Welcome to a weekly grab-bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
This week's three stars of comedy
Recognizing the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The second star: Henrik Lundqvist's stick -- Look, I'm not saying that goaltender equipment is out of control, but this week one piece became sentient and tried to strangle a guy.
Rangers fan getting strangled by Lundqvist's goal stick pic.twitter.com/2Fnogi0kgy— Stephanie (@myregularface) November 11, 2015
And yes, it goes without saying that this all ended with The Undertaker getting involved.
The first star: Brian Burke tells a story about Trevor Linden -- This is the greatest Brian Burke soundbite. It is tied for first with every other Brian Burke soundbite.
How does Burke not have a podcast yet? I know he's old school and might not know what one is, but so what? Just sit him down in front of a digital recorder once a week and say "This little robot man here says you don't know anything about hockey" and then leave the room for three hours while he berates it.
What is the hockey world pretending to be outraged about now?
Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. Each week we'll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if it's justified.
The outrage: THE NETS MUST NEVER CHANGE BECAUSE TRADITION!
Is it justified: Everyone has a different view on whether a bigger net is really the best solution for the continued decline in offense. Some are in favor, some see it as a last resort, some have completely different ideas, and some don't even think that near record-low scoring is a problem. And that's fine. We can save the whole "bigger nets" argument for another day.
But there's one small piece of the larger debate that needs to go away: the argument that changing the size of the nets would be some sort of unforgivable assault on the NHL's history. Appeal to tradition has its place, especially with old-school types like me, but acting as if the dimensions found on an NHL rink are somehow sacrosanct is just silly.
In no particular order, here's a quick list of just some of the changes we've made to the standard NHL rink in recent years without anybody crying about tradition or the sanctity of the record book: moving the bluelines; changing the goal crease; moving the goal line away from the boards; removing the faceoff hash marks; adding that trapezoid thing; changing the goal crease again; restoring slightly different faceoff hash marks; moving the goal line back to where it was before; changed the crease yet again.
Oh, and we also raised the glass around the rink, put up protective netting, painted ads and slogans all over everything, and changed a few dozen rules, including big ones like two-line passes, shootouts and giving points to teams that lose.
We did all this after living through an era where half the league's arenas had completely different ice surface dimensions, and to this day plenty of people want to make all the league's rinks 15 feet wider. And everyone just shrugs at all of it because hey, things change, you know?
So we've basically spent the last few decades changing everything on an NHL rink except the nets. Well, as long as you ignore the fact that we actually did change the size of the nets, just two years ago, and nobody remembers because nobody cared. Apparently changing the net by a few inches in this direction is a terrible thing that irrevocably alters the fabric of the game forever, but a few inches in that direction is no big deal. I will never understand you, hockey net truthers.
So yes, sure, be against bigger nets if you must. Push for some idea you think is better, or push for nothing at all. Just don't invoke tradition as your trump card, because it's a ridiculous stand to take in a league where everything is constantly being tinkered with. Bigger nets is a silly and completely arbitrary place to draw the line. And if there's one thing the NHL loves, it's changing where we draw the lines.
Obscure former player of the week
NHL history is filled with legendary players whose stories are passed down from generation to generation. This is not one of them.
Last Thursday was National Cat Day, which led to everyone spending the next week fighting yet another round of the eternal cats vs. dogs debate. So for this week's obscure player, let's go with the one name that could bring the two sides together: Fido Purpur.
Purpur holds the distinction of being the first player from North Dakota to ever make the NHL. That came back in 1934, when he made his debut as a 20-year-old for the St. Louis Eagles.
At 5-foot-5 and 155 pounds, Purpur was tiny even by the standards of the day, but he was feisty and fast. But the Eagles only lasted one year befoore folding in 1935, and it would be six more before Purpur made it back to the NHL. That came with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1941, and this time he stuck around for parts of four seasons despite battling health problems.
His best season came in 1942-43, when he played in all 50 games and scored 13 goals. He played in the Stanley Cup final in 1944, occasionally shadowing Rocket Richard in the Blackhawks' eventual loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He wouldn't play another regular season game in the NHL, although he appeared in the 1945 playoffs with the Red Wings, reaching (and losing in) the Final once again.
After retiring, Purpur went into coaching at the high school level and later for seven years at the University of North Dakota (the same school that just gave Dave Hakstol to the Philadelphia Flyers). And in case you're wondering, "Fido" was a nickname. His real name was Cliff.
I can't find any information about whether he was a dog guy or a cat guy.
What has Don Cherry gone and done now?
Whether it's Coach's Corner, his regular media appearances, or a Twitter account that's presumably meant to be performance art, Don Cherry is everywhere. What's he been up to this week?
Last Friday, Don Cherry was given a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame, and the entire nation was outraged, because we'd all just assumed he was already there.
Seriously, the honor only goes back to 1998, so how was Don Cherry not the very first inductee? How did Pamela Anderson and Monty Hall get there first? Let's get our act together, Canada. I enjoyed Brendan Fraser's work in The Mummy as much as the next guy, but the first induction class should have been Don Cherry, Alexander Graham Bell, Terry Fox, Iron Mike Sharpe and then Don Cherry again. And the second induction class should have just been an arrow painted on the sidewalk pointing back to the first class.
(American readers: I strongly recommend you spend some time going through the list of inductees. It's basically one big game of "I didn't know they were secretly Canadian" bingo.)
Anyway, the ceremony was last Friday, an entire nation rejoiced, and we all took a day to appreciate Don Cherry. Then he went on TV the next night and said that Connor McDavid was injured on purpose, and everyone freaked out. The balance has been restored.
Awesome and/or horrific old YouTube clip of the week
In addition to being a great source of adorable pets and functionally illiterate commenters, YouTube is a goldmine for old hockey clips. In this section we find one, and break it down in way too much detail.
Really, hockey world? REALLY? I'm sidelined for one week, and you all unearth pretty much the ultimate horrific YouTube clip and spend all week talking about it? Next time, just stop by my house and kick me in the throat. You all had fun without me, and now I can't use the clip.
Well, you know what? Screw that. Cringe-worthy hockey-related YouTube clips from the 80s is my turf, and I'm defending it. Let's do this.
(Thanks to reader Tom for being the first to send me this link.)
• OK, first things first: The clip's titles say it's the 1988-89 Sabres, but it appears that this was actually made sometime in the mid-80s, probably during the 1985-86 season. Accuracy counts with something this important, you guys.
• Things start off kind of slow, although they do give up a list of people to blame and a look at that sweet old WGRZ logo from my childhood. We also get a clip of some kids buying drugs, presumably because they'll need them to understand everything that happens next.
• Our first performer is Paul Cyr. Fun fact: his 1987 hockey card recreated the look on his fact at the exact moment they told him he had to be in this video.
• A quick tip: As you watch the video, you're going to find yourself being transfixed by whichever guy is trying to sing. That's understandable. But make sure you also spend some time watching the guys dance in the background. Consider multiple viewings to really drink in the whole production. In fact, take the rest of the day off work if needed. Tell your boss I said it was OK.
• Young Ed Kilgore sighting!
• "Turning on to dope won't help you through... [fights the nagging idea that this was a bad idea]... ooh ooh ooh."
• Next up is Doug Smith, who puts in an admirable effort before his confidence wavers and he starts helplessly looking at backup dancer Bob Halkidis for help. He eventually just quits mid-line and bolts. I'm not completely sure he ever returned to the team.
• Now we get the big group shot. Kudos to the guy who may or may not be Swedish rookie Mikael Andersson for wearing sunglasses in an attempt to disguise his identity.
• Now, here's the thing: We've broken down a bunch of terrible NHL team songs in this space, including classics like Can't Touch A Flame When It's Red Hot, The Leafs Are The Best, and everything the late-80's Capitals kept doing. But I think this is a first: NHL players actually singing instead of just lip-synching. In related news: NHL players should really stick to lip-synching.
• "And if you give it a chance, it will pull you on through... [regrets every life decision that led to this moment] ... ooh ooh ooh."
• You can tell John Tucker is into this because he rolled up his sleeves, but it's fun to watch him wrestle with the dilemma of whether or not he should dance before going "Screw it!" and cutting loose with the arm swings. It's like that old saying: Dance like nobody's watching almost 30 years in the future while cruelly making fun of you on technology that doesn't even exist yet.
• Fun fact: Tucker was traded three times in his career, but never with any actual picks or players coming back in return. His coaches had to keep telling him that he'd once again been traded for nothing, at which point he presumably stood up, collected himself, and then moonwalked out of the dressing room.
• Mike Foligno is not fooling around. He'll sing, but he's not going to dance. Or smile. Or blink. In fairness, it's possible that he's distracted by the fact that it's 1986 and yet the guy in front of him is somehow Ilya Kovalchuk.
• We have a late entry into our "Guy who's just a little too into all of this" race, and ... it's Dave Andreychuk! Look at him go for that microphone. I'm not sure I've ever seen him move that fast.
• We get a quick shot of the musicians who are behind this masterpiece. The guy playing guitar on the far left is a Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inductee by the name of Dick Bauerle. He also happens to be credited with writing this song.
• So you're probably wondering: Did I track down Bauerle and interview him about this song? Oh, you know I did. He's a longtime pop and rock artist, working in radio in Buffalo and still making music, and he gave me some background on how this all came to be.
• The backstory: Bauerle was initially contacted by producer Lynn Helmsteadt, who asked him to write a We Are the World-style group anthem around the "Be fair to yourself" anti-drug theme for the Sabres. That turned out to be tougher than it sounded, given that the song would have to be simple enough for a group of non-singers to pull off, but Bauerle went to work. He described the goal as "Rick Springfield meets The Cars". The end result is closer to "Rick Springfield gets run over by a car", which I think we can all agree is probably close enough.
• And yes, those really are the Sabres singing. The whole thing was done at a marathon recording session that Bauerle figures lasted 9-10 hours; they did several takes on everyone, and laid the vocals down multiple times to smooth over some of the worst performances. "Let's just say we went in knowing none of them were going to sound like Paul McCartney," he told me.
• I asked Bauerle which Sabre was the worst singer. "They were all bad," he deadpanned. But he raved about how cooperative and easy to work with everyone was, and said that the enthusiasm of guys like Housley and Andreychuk was legitimate. Nobody on the team refused to participate, and several guys jumped at the chance to have solo parts. All for a good cause, right?
That's it for the song, but we finish with a bonus clip. Foligno is back, and he has a very serious message to parents about making sure that the community's kids are looked after. Remember, parents, it's important to give our children a foundation of hope. Otherwise, they may end facing a terrible future of misery, despair, or even something far worse.
Have a question for Sean? Want to suggest an obscure player or a classic YouTube clip? Send all your grab bag-related emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.