Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Alumni Games, WJC Criticism, and Columbus' Win Streak
Much like the Blues like to stack their roster for alumni games, this week's grab bag is stacked with items from around the world of hockey.
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(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.)
Three stars of comedy
The third star: Leo Komarov—The goal is nice. The celebration is some epic-level trolling.
The second star: Roberto Luongo—It's been a while since we've had a good Luongo tweet in this section, probably because the Computer Boys in Florida make him run all his jokes though a spreadsheet these days. But he came through when it looked like the Winter Class might be threatened by rain.
The first star: Old guys at outdoor alumni games—I don't care how old it makes me sound, alumni games are at least as good as the real thing, if not better.
Last Saturday, we had two: Leafs/Wings and Blues/Hawks. Here's a rough power ranking of the comedy moments they provided:
5. Chris Chelios stealing Tie Domi's hat
4. Martin Brodeur pretending he ever played for the Blues
2. Kris Draper and Gary Roberts legitimately trying to fight each other
1. Lanny McDonald:
I honestly think I might be ready for an NHL alumni league at this point.
Outrage of the week
The issue: The World Junior Championships ended yesterday with a pair of medal games. Some teams went home happy; others teams were disappointments.
The outrage: Hey wait, you can't call those teams disappointments — they're only kids! What kind of monster are you?
Is it justified: We go through this every year. The WJCs arrive, a big chunk of hockey fans pay rapt attention, the games generate impressive ratings and are played in front of packed houses (uh, sometimes). The tournament has become, without question, a major event on the sports calendar, with real consequences for the various national programs and the career aspirations of the players involved. Watch it all, we're told, because this is important.
Then the tournament ends, a few of the players cry, and suddenly the whole thing was just a bunch of kids playing a game, and you're a jerk if you ever thought otherwise.
I mean, you can't have it both ways. Either the WJC is big-time sports, or it's not. If we're supposed to care when a team or player does well, you can't lecture us about noticing when they don't.
We see this in other sports, especially the Olympics and some U.S. college. But at least some of those athletes are true amateurs, often competing for the last time in a sport they'll never make a career in. By contrast, WJC players, at least for the top programs like Canada and the U.S., have been preparing for pro careers for a half-decade or more by the time they arrive at the tournament. They won't all make it, but most will, at least for a while.
So why is it wrong to point out that, say, a goaltender had a bad tournament, or a player was out of position on a crucial goal? That's what sports analysis is supposed to sound like, and it's what most of these players will be hearing for a big chunk of their next few years.
So why do some fans seem to want WJC players to get some sort of free pass? It can't just be because they're young; Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are young too, and nobody suggests that they're off limits for criticism. If you made fun of Patrik Laine scoring into his own net, then you mocked a mortified teenager. And guess what: It was OK, because that's what fans do when they're watching sports played at a high level.
Obviously, you can take the whole thing too far. Not everything goes, just like critics shouldn't get to go overboard against seasoned pros. But straightforward criticism should be fair game, even if the kid on the receiving end looks really sad about it.
Obscure former player of the week
As mentioned, the outdoor alumni games were great fun. But while Chicago, Detroit and Toronto featured the typical mix of legends and less talented fan favorites, the Blues loaded up with a ridiculously stacked roster that featured Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Adam Oates on the first line, with Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis on the blueline and Martin Brodeur in goal. Hall of famers like Peter Stastny and Bernie Federko were barely afterthoughts. You know that one crazy couple who get way too into board game night and make it awkward for everyone else? That's the St. Louis Blues when it comes to alumni games.
Anyway, I figured we might as well serve this week's obscure player honors to pretty much the only one the Blues invited to the game: longtime winger Scott Young.
