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Liz Braun’s December 22 “Opinion” column in the Toronto Sunday Sun was titled “The Decade That Felt 10 Years Long”.
Obviously she was not speaking so much of the literal passing of time, but “long” in the sense of “as long as a rainy week” — not prompting positive thoughts — but being a “drag”.
Her introductory point was: “The past ten years have involved extraordinary change for everyone who inhabitsthis planet, and not always in a good way”.
Her overview acknowledged the extinction of 200 species every day; the disparity between the haves and the have-nots; homelessness; unemployment; crime; addiction to the iPhone (addiction which debuted the first year of that decade); streaming replacing everything; a post-marriage society, etc.
That certainly casts a divergent shadow on everyday life for the average Joe and Jane.
But that decade has also left a trail of divergence in hockey as well—demonstrated by a review of happenings in those 10 years.
**2010: Some interesting trivia made headlines: Astronaut, Dr. Robert Thirsk, revealed that in his most recent trip into space, he had taken Bobby Orr’s Stanley Cup ring from the 1972 triumph. In February, goalkeeper Johan Hedberg appeared to have lost his head. He collided with the Flyers’ Simon Gagne, knocking his mask off. But his sweater also slipped up and covered his head. Voila: “the headless horseman!” Jordin Tootoo was becoming a fan favourite in Nashville. That popularity was expressed in a unique way: whenever he touched the puck a cacophony of whistle sounds filled the arena. They were saying the “Tootoo train was on the tracks!”
On a more serious note, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup since 1961. They whipped the Flyers in six games to end a 49-year drought. Captain Jonathan Toews led the way to victory and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP.
Had Philadelphia prevailed they would have completed a storybook end to the season. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bruins they lost the first three games, apparently spelling “finis” for the post-season hopes. But they not only came back to win four games straight, but the fourth match went to overtime before they staved off elimination. Also, they were down 3-0 in the seventh game, coming back to win 4-3.
**2011: Without a doubt the biggest story for that year was the return of the Jets to Winnipeg. Technically it was not the team returning — just the name. The original NHL squad had shuffled off to Phoenix in 1996 and become the Coyotes. This “new” squad was actually the transplanted Atlanta Thrashers.
To say they were welcomed is an understatement. The fan support had not been sufficient the first time around, with crowds of only 12,000 being common. But the city’s sports community considered those “dry years”. With David Thomson and Mark Chipman of True North Sports & Entertainment at the helm, the future looked birth. New and bigger corporate sponsors also enhanced the prospects for success. For the first three years every game was a sell-out.
Recently, highly-regarded Winnipeg free-lance journalist, Declan Schroeder opined: “There’s a new generation with a team to call their own — and kids with hometown heroes. The team has become a community cornerstone, and their impact on the city morale and pride is immeasurable.”
While this brought delight that year, it was countered with despairing news. Three NHL enforcers all died within a period of six months, between May and September.
Derek Boogaard, who was nicknamed “Boogeyman” was first make his exit. He had not played for several months due to lingering results of concussions. His death was caused by ingesting a combination of oxycodone (pain killer) and alcohol.
Rick Rypien had suffered from chronic depression, and was on leave from the Vancouver Canucks. While it was only whispered, rather than headlined, it was concluded that he had taken his own life in his own home.
Wade Belak confided in a close friend that he was seeking reassurance there was something to live for. He was discovered hanging in his hotel room. There was less caution in reporting that he had committed suicide.
Once more the question was raised about the insanity of players being assigned fighting as their main reason for being part on an NHL roster.
**2012: When one thinks of Jarome Iginla it is unlikely to associate him with the likes of Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, or Teemu Selanne. These former skaters are NHL 600 goal scorers, having potted more tallies than Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, or Gilbert Perreault.
His approach to the game normally places him in the category of the “lunch pail brigade”. But he actually scored 625 times, and totalled 1300 points. Twice he bulged the twine 50 times in a season, he was the Art Ross Trophy winner in 2001,and was voted to the First All-Star squad. His leadership earned him the captain’s “C” in Calgary.
Strangely enough, growing up in Edmonton, the Oilers were his team, and Grant Fuhr was his hero. In fact, he played goal for a time; but determined potting goals held more appeal, so he switched to right wing.
It was in 2012 that he reached the 500-goal mark. The 42nd player to reach that mark.
That was also the year that Nicklas Lidstrom retired after 1,564 NHL games. He was an elite defenseman, who preferred skill over brawn in defensing his end of the ice. 12 times he was selected as an All-Star (10 times to the first team). After winning the Calder Trophy he went on to have his name engraved on the Norris seven times.
He should have won the Lady Byng Trophy several times—especially in 1999 and 2004. In the former season he had the same penalty minute total as Wayne Gretzky. But voters ignored the fact that it is more difficult not the be penalized when playing defense than forward — and looked only at the “Great One’s” scoring stats. In ’04 he had only four more minutes in the sin-bin that Brad Richards. He was deservingly elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
**2013: The event of that calendar year was, without a doubt, the settling of the NHL strike/lockout on January 6th! The standoff, which had begun on September 16, went 113 days, and, from all appearances, it looked like there was going to be a repeat of 2004-05 when the season was a complete washout. Games had been cancelled to January 14th, and Gary Bettman made no bones about the fact that nothing less than a 48-game schedule would be considered.
The issues are old hat to serious fans, with the split of revenue, free agency, and salary caps heading the list. The vanity of millionaires arguing with multi-millionaires over money (the league was losing upwards of $20 million per day; the players $10 million a day) had a domino effect as well. Countless suffered job losses in venues connected to the game.
A mediator finally walked both sides through a 12-hour session, bringing about a “temporary agreement”. There was a collective sigh of relief when the news was announced.
But there were other noteworthy happenings that year. For instance there was a hockey tournament held in Chile, with teams from that country, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Europe, and North America competing.
Aleksander Barkov became the eighth youngest player, at 18 years and 31 days, to score his first NHL goal, and the youngest since Don Raleigh in 1943.
At the November 21st match between the Sabres and Flyers, Craig Berube and Ted Nolan were opposition coaches — the first instance of two First Nations bench bosses to face one another.
**2014: For the most part it was a year when individuals earned the spotlight. But on the first day of the year, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs faced off at the Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic in front of what was claimed to be the largest crowd to watch a hockey game (105,491). Toronto came out on top with a shootout victory.
Canada won the gold medal for the second consecutive time at the Olympic games. They defeated Sweden 3-0, on February 23, with Cary Price turning in a faultless performance between the pipes. But it was Sidney Crosby who tallied the clincher in the second period, backhanding the disc behind Henrik Lundqvist, the Scandinavian netminder. His victory celebration is captured in one of the game’s classic images.
On April 13th, Teemu Selanne played his last regular-season NHL game. Having set the record for most goals by a first year player (76), he kept victimizing opposition goalies, to the tune of 684 career goals. During that time he was awarded the Calder, Maurice Richard, and Masterton Trophies, and was a 10-time All-Star. No nickname was ever more appropriate—the “Finnish Flash”!
Before the December 9 match against the Canucks, the Canadiens honoured the memory of the great “Le Gros Bill”, Jean Beliveau. In an impressive pre-game ceremony they celebrated the humble centre’s contributions to the club. A lengthy standing ovation followed.
**2015: Over the years there have been many good first round draft picks. There have been several excellent choices. But there have only been a few phenoms taken as the number one choice by some fortunate club. Mario Lemieux comes to mind — as do Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Sidney Crosby.
But in June 2015, the Edmonton Oilers hit the jackpot by calling the name of Connor McDavid first overall. That move has resulted in a bonanza of benefits by the once-domineering Northern Alberta franchise. In his second season, he finished on top of the points race, and earned the Art Ross Trophy. The league honoured him with the Hart Trophy, and his peers voted him “the most outstanding player” (Ted Lindsay Award). He repeated the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay Award performances in his third campaign.
Wayne Gretzky, who was the kingpin Oiler himself, said, “I am truly amazed at how good he is. He is special. He is the best 19-year-old I ever saw — and that includes Guy Lafleur and Mark Messier.”
When the 2015-16 season commenced, the league had made a major change in the overtime format following a tie in regulation time. Instead of a 4-on-4 setup for five minutes, there was a 3-on-3 pattern. The intension was that this would create more space for maneuvers. which in turn would result in more goals, and less of the dreadful shootout situation. After 44 games, 33 had resulted in a goal before the five-minute competition ended. That was a 16% improvement over the previous setup.
