No one needs to admit how much they miss hockey right now.
First, because if you’re a hockey fan, that’s inferred. The National Hockey League season was paused for the coronavirus outbreak just as the playoff races were rounding the corner. It’s like you’re watching “Star Wars” and the film just stops as soon as the Rebel fighter squadron leaves the atmosphere of Yavin 4 en route to the Death Star. You know, to put it in terms we can all understand.
Second, because every single other thing surrounding this global pandemic and health crisis takes precedence over the momentary loss of diversionary entertainment. To that end, I hope everyone is staying safe, keeping their distance and washing those hands.
But diversionary entertainment, by its nature, provides solace. It can be therapeutic. Trivial as it is, hockey means something to all of us, and the loss of that shared experience is a bummer, especially when you’re restricted from sharing it due to quarantine.
So how do we follow hockey when there’s no hockey?
As a service to you, the puckhead in exile, we present this handy week-long schedule of hockey consumption: things to watch and read to help scratch that hockey itch during uncertain times. Enjoy!
First thing’s first: Back to the grind. You’re going to need a little energy. You’re going to need to get that adrenaline going. Caffeine? Eh, probably. But what you really need is to turn up the bass, throw on “Sandstorm” by Darude and let the arena jams power you through.
The Los Angeles Kings have an extensive collective of Spotify playlists that covers everything from pregame skates to 1990s night. Which is probably a more effective way to get your pump-up music than rummaging through your closet for that “Jock Jams” CD.
To watch: “Goon” (2011). Granted, the language and gore aren’t necessarily for everyone, but this instant-classic hockey comedy written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg remains one of the most insightful commentaries on hockey culture you’ll ever see. And if you have seen it, watch it again for the multi-layered work Liev Schreiber does as the antagonist to Seann William Scott’s fist-tossing puppy dog.
To read: “The Game” by Ken Dryden (1983). Sports Illustrated once ranked it as the No. 9 sports book of all time, and I consider Dryden’s peek inside the dressing room of the 1978-79 Montreal Canadiens to be a sacred hockey text. I try to read it before each season. It’s an incredible piece of first-person history.
For your games fix: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, Game 3 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff quarterfinals. One of the most chaotic series of the past decade, and this was perhaps the most chaotic game of that series, with 12 goals and 148 penalty minutes. The full game is on YouTube and here.
To watch: “Everybody Hates Gretzky” (2008). This was an episode from the third season of Chris Rock’s autobiographical show “Everybody Hates Chris,” in which our main character Chris skips school to help his little brother try to track down Wayne Gretzky for an autograph. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it has cameos by Kevin Weekes and Willie O’Ree!
To read: “Check, Please!” This delightful award-winning web comic series written and drawn by Ngozi Ukazu follows Eric “Bitty” Bittle and his experiences on a fictional college hockey team. He vlogs. He bakes. He was a figure skater. It’s a very clever, very heartfelt and very addictive read that also gets into issues like academic stress and coming out.
For your games fix: Canada vs Russia, 2020 IIHF world juniors. You probably already know who won this gold-medal game because your Canadian friends still haven’t shut up about it, but boy was this an awesome game in an even more awesome atmosphere.
To watch: “Red Army” (2014). A deep dive into the Soviet hockey machine and how Hall of Famer Viacheslav Fetisov stood up to it and tyrannical coach Viktor Tikhonov. You can search it out on streaming platforms. It’s still a crime Gabe Polsky’s documentary didn’t make the Oscars’ shortlist that year.
To read: “The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever” (2012). I know, I know: Spending your house-bound days with Gary Bettman isn’t your idea of a quarantine. But hear me out: Jonathon Gatehouse’s book is about how the modern NHL became the modern NHL, and it’s the single best thing you’re going to ever read about how a niche Canadian-centric league became a $5 billion machine. Worth it for the stories about how a buttoned-up NBA lawyer had to persuade NHL owners not to hold their booze-soaked board of governors meetings on Bill Wirtz’s yacht. It’s a sit, though, at 352 pages.