Young was drafted by Hartford with the 11th overall pick in 1986, going two picks after Brian Leetch and one ahead of the fantastically named Warren Babe. He played his first full NHL season in 1988-89, scoring 19 times, then followed that up with 24 goals in 89-90. In 1990 he was traded to the Penguins for my old pal Rob Brown, won a Cup there, and then headed to the Nordiques for Bryan Fogarty. After a quick stop in Anaheim, he finally found his way to the Blues, where he played a career-high 377 games. He'd also have a stint with Dallas, and retired in 2006 having played in parts of 18 NHL seasons.
He actually wasn't all that obscure — he once had a 40-goal season, and he was a three-time Olympian who was good enough to make Team USA when they won the 1996 World Cup. But compared to the rest of the Blues' alumni Legends Row, he'll have to do.
There are two things I remember about Scott Young. First, and by far most importantly, he was one of the few players to have a 90 rating in both speed and shot power in NHL 95, making him a classic sneaky pick to be your go-to guy one one-timers.
Second, he was no relation to hockey's other Scott Young, the sportswriter, Hockey Night in Canada host and novelist who wrote Scrubs on Skates and other books, and was also the father of musician Neil Young. That's not really noteworthy, except that I spent a good part of my life convinced that they were related and was devastated to find out it wasn't true. Never trust me what I try to tell you something interesting. I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.
Be It Resolved
The Blue Jackets lost 5-0 to the Capitals last night, snapping their 16-game win streak just one game short of the NHL's all-time mark. The record is held by the 1992-93 Penguins, the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr-era mini-dynasty that had won back-to-back Cups and was on the way to a 119-point season. In the 24 years since, no team had made it past the 15-game mark until Columbus.
The Blue Jackets' streak was unquestionably impressive. But here's the thing: Columbus was never really challenging the Penguins' record. They can't be, because of something that happened on December 3 and December 20. Both nights, the Blue Jackets extended their streak by winning in a shootout.
Those didn't exist back when the Penguins were racking up their streak. Neither did wide open 3-on-3 overtimes. Back then, most overtime games ended in a tie. And a tie broke a win streak.
That's what happened to the Penguins. On April 14, 1993, the last night of the regular season, they snapped their win streak with a 6-6 tie in New Jersey. They wouldn't actually lose until they were four games into the playoffs.
Now to be clear: None of this is to say that the Blue Jackets' streak doesn't count. They're just playing by the rules put in front of them. Today's NHL lets teams win in the shootout, so today's win streaks will have shootout games included. But back in those wild and crazy days where games were decided by playing actual hockey, that option wasn't available.
For all their talk about never changing anything because of the sanctity of the record book, the NHL's embrace of the shootout and loser point have pretty much created two versions of history when it comes to streaks and standings. That's not the end of the world, but there's no sense in pretending that two completely different systems are somehow the same.
So be it resolved: NHL win streaks in the shootout era are a different category than they were in the old days. Not better or worse. Just different.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Wednesday was the 30th anniversary of one of the most infamous moments in international hockey history: The Punch-up in Piestany, the wild brawl that broke out between Canada and the Soviets at the 1987 World Juniors. The fight led to the disqualification of both teams, cost Canada a gold medal, and spurred an international debate over fighting in hockey.
We broke down the actual brawl in this space a year ago. But now that the game has officially reached the three-decade mark, let's take a look back at something almost as memorable: The moments afterward, as a live broadcast tries to figure out what's going on and Don Cherry tries very hard not to murder anyone.
- It's January 4, 1987, and we're picking up the CBC feed in the immediate aftermath of the fight. And I do mean immediate: The brawl has literally just happened, and at this point nobody even knows whether the game might continue. It's mass confusion on live TV, and we need somebody to serve as a calming presence. Who better than Don Cherry?
- Everyone has their favorite Cherry iteration; I'm partial to the early-90s version that was just starting to get into the weird wardrobe (and also terrible techno music). But a close second is the mid-80s Cherry, who'd reached a comfort level on TV and was basically carrying himself like Rat Pack-era Frank Sinatra. Here, he's sitting down for an impromptu debated with CBC host Brian Williams.