**2016: Jaromir Jagr scored 63 points to bring his total to 1891, moving him past Gordie Howe and Mark Messier into second place in the all-time points parade behind Wayne Gretzky.
A new format in the World Cup featured a team of 23-and-unders, named Team North America. Despite an unbelievable goal by Nathan MacKinnon against Team Sweden in overtime, the youthful sextet was left outside the final four in the bid for the honours.
A couple of lighter moments highlight that time frame. First, in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, a black cat suddenly and mysteriously appeared on the ice. It was scooped up and turned over to an animal shelter; but found a home with Patrick Marleau. Secondly, Joe Thornton and David Backes got into a beard-pulling scrap when the Sharks and Blues met for a regular-season tilt.
**2017: Of the greatest significance during the course of that 12-month time frame was the celebration of the NHL’s 100th Anniversary. On November 26, 1917, four of the clubs which had comprised the National Hockey Association, Toronto, Ottawa, Canadiens, and Wanderers replaced the previous circuit by forming the National Hockey League.
The commemoration got underway on New Year’s Day with the Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic, which pitted the Maple Leafs against the Red Wings. The All-Star weekend followed from January 27-29; and on the 26th came the unveiling of the 100 greatest players in NHL history. On March 10, the Hockey Hall of Fame featured special exhibits.
While the anniversary date of the loop’s founding was observed on November 26, perhaps the event of the year was the Centennial Game on December 16. One of the two initial league contests, on December 19, 1917, was mirrored at the NHL 100 Classic, on December 16th when the clubs of that game, the Senators and Canadiens, faced off in the open air at Lansdowne Park in the Capital City, before a crowd of 33,959. The result of the modern competition was very different from the vintage tally. In 1917 the Canadiens whipped the Senators 7-4, with Joe Malone potting five of those markers. In 2017 Ottawa shutout the Habs 3-0.
**2018: Once again, the NHL added family members, with the Los Vegas Golden Knights becoming the 31st franchise of the 100-year-old fraternity. Again, hockey hotbeds, like Quebec City, were left waiting at the door. The scales were tipped in their favour, when, on the day of decision. the Sin City hopefuls had 13,200 season-ticket deposits on hand.
The team’s name comes from two sources: the owner alma mater intended to honour the Black Knights of his alma mater; and Nevada is a significant gold-producing state. Success wise, they seemed to be born with a “silver spoon” in their mouths. Amazingly, they were victorious in eight of their first nine games; 34 of their first 50 contests; and finished in first place in the Pacific Division.
Their overall success is legend. This first-year squad advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, taking the Capitals to the sixth game before bowing out.
And it was Washington, in their 44th campaign in the league, finally earning the right to skate around the ice with Lord Stanley’s famous trophy as World Champions, who came in just one rung on the ladder of success above Nevada’s dream team.
**2019: Another expansion (1967 version) sextet shook off the cobwebs, after 52 seasons in the loop — the St. Louis Blues — who gained top billing in the “story of the year”. At last, they nabbed the game’s most prized possession.
But, without a doubt, the seasonal scoop was the dismissal of Don Cherry from his Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coach’s Corner”. It could just as easily have been called “Controversial Corner”, because it seemed every time he gave his opinions it had caustic overtones.
He made his debut during the 1980 playoffs, when he majored in given advice to up-and-coming skaters. But it became a regular feature commencing in 1982.
You either delighted in him or were disgusted with him. His bias against Quebecers, Europeans, and wimps of every stripe constantly raised applause or ire. He was called up on the carpet, and was in danger of being fired on more than one occasion. He was called everything from a blowhard to a bigot.
The issue that finally wrote “finis” to his tenure was viewed as going one step too far over the line of political correctness.
There is a vintage tale about a raja and a beggar. The latter constantly sat at the ruler gate and asked for alms. The sympathetic emir virtually always granted his wishes. But one day, he asked the beggar to open the gate for him. His response? “I will accept your alms but I will not run your errands!”
Rightly or wrongly that was Grape’s point about immigrants and poppies. But it was the straw that broke the camel’s back — and the man with the fashion foibles became history—and that IS history.
In the world at large, between 2010 and 2019, the death of Osama Bin Laden, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency, have altered the global scene significantly. Perhaps the hockey world has not experienced anything so startling during that time frame — nevertheless, this, the greatest game on Earth, will never be the same either.
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