Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Finnish Curse Words, NBC Snubs, and Bates Battaglia
More kids getting stars, alumni game drafts and the 1991 World Junior Championships
Luc Leclerc-USA TODAY Sports
Three stars of comedy
The third star: This Penguins fan—When we complain about obnoxious fans banging the glass, this isn't usually what we mean.
Shout out to the one sad looking dude who's apparently the only Devils fan with front row seats in New Jersey.
The second star: Vili Saarijärvi—The Finnish prospect is part of a disappointing Team Finland entry at the World Juniors, which led to him introducing a new turn of phrase to the hockey lexicon.
I'm going to start slipping this into my writing. You just watch.
The first star: This adorable child—We've been on a "cute kids" kick here in December, so we might as well finish it off with this old photo that went around of an adorably serious little Blackhawks fan.
Keep dreaming, little trooper, you'll make it someday!
Outrage of the week
The issue: NBC Sports, the league's key TV partner in the U.S., sent out this tweet to wish all their viewers a Merry Christmas.
The outrage: Uh, a certain sport seems to be missing there....
Is it justified: As you can see if you look through the replies to that tweet, plenty of hockey fans were unhappy to see their favorite sport taking a backseat to soccer and auto racing. It would be one thing if this were coming from ESPN or Fox or whoever, but NBC is halfway through a ten-year TV contract with the NHL that was signed to great fanfare in 2011.
To many fans, this was yet another reminder of the NHL's place in the American sports landscape. Gary Bettman might like to drone on about record revenues (at least until there's a lockout to whip up support for), but too often the league seems to be an afterthought. If their own TV partner can't even remember they exist, fans are left to wonder, who will?
Luckily, all those fans are wrong.
See, you guys are forgetting something important. Look closely at that graphic. What do you notice? That's right – it's all individual players. And as we learned last month, that's not what the NHL markets. The NHL markets teams, remember? You know, the way successful leagues do.
So go ahead, let other sports waste their time marketing names like LeBron James, Tom Brady and Serena Williams that nobody has ever heard of. The NHL knows better. They market teams, like the Blackhawks or... well, just the Blackhawks, but still.
Marketing stars is for chumps like the NFL and MLB, and other leagues that nobody cares about. Marketing teams is where the real money is at. You're all going to look awfully silly when NBC Sports sends out it's team-based greetings and the NHL is front and center.
Yep. Should be here any day now.
Obscure former player of the week
Daniel Alfredsson had his number retired by the Senators last night, which means we'll get one last round of the Hall-of-Fame debate before he officially becomes eligible next year. (My two cents are here.) Alfredsson was a sixth-round pick in the weird 1994 draft. The top picks weren't all that good — Jason Bonsignore went fourth overall — but the later rounds produced a ton of good players, including Tim Thomas, Evgeni Nabokov and Steve Sullivan in the ninth round alone. Even the last pick of the draft, Kim Johnsson in round eleven, played over 700 career games.
Alfredsson went in the sixth round, 133rd overall, and despite what some Leaf fans would try to tell you, he doesn't quite qualify as obscure. So instead, let's go with the guy who went one pick ahead him: Bates Battaglia.
In addition to having one of the greatest names in hockey history, Battaglia was a college star who was drafted by the Ducks but traded before he could make his debut. That deal sent him to Hartford, a few weeks before they moved to Carolina, where he'd spend his first six years in the NHL. His best season came in 2001-02, when he scored 21 goals and was part of a Hurricanes team that made a surprise trip to the Cup final.
He was traded twice in 2003, once to Colorado for a young Radim Vrbata and then later to Washington for Steve Konowalchuk. The lockout seemed to spell the end of his NHL career, but he resurfaced with the Leafs in 2006 as a training camp walk-on and played parts of two more seasons. He finished his career with 580 games, scoring 80 goals for four teams.
But let's face it, there are some readers out there who recognize the name but can't quite place it, and it has nothing to do with hockey. While Battaglia never won it all in the NHL, he had significantly more success on reality TV. That came in 2013 when he and his brother were contestants on The Amazing Race, and dominated the season, taking home $1 million in the final episode.
According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, "Battaglia is the grandson of former Chicago mob member Sam Battaglia", which explains why I'm not making more jokes about him.
Be It Resolved
There are two outdoor games this weekend, with the Blues hosting the Blackhawks at Busch Stadium for the Winter Classic on Monday, and the Maple Leafs hosting the Red Wings a day earlier at a stadium we're supposed to pretend isn't BMO Field.
As always, the games themselves will probably be fine, but many fans will enjoy the alumni games even more. The alumni game has become a standard part of any outdoor event, and typically sees a variety of old-timers return to lace them up for a former team. Some are stars, some are guys you'd forgotten about, and everyone has a good time rooting on players from their favorite team's past.
But what if a player suited up for both teams? Typically, they end up playing for whichever side they were most associated with, although sometimes it just comes down to whoever asks them first. In either case, there's a better way.
That's right: We need to start holding NHL alumni game drafts.
Think about it. A few days before the game, we take all the invited players that worked for both teams – for extra fun, we're going to count coaching and front office roles too. We flip a coin, and we let the teams start making picks. Stream it online, or even broadcast it on the NHL network. Who wouldn't watch that?
OK, lots of people wouldn't watch it. We're not talking about a ratings monster here. But I'd be glued to my screen, and if you read this column I'm guessing you might be too.
Think of the strategy involved. Do you make sure to lock up the fan favorites? Or do you try to screw over your opponent by grabbing somebody you know they'd want.
The Blues/Blackhawks draft wouldn't be all that good; based on the current rosters, you'd basically be arguing over Brian Noonan. But if we knew we were drafting, we could also invite guys like Adam Creighton, Igor Kravchuk and various Sutters, and if you wanted to make it extra fun you could let Mike Keenan pick both teams.