- Cherry immediately launches into a passionate defense of Bert Templeton, the Canadian coach who came in for plenty of criticism for not controlling his players. Cherry's point is fairly simple: The Soviets had already left the bench, so the Canadian players were outnumbered. Of course they had to go out there. Gold or no gold, you don't let your teammates get pummeled.
- And he's right! But at the time, Cherry was pretty much the only one taking this stance, as the rest of the country freaked out. He later went on the CBC News to debate Michael Farber about it, and drops a classic "What if it was your son out there?" take.
- We get our first wide shot, and good lord, check out Williams' jacket. That's even better than the baby blues the CBC guys usually wore. I know this sounds weird, but there really was a time when everyone on the CBC was wearing weirdly colorful jackets except for Don Cherry. I know, I barely believe it either.
- "You saw all dat dere fighting and everythink." Look, I'll just declare my biases here: Don Cherry is the best and if you don't like him then we can't hang out. I know he's had his ups and downs over the years, but at this point I view him like Axl Rose: he's brought me so much joy over the years, I'll forgive just about any crazy crap he wants to pull in 2017.
- Also, he's making fun of the Soviets for not knowing how to fight. "They were pawing at one another." This is like watching an in-his-prime Babe Ruth take batting practice.
- Cherry is either sitting in a weird way that makes his pants bunch up, or he's wearing capris. Either way, I'm fine with it.
- We cut to a replay, where we see a player for Team Canada (in white) drop a Soviet player after the whistle. "What's the matter with that?" asks Cherry. That Soviet player then gets up and returns the favor to a different Canadian, leading to my favorite moment in the clip: An outraged Cherry bellowing "You see the Russian take the first shot?"
- I mean... it's just... Don, you literally just mentioned the Canadian guy knocking someone down. It happened like five seconds ago. That Soviet punch might have been a cheap shot and it might have been dirty, but it wasn't "the first shot". I know counting is sometimes tricky but let's focus here.
- Next is Williams mentioning a phone call they got from a viewer who wanted to correct them. That's right kids, in the olden days when you saw someone in the media say something you thought was incorrect, you had to make an actual phone call. You didn't just go on Twitter and do an over-the-top feigned confusion routine until somebody pinned a medal to your chest.
- Cherry outlines what eventually went on to become accepted wisdom in Canada: That the whole brawl was planned by the Soviets because they couldn't win gold and wanted to keep the Canadians from getting it. He also mentions that the Soviet coach refused to feed his own players, which didn't quite reach the same level of widespread acceptance.
- Williams makes a point about the weird way that player benches used to work back then, at which point Cherry launches into a story about unscrewing his so he could move it. No word on whether Robbie Ftorek offered to help.
- Williams throws to commercial with an emphatic statement about this being "an ugly, disgraceful incident". The story goes that Cherry was legitimately angry at this point, and a producer suggested that they lighten the mood when they came back from break by having him playfully pretending to strangle Williams; Cherry refused, saying he couldn't guarantee he wouldn't do it for real.
- If you've never seen the brawl, you can watch the whole thing here. It really was insane, well beyond what a normal hockey brawl looks like. The officials lose total control, and at one point even shut off the lights. You really need to see it to believe it.
- We come back from commercial just in time to get the live announcement that the rest of the game is cancelled. As our harried reporter points out, that was kind of inevitable, since there wouldn't have been any players left to finish it. He speculates that the game will go in the books as a tie, relegating Canada to bronze; it ended up being even worse, with both teams ejected and disqualified from medal consideration.
- Next up are Don Whitman and Sherry Bassin, along with their comically oversize headset microphones. They're also wearing giant earphones, because that's the only way to block out the fans who are doing that annoying whistling thing that European fans seem to love.
- Bassin is great here, unloading with both barrels. And yes, this is the same Sherry Bassin who'd go on to be owner and GM of the Erie Otters, not to mention a Connor McDavid mentor.
- "If some humor can be injected into such an incident," Whittman says, "I might add that..." And then the clip cuts out, because nobody in Canada was in a laughing mood.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org.