For your games fix: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinal. NHL.com has a small collection of full game videos, and this overtime affair between the dynastic Canadiens and their arch rivals is one of the better ones. When you hear people speak with reverence for the Boston vs. Montreal rivalry, it’s games like this one that cemented it.
To watch: “Never Love a Goalie, Parts 1 and 2.” It’s Thursday night. You need a must-see sitcom. So let’s talk “Cheers.” This was the debut of Eddie LeBec (Jay Thomas), the French-Canadian goalie for the Bruins, who falls for Carla the waitress and watches his fortunes turn for the worse. Meanwhile, Diane is foreman of a jury in an attempted murder trial. Bottom line: It’s “Cheers.” I understand your desire to put “Threat Level Midnight” from “The Office” here instead, but “Cheers” is simply the better show. I’m sorry, Jim and Pam fans. It’s not your template.
To read: Reddit Hockey. I cut my teeth as a sportswriter arguing in newsgroups back in college, so I’ll always have time for the random thoughts and pointless arguments of a message board. Reddit Hockey (r/hockey) is the most buoyant one going right now, even if I wish it were a little less “news depository” and a little more shooting the breeze. But you’ll know what’s going on, and you’ll know how other hockey fans feel about it.
For your games fix: Atlanta Thrashers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Dec. 20, 2010. The big issue with streaming full games is that they’re usually classics, which means you usually remember how they played out. But this random YouTube find — featuring the Thrashers in their final season in Atlanta against a Leafs team in the sixth of seven non-playoff seasons — is the kind of game you just stumble on when there’s no other hockey to watch. In that sense, it’s both a mystery and comfort food.
To watch: “Sudden Death” (1995). I’m surprised there are still many hockey fans who haven’t spent time with this Jean-Claude Van Damme “Die Hard at the Stanley Cup Final” action film, which is more fun than it has any right to be. Come for the Luc Robitaille cameo, stay for the now-classic fight between JCVD and a villainous Penguins mascot in the arena’s kitchen. Dopey, goofball, would-be blockbuster for your Friday night.
To read: “Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, America, and the Day Everything Changed” (2009). Not to make your week too Gretzky-centric, but Stephen Brunt’s book on The Great One leaving Edmonton, Canada, for Los Angeles is one of my favorite reads in recent years because of the way it captured his experience with the Kings, which was always a sidebar to the legend of his Oilers departure.
For your games fix: Fire up a video game! It’s Friday night and you’re stuck at home. Dig out that old Nintendo system. Fire up the PlayStation or Xbox. Play a few games or a full season. It doesn’t matter what you play or against whom you’re playing, because hockey video games are their own unique joy. Especially when you haven’t played them for a while, as I discovered in losing to Poland recently on NES “Ice Hockey.” (Oh, and for the record: Skinny, medium, large, large.)
To watch: “Slap Shot” (1977). What makes this film rewatchable, because it’s obviously not your first time: Paul Newman’s effortless charm, the clothes, the perfect commentary on the minor league hockey experience and, as Rolling Stone put it during the film’s 40th anniversary, “While some of Slap Shot’s characters are undeniably cartoonish, others clearly reflect how Americans were grappling issues of personal identity and self-fulfillment in the wake of the sexual revolution, the feminist movement and the psychedelic awakening of the 1960s.”
To read: “The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL: The World’s Most Beautiful Sport, the World’s Most Ridiculous League” (2019). In full disclosure, I co-host a podcast with this book’s author, Sean McIndoe, and we’ve been Internet friends for over a decade. But I’d tell you this collection of hilarious takes and tales is worth reading even if I didn’t spew nonsense with him for a few hours a week. It’s just fun. And who doesn’t need fun right now?
For your games fix: Stream simulated games. Saturday night is obviously the hardest one to handle without any NHL games … which is why streaming simulated ones is the next best thing. A Canucks fan named Tyson — read more about him in this Post-Gazette article — is simulating the 2019-20 season, including the playoffs. “I had recently bought a gaming capture device that allows me to record gameplay footage from my Xbox in high quality to my PC, so I figured it would be a unique idea to capture and stream NHL 20 games to see how the rest of the NHL season could theoretically play out,” he said. Hey, it’s better than nothing.