But the real can't-miss event would be the Leafs/Red Wings draft. Who goes first in that one? Darryl Sittler? Larry Murphy? Borje Salming? Curtis Joseph? Would Maple Leafs GM Brendan Shanahan use his first overall pick on Red Wings power forward Brendan Shanahan? (Spoiler alert: No. He'd 100 percent pick Sittler.)
You'd even stick around for the later rounds to see where Bob McGill or Stumpy Thomas went. And if you really want to make things interesting, watch what happens when Detroit sneaks in and takes Wendel Clark, and millions of Leaf fans who'd mentally blocked out that he ever played for the Wings have simultaneous aneurysms and then charge across the border wielding pitchforks and socks filled with unused pennies.
Let's make this happen. It may be too late for this weekend's game, but there's still time to get Flyers and Penguins fans to go to war over John LeClair, Ken Wregget and Max Talbot in a few weeks. Hell, let's give Jaromir Jagr a weekend off to throw his name into the mix too.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
The World Junior Championships are underway; the round robin wraps up tomorrow and the tournament final is next Thursday. That means we're only a few days away from one group of teenagers going absolutely nuts while another group of teenagers sit around sobbing and we all get to argue over how much we should enjoy any of this.
For today's clip, let's go back 26 years to one of the most famous goals in WJC history:
- To set the scene. It's January 4, 1991, and Canada is facing Russia in the final game of the tournament. This isn't technically the gold medal game, since there was no such thing back then — the WJC used to be purely a round robin affair, without any playoffs or elimination games. But Canada and the Soviets were the two best teams, and often played last on the assumption that the game would determine gold.
- Of course, that didn't always work. Sometimes, only one team would be playing for gold, and the other would be... um... not focused on that. That scenario led to the infamous 1987 Piestany brawl, which we broke down in this section a few years back.
- This time around, the gloves (and the lights) will stay on. Instead, we've got Canada and the Soviets in a tie game with about five minutes left. A tie gives the gold to the Soviets, so Canada needs a goal and they need it soon. You know what that means: It's face-washing time.
- It's a nerve-racking moment to be sure, as you can tell by the fact that the Soviet goaltender has apparently wet himself and stained his entire goal bright yellow.
- Wait, I'm being told that's just what the ice looked like back then. The early 90s were a weird time.
- This edition of Team Canada had some big names, including Eric Lindros and Scott Niedermayer. But it's going to be some lesser known ones that shine here, as Greg Johnson wins the draw back to John Slaney at the point. There's nothing there, so Slaney dumps it in weakly. A few second later, he'll get a better look.
- One thing to point out here: This tournament is in Canada, back when that was relatively rare. Team Canada had never won gold on their home ice before and this is kind of a big deal, which explains why the entire arena is going to explode right about... now.
- Slaney gets the puck back and this time decides to step into one. It's actually a play you don't see much these days, since there's a Soviet player right behind him who almost gets a stick on him. But back in 1991, hockey coaches hadn't decided that turnovers were the absolute worst thing in the entire world, so players could still take chances. Slaney does, and it pays off.
- Slaney's shot finds the net, and as per World Junior tradition his teammates all immediately try to murder him by performing flying senton bombs onto his head. Honestly, the celebrations are 90 percent of the reason to watch the WJCs. Guys are face-slamming the glass over properly executed line changes. It's the best.
- We cut between shots of delirious Canadian fans and disturbingly sweaty Team Canada bums. The crowd shots do two things: a.) confirm my theory that every sports fans in the early 90s wore glasses, and b.) makes me wonder how this guy can manage to be more dapper 55 minutes into a championship hockey game than I was on my wedding day.
- Somewhere in Atlanta, the Marine Corps Color Guard was watching this celebration going "Huh, interesting, I guess that's how the Canadian flag goes."
- I don't know why, but I laugh every time at the fans around the 1:00 mark. It's a classic case of one guy trying to say something during a noisy moment, and the other guy having to decide if he's going to say "WHAT?" or just pretend like he understood. He goes with the former. For the record, I've just faked it literally every time this has ever happened to me.
- We get our first replay, during which it becomes obvious that Jim Hughson is doing the "Stay quiet during the big moment thing". Always a risky move. It's great when it pays off, awkward when it doesn't, hilarious when it results in someone dropping f-bombs all over the live mic. I feel like it works here.
- The footage just stops for several seconds, presumably so that the graphic design guy can photoshop the most Canadian hockey hair ever onto Slaney's photo.
- By the way, Slaney never went on to NHL stardom, although he did have a reasonably solid decade-long career split between seven teams. This goal was definitely his defining moment, though, unless you count the time in L.A. that he was set up for a goal by Wayne Gretzky while wearing the infamous Burger King jersey.
- Next, we cut to a shot of Slaney's curmudgeonly high school vice-principal, who seems very angry and... wait, no, that's Team Canada coach Dick Todd.
- We get a mention of Slaney being from Newfoundland, which was one of those things that every Canadian hockey fan knew for some reason. My favorite line from Slaney's Wikipedia article: "The goal made him one of the most prominent names among Newfoundland sportspeople." Man, right up there with Beaton Squires and Ferd Hayward? Welcome to the big time, John!
- And that's it. Our clip ends as action resumes, skipping the game's final minutes. Canada would hold on for the win, which at the time was their fifth ever and second straight. This was also the last appearance by the Soviets at the tournament; they'd be the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1992, and Russia thereafter.
- Historical note: The thrilling end to this game, and a five-year Canadian winning streak that followed shortly after, would help propel the WJC to major league status, at least in Canada. By the end of the 90s, the tournament was one of the country's biggest events of the year, and has remained so each and every year since, except all the ones where Canada doesn't win.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at email@example.com.