DGB Grab Bag: Three Stars of Comedy HOF, Ugly X-Mas Blazers, and RIP Johnny Bower
Johnny Bower, one of the great goaltenders of all time, also recorded the classic Christmas song "Honky the Christmas Goose," about a fat goose that helps save Christmas.
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Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Radko Gudas – We've all been there.
The second star: Tyler Seguin vs. P.K. Subban – It's the ol' last-off-the-ice superstition stalemate. Stick around for the twist ending.
The first star: Peter Laviolette and the Predators' coaches – The players bet the coaches that they could take at least five of six points on a tough Western Canada road trip. They did, so Laviolette and his staff had to wear these:
And yes, they made them wear them during an actual game.
The Inaugural Class of the Three Stars of Comedy Hall of Fame
Last week was the 200th edition of the Friday Grab Bag. The column has been running for nearly five years now; it dates back the Grantland days, made a brief stop at ESPN, and has lived here at Vice Sports for the last two years. Based on extensive customer research, for many of you it remains your Very Favorite Hockey Column to Read in the Office Bathroom After Lunch on Friday.™
That milestone, mixed in with the slowest week of the NHL regular season, would seem to make this a good time to unveil the first ever Three Stars of Comedy Hall of Fame. The three stars actually predates the Grab Bag itself, having launched as a monthly feature way back in 2011. And despite my occasional attempts to kill it when nobody is looking, the section continues to hold down the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Some weeks, finding three picks is easier than others. But certain personalities have done their best to ease my burden. That's where the Hall of Fame comes in. We'll do this HHOF style, with room for four picks per year. Ladies and gentlemen, the inaugural Class of 2017.
Ilyz Bryzgalov – The first star of the very first edition, Bryzgalov dominated the early days so thoroughly that at one point we tried to retire his number and eliminate him from future consideration. It didn't take, and even though he hasn't play in the NHL since 2015, he still finds a way to make periodic appearances. He's one of two unanimous picks for the inaugural class.
Phil Kessel – The other slam dunk pick, Kessel has appeared in the Three Stars section more than anyone else. Granted, some of those are cases where he's the butt of the joke, as everyone from Ilya Kovalchuk to Ryan Reaves has taken their runs at him. Sometimes he'll accidentally own himself. But in recent years we've learned that Phil can give as good as he gets, and then some. Here's all you need to know about why he's in on the first ballot: He's the only person to ever sweep all three stars in a single week. And he's done it twice.
P.K. Subban – Unlike Kessel or Bryzgalov, when Subban makes the Three Stars he's almost always in on the joke. And that's fine, because lord knows the NHL could use a few more guys with a sense of humor who aren't afraid to show it. Whether he's stealing The Rock's catch phrases, playing dress-up, or kissing Pierre McGuire, Subban's almost always fun. Even when he's sucker punching guys, he finds a way to make it funny. How this guy isn't the face of the league's marketing efforts in the U.S. right now, I'll never understand.
Roberto Luongo – Luongo is the Howie Morenz of funny hockey players, blazing the trail for the generations to come. It's easy to forget it now, but when Luongo first started using Twitter to make jokes, the idea of an NHL star trying to be funny was controversial enough that he had to pretend it wasn't him. But he's made regular appearances in the Three Stars ever since, with his best tweets often being the ones that poke fun at his own controversies, including his tire-pumping feud with Tim Thomas and his never-ending trade saga. And also, um, poop.
And that concludes the Class of 2017. The big omission here is Jaromir Jagr, who falls victim to the four-pick maximum. It was a coin flip between him and Luongo for the last spot, but I figure Jagr will be a unanimous first-ballot pick in the real Hall of Fame, which will probably slightly dampen his disappointment at missing out on a bigger honor here. Also, Luongo once let me play in (and win) his fantasy football league, so I feel like owe him.
Others receiving votes: Brian Burke, Joe Thornton, Wes McCauley, Taylor Hall, Darryl Sutter's face, Brent Burns, and Evgeni Malkin. Better luck next year, everyone.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
It's World Juniors time, with this year's tournament being held in Buffalo. It's always fun to browse through the list of the tournament's all-time top scorers; the list features plenty of future NHL superstars, like Peter Forsberg, Pavel Bure, and Eric Lindros, as well as some European players who never made it over to North America. But if you keep going, you get into the sweet spot of vaguely memorable NHL quasi-stars, like Michal Pivonka and Ulf Dahlen and Reijo Ruotsalainen. And you also find this week's obscure player: Finnish forward Petri Skriko.
Skriko was a teenage star in Europe, winning rookie honors in the top Finnish league in 1981. This was back when many European stars never made it over to the NHL, but the Canucks used an eighth-round pick on him in that summer's draft. It turned out to be a good gamble, as Skriko would have the second biggest impact on the Canucks of any 1981 eighth-rounder, just behind a defenseman picked by the Blues a few spots later.
That impact would have to wait, though. Skriko stayed in Finland until 1984, starring in a pair of WJCs along the way. But when he arrived in Vancouver, he fit in instantly, scoring 21 goals as a rookie and then following that with four-straight 30+ goal seasons. That included one stretch in 1986 in which he recorded three hat tricks in a span of eight days.
His production faded during the 1989-90 season, and he'd be traded to the Bruins the following year for a second-round pick. That deal ended up helping the Canucks down the line, as they used the pick on Michael Peca. Skriko helped the Bruins get to the 1991 Cup final before being traded to Winnipeg for Brent Ashton, had short stints with the Jets and Sharks before heading home to Finland in 1993 and then finishing his pro career in Denmark. He ended his NHL career with 541 games played, scoring 183 goals and 405 points.
Also, he had fantastic hair.
Be it Resolved
Last week was a big one for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only did they celebrate their 100th anniversary by pounding the Carolina Hurricanes 8-1, but they did it while scoring the 20,000th goal in team history.
Or did they?
Here's how the 20,000 breaks down. See if you can spot the problem.
Yeah, "shootout winners" aren't goals. I mean, they are, according to the league. For reasons that have never been entirely clear, the NHL awards the team that wins a shootout one "goal" in the goals-for column of the standings. That makes sense when you're describing the results of a game – you'd rather say "The Rangers won 5-4 in a shootout" than "The Rangers won 4-4 in a shootout," even if the fifth goal wasn't scored during the actual hockey portion of the game. But there's no reason to pretend that it was a real goal for deeper record-keeping purposes.
The NHL's always been weird and inconsistent about this. For example, they consider the shootout winner to be a goal, but don't give the guy who scored it credit for one in his personal stats. (A cynic might suggest that teams don't want their star players padding their stats with an extra half dozen goals a year and then expecting more money.) So it's a goal, but nobody scored it. That makes no sense. And they go the other way too, counting a shootout loss as a goal against even though, statistically, nobody let it in.
And it's not like this is all some sort of semantic argument, since goals for and against can come into play as a tie-breaker in the standings. That hasn't happened yet, but we have seen the league's weird shootout goal math decide the Jennings Trophy, so it's been etched into the record books already.
Needless to say, people who pay attention to this stuff were quick to point out that the Maple Leafs' stat wasn't what it seemed.
As with just about everything that doesn't involve bicycles, Dellow is right. Shootout goals shouldn't count towards a team's historical totals. So be it resolved: The Maple Leafs are well on their way to 20,000 but they're not there yet. Maybe they heard the complaints because they took a big chunk out of it with seven goals last night, but they're still 35 goals away. Real goals.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
This week's YouTube clip isn't really a video; it's more of an audio file. But it's a good one, and under the circumstances I hope you'll indulge me.
This week's clip is Johnny Bower singing "Honky The Christmas Goose."
- The hockey world lost Bower this week, as the Hall of Fame goaltender passed away at the age of 93. The rest of the week became a chance to mourn the loss of a legend, while celebrating a life well-lived.