To watch: “Inside Out” (2015). Yes, the Pixar film about the emotions inside a young girl’s mind is technically a hockey movie. Riley played hockey in Minnesota, has hockey as part of her emotional mental geography and plays for the Fog Horns, a youth hockey team in San Francisco. Besides, you’ve now spent the week reading about Gary Bettman and watching simulated games. Like, spend some time with the kids, will ya?
To read: Michael Farber’s Sports Illustrated archive. The greatest compliment I could give the venerable sports reporter is that I’ve witnessed — and not just in a mirror — the way another writer’s shoulders slump ever so subtly when they heard Michael Farber was working on the same story they were. His archive tells the story of the sport in a master class of journalism. And boy can he turn a phrase. Farber on goalie fights: “There is something medieval about two men with overstuffed pillows on their legs and wearing the modern equivalent of breastplates slugging it out, an Arthurian moment in our Facebook world.”
For your games fix: USA vs. Canada, 2018 Winter Olympics Women’s Hockey Gold Medal Game. Maddie Rooney. The Lamoureux’s. The best rivalry in hockey culminates in one of the most thrilling hockey games in history, and the whole thing is available on the Olympics’ YouTube channel, including a medal ceremony that will make you want to take on the world … if only you could leave your house.
But hey, at least now you have some hockey.
From the wacky world of the Colorado Avalanche:
— Zach (@ZGThomas) March 5, 2020
This is apparently a fan-activated nickname for defenseman Samuel Girard, who does in fact spin and is in fact a “boi.”
Four things about the players’ season restart plan
1. Our friend Frank Seravalli of TSN reported this week on a plan to restart the season that’s being discussed by a number of elite NHL players on a text chain. (Social distancing … it’s for hockey players, too!) The basics: Training camps would open in early July; a “truncated” regular season would be completed, getting all the teams to the same number of games, for equity’s sake; the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in August, and the Cup would be handed out by the end of September. The offseason? That’s October, basically. The draft and free agency and training camps all happen in that month, and then the 2020-21 season gets rolling in November with a condensed 82-game schedule.
2. If this sounds ambitious, that’s because the players a) obviously want to complete the journeys of their season and compete for a championship and b) they know they’re going to get absolutely wrecked by an escrow claw-back from the owners if the estimated $250 million in revenue from the postseason evaporates. Remember, it’s a 50-50 split in revenue. An NHLPA source told me it’s not just something the players would pay for next season, but in multiple seasons. So by pushing this thing into September, the hope is the league could have a postseason with fans in the buildings and revenue streaming in. Although, based on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic already, how is anyone confident that “hockey playoff tickets” will be prioritized by many fans in 2020?
3. The condensed schedule of the 2020-21 season reportedly would include the cancellation of the 2021 NHL All-Star Game, in case you needed any reminder that this was indeed a plan cooked up by NHL All-Stars.
4. The whole ballgame for a season restart is whether travel restrictions and bans on mass gatherings have been lifted in all participating cities. I’m not confident the NHL wants the rest of the campaign to be played out in empty barns. But the other consideration when it comes to a July-September NHL schedule: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which are inexplicably still scheduled for July 24 through August 9. This is critical because NBC has the broadcast rights to both the Olympics and the NHL. They were able to juggle these properties in 2018, when the NHL opted not to go to the Winter Olympics. But the Summer Games offer many more events on a daily basis that require real estate on their networks. The Olympic schedule issue isn’t necessarily a kill-switch for the players’ idea, but the NHL has mentioned its “broadcast partners” as a consideration in any format they settle on. It’ll be a factor.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
A special episode this week. Emily Kaplan and I cover the NHL’s season “pause” and the path forward during the coronavirus shutdown. But we also welcome in ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin and SPHL commissioner Doug Price to discuss canceling their seasons and whether all their franchises will be back next season because of that decision. Listen here, and make sure to rate and review so others can find the podcast!
