Top 10 Embarrassing Moments (cont.)
Hockey so full of humiliation, it's hard to stop at 10
5. The cancellation of the 2004-05 season
The lockout of 1994-95 merely squashed all the momentum the NHL had gained from the Rangers' fabulous playoff run that ended their Stanley Cup drought of 54 years, a buzz-kill of the highest order. This lockout, a decade later, wiped out an entire season, marking the first time the Stanley Cup was not presented since 1919, when the worldwide Spanish influenza cut short the final between the Seattle Metropolitans and the Canadiens. The inability of labor and management to divvy up what was then a $2.1 billion business, an intransigence that cost jobs within the NHL and associated industries, was shameful, although it did open a door to the "new NHL" -- shootouts, more penalties, a less constipated style of play.
The resultant salary cap produced an exciting seven-game series between Carolina and Edmonton in 2006, a nontraditional market in the southeast and an Alberta team. Of course, if you didn't ponder it too hard, you could have been watching an "old NHL" final between Tampa Bay and Calgary, who came from the same places and had similar-style teams. (Other than the glut of five-on-threes, was the 2006 final really radically different from 2004's?)
The NHL argues that without a dark year, it wouldn't have had a chance to tweak the rules, set the new officiating standards, introduce something as unorthodox and pleasing as the shootout and reinvent itself. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Our guess is that the league could have done it by fiat. (Or, judging by what the players' parking lots look like, by Escalade.)
In any case, the NHL exceeded the revenue projections of $1.8 billion in 2005-06 to the point that it raised its salary cap from $39 million to $44 million and the salary floor from $21.5 million to $28 million for 2006-07, growth we assume is based on something more solid than those record attendance figures the NHL public-relations department trumpets every month. The league bases attendance not on fans in the seats or even tickets sold, but on something as mushy as tickets distributed. Isn't that embarrassing?
6. Patrick Roy's Statue of Liberty: May 29, 2002
Give us your tired, your poor, your cheapest of cheap goals. In Game 6 of the 2002 semifinals between Roy's Colorado Avalanche and the archrival Detroit Red Wings, Roy made a nifty glove save on Steve Yzerman early in the match. Then, as was his wont, Roy added a grace note, brandishing his glove like it was Lady Liberty's torch. The problem: When the most winning goaltender in the history of the NHL raised his trapper to show the Wings and the world his swell save, the puck tumbled out and trickled into his own net.
Fill in your own French's mustard joke here.
The Avalanche would go on to lose 2-0, then capitulated 7-0 in Game 7 as the Wings went on to defeat Carolina handily in the final.
7. The Boston Garden blackout: May 24, 1988
During the second period of Game 4 of the 1988 final between Edmonton and the Bruins, the power failed in decrepit Boston Garden. Why? Maybe the hamsters operating the generator got tired of running around their wheels. In any event, with the Oilers having won the first three games of the series -- the score in Game 4 was 3-3 when the building went dark -- NHL president John Ziegler aborted the game and said it would be replayed in Edmonton.
So to continue this foregone conclusion of a series, everyone had to troop two time zones west, including the sportswriters, many of whom had to pay to ride the Edmonton team charter. (Oilers boss Glen Sather knew the value of a buck.) It was during that ride that Wayne Gretzky, talking to a scrum of writers somewhere over the Midwest, offered the immortal line: "Is this Game 4A ... or Game 4, eh?" Edmonton would win the next match, whatever it was called. It would be Gretzky's last as an Oiler.
Of course, the blackout was not the NHL's fault. The power in that Causeway Street crypt could have blown during a Celtics playoff game or the circus or a concert. At any time, really.
The fact is, it didn't.
8. Ottawa apologizes: June 18, 1992
Now, as a national capital, Ottawa often has a lot to apologize for -- Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's six-and-five plan to whip inflation in the 1980s, the Sponsorship Scandal that wound up toppling a Liberal government -- but at the 1992 expansion draft, it was a franchised, embryonic Senators who felt obliged to apologize. Twice.
The man offering the apologies in a Montreal hotel ballroom was general manager Mel Bridgman, an ex-NHL player who was a graduate of Penn's renowned Wharton School. The man could crunch a number. Alas, he could also take a pratfall.
Now the details of the debacle have been obscured, and there are several versions of what went wrong that fateful day. The Senators' laptop wasn't functioning properly -- there was no outlet nearby and the battery was too weak -- and, at least according to legend, Bridgman's advisor, John Ferguson, had misplaced a hard copy of the team's draft list. (At this point, is it irony or piling on to mention that Ottawa is the high-tech capital of the country?) Bridgman, flying blind, twice tried to draft players who were ineligible, forcing him to utter words that have haunted the star-crossed franchise ever since: "Ottawa apologizes."
9. "Have another doughnut": May 1988
Caught on videotape and later paid homage in the form of cruller-crunching Officer Koharski in Wayne's World, the Jim Schoenfeld-Don Koharski contretemps in the 1988 playoffs was the China Syndrome of lows during John Ziegler's tenure.
Ah, the inhumanity. On May 6, 1988, after a Bruins-New Jersey playoff game, an incensed Schoenfeld, the coach of the losing Devils, confronted Koharski, the ref, in the runway that leads to the dressing rooms in the Meadowlands arena. His famous utterance, without the expletive, was: "Have another doughnut, you fat pig." (For five bonus points, next time you see the video, see if you can spot Larry Brooks, the estimable New York Post columnist, who was working for the Devils at the time.)
The NHL decided to suspend Schoenfeld for one game, a ruling that sent the Devils scurrying to court to seek relief. The court indeed issued an injunction that allowed Schoenfeld to coach, and the infuriated officials decided to stage a one-game strike.
But that was hardly the end of the story. Facing his biggest on-ice crisis -- as you might recall, the 1980s were a heady time of goals and glory -- Ziegler was nowhere to be found. He was AWOL for three days before finally resurfacing in Boston, holding a press conference in a Boston hotel in which he left no clues to his whereabouts while looking and sounding utterly -- to borrow a Schoenfeld reference -- glazed.
10. Too many men: May 11, 1979
Hockey is a game of fundamentals: skating, passing, shooting, counting. No matter how hard they tried in the dying moments of Game 7 of the 1979 Wales Conference final in the Montreal Forum, the Bruins just couldn't get to five skaters.
In a scene that resembled a Mack Sennett comedy, the hard-luck Bruins, holding a one-goal lead over the three-time Stanley Cup champions, kept jumping over the boards. The charade went on for at least five seconds, until the bench-minor penalty was assessed. To his credit, Bruins coach Don Cherry never complained about it, taking his medicine in the form of a power-play goal, Guy Lafleur's slap shot from the right wing (after a pass back from Jacques Lemaire) that tied the score in regulation. The Canadiens would win the game on Yvon Lambert's overtime goal.
Montreal, of course, extended its dynasty because of the too-many-men penalty, beating the Rangers for the Cup and, in the process, avoiding a major embarrassment that had occurred in Game 2. After New York won the first game, Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman planned to yank star goalie Ken Dryden in favor of Bunny Larocque. But during warmups before the second game, Doug Risebrough, now the Minnesota general manager, rang a shot off Larocque's mask -- a hockey solecism -- that knocked out the unfortunate backup goalie. Bowman had no choice but to reinsert Dryden, who won four straight.