- Bower was one of the greatest goalies of all time, and quite likely the best of the 1960s, period. But somehow, that fact ended up being way down the list of what most people remember him for. In all of the many stories and tributes that poured in this week, the point that kept coming home was what a wonderful guy he was. For pretty much his entire life, Johnny Bower was just a very, very nice man. He didn't have to be, because he was a famous athlete and people were going to like him no matter what he did. But it seems like everyone in the hockey world has a story about Bower staying late to sign one last autograph or shake one more hand, or donating his time to a good cause, or having an encouraging word for someone going through a tough time. That's just who he was.
- It sounds strange to say it, but it's almost impossible for a hockey player to be a universally beloved figure in Canada. The game just means too much to us up here. It gets too personal. We don't like to see fans of other teams get to be happy, so we instinctively dislike anyone who plays well for someone else. And it takes a lot to get us past that.
- Put it this way: If I'm talking to a Habs fan who's getting a little too smug and I decide I want to knock them down a peg or two, I can come up with bad things to say about just about all of their beloved legends. Rocket Richard? He started a riot. Patrick Roy? He quit on the team. Guy Lafleur? What, you mean the guy from the Nordiques? But there's one ironclad exception: Jean Beliveau. No matter how much you hate the Canadiens, you can't find a bad word to say about Beliveau. That's just how it is. And Bower was the Maple Leafs' version of that. That's about the highest compliment you can pay a player.
- On the ice, he really was one of the best, as this piece does a good job of showing. He ranks high on just about all of the all-time lists, both traditional and analytics-based. And while many have since been broken, he retired holding several goaltending records.
- And of course, he left behind one record that will never be topped: "Honky the Christmas Goose."
- You're listening to the story of Honky, a Christmas goose who struggled with his weight until he learned how to blow his nose. No, that doesn't really make sense, not least of which because geese don't have noses. Just enjoy the song and don't think about it too hard.
- Honky was the creation of a CBC producer, and in 1965 he approached the Maple Leafs about having a player record the vocals. As Bower recounts it in this Toronto Star article, "He came into the dressing room and wanted to know if anybody on the team would be interested in singing these songs. I’ve never seen so many guys undress and get into the shower so quickly in my life!"
- Bower ended up agreeing to do the song because, as the producer said at the time, he was basically "the friendliest man in Canada." There was one minor problem: Bower couldn't sing. But as longtime readers of this column know, that's never stopped a hockey player before, and the rest was history. (The children on the track are apparently Bower's 11-year-old son and some of the neighborhood kids.)
- The song tells the story of Honky saving Christmas after Santa gets spooked by all the air traffic that's suddenly clogging up the skies. Continuing his long history of selfishly exploiting animals for their nose-based magic powers, Santa hires Honky to clear out a path.
- "Rockets, kites and satellites." Yeah, I'm no aerospace engineer but I don't think there should be too many kites at that elevation. I'm pretty sure nobody in history has ever successfully got a kite twenty feet off the ground for more than six seconds before it nosedived directly down onto Grandma's head, so chill out Santa.
- Luckily, the plan works and Honky saves the day. Finally, he'll get some respect, right?
- "Though he is fat he is still some use." Holy smokes guys, Honky just saved Christmas for the entire planet, maybe ease up on the body shaming for one minute.
- The record came out in November 1965, with proceeds going to charity. It was reportedly a big hit, selling 40,000 copies. They tried to get Bower to record a follow-up a year later, pitching something about "a pelican with a broken wing," but he knew how to quit when he was ahead.
- For years, the song was lost to history, with only a handful of copies circulating in the pre-Internet days of the early 90s. But it's resurfaced since, and a new generation has had a chance to enjoy to story of Honky the Christmas Goose. If you can't get enough of the song, here's a clip of Bower performing it on stage at a children's benefit concert years ago.
- RIP Johnny Bower. An all-time great goaltender, an even better person, and a passable singer. Not necessarily in that order.