Winners and losers of the week
(As we all work through this, I imagine the “losers” portion of this department will severely diminish. But for now …)
Winner: Teams compensating their workers
Kudos to the NHL teams and players who stepped up without haggling or hassling to declare they are paying their game-night staffers and part-time arena workers for the games they’re missing due to the NHL’s pause. Some teams are straight up paying them their full salary. Some teams have established funds that will pay them, or assist those in need. Some teams have pledged support, but are a little vague on the details. Some teams — such as Montreal and Vancouver — took the extra step to donate food from their buildings to local food banks. (Please, enjoy the Dippin’ Dots.) In times of crisis, every little bit helps.
Loser: Teams that needed shaming
Kudos also to the fans and media members who stepped up their criticism of teams like the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, whose extraordinarily wealthy owners were initially denying compensation to those workers. Eventually, they reversed their decisions due to public pressure. Now, we just have to keep that pressure on to ensure there’s follow-through on all of this, especially from the teams that made a public commitment to compensation but with scant details.
Winner: Cornell hockey
As Emily Kaplan chronicled this week, the Cornell men’s and women’s hockey teams were both ranked No. 1 in the nation before their championship tournaments were canceled due to the coronavirus. The women’s team has never won an NCAA title, and the men were looking to break a 50-year-drought. There were tough conversations, and plenty of tears, with the players. There’s no getting around the fact that without a Frozen Four, this season will always feel incomplete. But circumstances being what they are, these teams should take absolute pride in what they’ve accomplished for the program.
Loser: Vladimir Krikunov
The 69-year-old Dynamo Moscow coach had a calm and measured response when Jokerit Helsinki and the Kazakhstan-based Barys Nur-Sultan both pulled out of the KHL playoffs due to the coronavirus outbreak … which was to proclaim that they should be expelled from the league and that “in my opinion, these foreigners are always nervous because they are foreigners.” Hoo boy.
Winner: NHL players
Look, sometimes professional athletes can be a little — what’s the word? — “oblivious” when it comes to the pressing issues of the day. But did you hear one player complain about the NHL pausing its season? Or take to social media to lament things like social distancing? Not only did we not, but we were also treated to players doing PSAs about hand washing, like this one from the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ Morgan Rielly. “Think more Mitch Marner puck possession numbers than Zach Hyman.” Fantastic:
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 18, 2020
Losers: Fans of awkwardness
Alas, we didn’t get a single empty-arena NHL game out of this crisis — not yet, at least. Having watched the WWE attempt empty-arena wrestling shows ahead of an empty-arena WrestleMania … well, I feel like we all missed out on some really awkward experiences.
— WWE (@WWE) March 17, 2020
Winners: Healthcare professionals
You are on the front lines of this unprecedented health crisis, working endless hours with strained resources while many of us are on our couches. Thank you for all you do. When this finally passes, I hope we all have a better appreciation for these folks.
An Ottawa Senators player is the first NHL player to test positive for the coronavirus.
Reviewing a couple of playoff options for the NHL restart.
An 80-year-old great grandmother is the captain of her hockey team. Ugh, yet another veteran player getting a leadership role when there’s probably a hungry 71-year-old waiting for her turn.
The three-year-old Vegas Golden Knights are going to replay classic games to fill the void on their TV schedule, which is a bit like “The Mandalorian” having done a clip show for one of its episodes.
The 2020 Hobey Baker Award finalists have been announced, and the lack of Alex Newhook love continues this awards season.
Wisconsin hockey watched freshman center Alex Turcotte and sophomore defenseman K’Andre Miller sign NHL contracts while Cole Caufield … is returning rather than heading to the Canadiens? Huh.
Finally, I have no idea how or why the Belarusian Extraleague was holding playoff games this week during a global pandemic, but YouTube’s closed captioning of their commentary was undefeated:
Am I hallucinating? From our friends in the Belarusian Extraleague pic.twitter.com/lGOSvU0ZEC
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) March 18, 2020
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Dom Luszczyszyn takes a deep dive into potential Stanley Cup Playoff formats to find which ones benefit which teams the most. ($)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN