the lyrics:
- Ice hockey, ice hockey!
- D'oh! That's hockey.
- Ice hockey, ice hockey!
- And teriyaki.
- Ice hockey, ice hockey!
- Gopher hockey.
- Senior homes taste yucky.
- Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's bang on, no need to google this any further.
- I've got to be honest, they reeled me in a little with the dramatic bridge. They even feature a clip of Finland scoring a goal, which would be inspiring it they hadn't already used that same goal a minute earlier. Had…had Finland only ever scored one goal against Sweden? I think they may have.
- Don't go getting cocky, Team Sweden, this isn't any worse than your song from 1989.
- We close out with a few more closeups of our smiling singers and their, let's just say it, absolutely impeccable Finnish hockey hair. We also see a few more shots of those hands working the sound board, but never find out who they belong to. I was so sure the camera was going to pan up at the end and reveal that it was Neil Sheehy all along. Or, as he'd be known in Finland, Neeiil Sheeeehy.
- We get one more Kummeli appearance, and we're all done. Finland would go on to fail to medal at the 1991 tournament. But they'd get their first medal the next year, and win gold in 1995, so this song may well have been the turning point.
- As for Selanne, he stayed in Finland for one more year and then signed his first NHL contract with…Calgary? Yeah, it was a weird time. He wound up with Winnipeg, and soon he was scoring 76 goals as a rookie to kick off a career that spanned two decades. Now he's in the Hall of Fame. And he still isn't getting any older.
- (That's probably a good thing, actually. I'm told that senior homes taste yucky.)