The number of minority head coaches in the National Hockey League zeroed out Friday when the Philadelphia Flyers did the expected and fired Craig Berubeafter the team failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ted Nolan, left, and Craig Berube, were the NHL’s only minority head coaches. Both have been fired.(Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).
Berube, who is part Cree, joins former Buffalo SabresHead Coach Ted Nolan, who’s Ojibwe, on the unemployment line. The two made history in November 2013 when they became the first two First Nations members to coach against each other in an NHL game.
“Do I think he did a good job last year? Yes,” Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall said of Berube. “And this year things didn’t go so well. So you take the whole piece of the pie. I don’t think you can evaluate a coach on 20 or 40 games; you have to evaluate him on the whole ball of wax. We felt over two seasons that a change was needed.”
The Flyers tapped Berube, 49, to replace Head Coach Peter Laviolette in October 2013. About a month later, Buffalo brought Nolan back for a second stint behind the Sabres bench.
Now the two have received their walking papers nearly a week apart. Neither firing was unexpected. Flyers management felt it had a playoff-caliber roster. But the team finished sixth in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division with a 33-31-18 record that wasn’t Stanley Cup Playoffs-worthy.
Philadelphia Flyers let Head Coach Craig Berube go after two season behind the bench.
The team was plagued by inconsistent play – world-beaters against top-tier NHL teams, doormats against lesser opponents – and some questionable coaching decisions. Berube mismanaged goaltender Steve Mason, arguably the Flyers’ best player in 2014-15. Berube appeared to rush Mason back between the pipes early after the goalie suffered injuries.
Nolan’s canning wasn’t a shocker but the rationale for it was. The Sabres, at 23-51-8, had the NHL’s worst record, a dubious distinction that now puts the team in the best position to land the first overall pick in June’s NHL Draft, which will likely be Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid.
After putting an underwhelming product on the ice, and after a season of fan and media talk about the Sabres tanking for the best shot at McDavid, Buffalo GeneralManager Tim Murray said he let Nolan go because he thought the team was better than its record indicated.
“I didn’t foresee us being a 30th-place team,” Murray said at a news conference. “Certainly after the trade deadline, trading out guys I had a big part in that, there’s no question and I own that. But up to the trade deadline I was open to keeping guys, I was open to maybe discussing with guys that were coming due, but the place we were in was the place we were in.”
Whatever the rationale, both Buffalo and Philadelphia are in the market for head coaches. Both teams may take runs at Detroit Red WingsHead Coach Mike Babcock, whose contract in the Motor City expires soon.
They like Mike. Several NHL teams are expected to bid for Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock’s services. (Photo Courtesy of The Detroit News/David Guralnick).
However, Babcock will be in high demand – Detroit, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will surely be interested – and he’ll demand to be paid, at least $5 million per season.
The Flyers may take a look at former Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team coach Dan Bylsma; St. Louis BluesHead Coach Ken Hitchcock; former Flyer player and Gold Medal-winning Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team coach Kevin Dineen; or even former Flyers Head Coach John Stevens, currently a Los Angeles Kings assistant coach.
The Florida Panthers, last in attendance among National Hockey League teams, are trying to woo more Hispanic fans by broadcasting three games in Spanish this season.
1210-AM ESPN Deportes in Miami an ESPN Deportes 760 AM in West Palm Beach will carry the games beginning with the October 30 home tilt against the Arizona Coyotes on Hispanic Heritage Night.
When not stopping pucks, Al Montoya will be talking hockey on radio to woo Hispanic fans.
The stations will also broadcast the January 15 home game between the Panthers and the Colorado Avalanche and the March 21 home match against the Boston Bruins.
“These radio broadcasts will help to continue to grow and enhance our brand and the game with our Hispanic fan base in the tri-county area,” said Rory A. Babich, the Panthers’ CEO and president.
Arley Londono, the Panthers’ original Spanish-language broadcaster from 1993 to 1996, will be the play-by-play man for the games and Octavio Sequera will serve as color analyst and host.
When he’s not between the pipes, Panthers goaltender Al Montoya, the National Hockey League’s first Cuban-American player, will be behind the mic talking hockey during weekly spots on 1210 AM ESPN Deportes and ESPN Deportes 760 radio shows.
Montoya joined the Panthers as a free agent in July after spending two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. The New YorkRangers originally took Montoya with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft after he starred in net for the University of Michigan.
Although the Panthers are playing respectable hockey early in the 2014-15 season – a 2-2-2 record heading into the weekend – the team is struggling mightily at the gate. The ‘Cats only average 9,365 fans at home, making the BB&T Center in Sunrise seem cavernous. The team averages 17,503 fans on the road.
Given the presence of NHL teams in areas with large Hispanic/Latin-American populations – New York, Los Angeles and, Dallas – it’s surprising that more teams don’t offer Spanish-language game broadcasts.
Players like defenseman Alec Martinez, who scored the goal that clinched the StanleyCup for the Los Angeles Kings last season, and San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres have helped draw more Hispanic/Latin-American fans to the game.
Some of the NHL’s broadcast partners, mindful of the changing demographics and immigration patterns in the United States and Canada, are expanding their radio and television offerings beyond the usual English and French.
“Hockey Night in Canada” continues its Punjabi telecasts this season and Canada’s Rogers Sportsnet, which owns HNIC’s broadcast rights, ultimately plans to offer introduction to hockey television spots – remember Peter Puck? – in 22 languages including Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.
Whether he’s promoting Secret deodorant or his trusty brand, Isaiah Mustafa – aka the Old Spice Guy from the hilarious TV commercials – can’t let an ounce of wetness touch his perfectly chiseled man-hide, even if its’s for a good cause like the Ice Bucket Challenge to combat ALS. But he’s always willing to try.
“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” hates sweat but loves ice hockey and discussed his passion for the sport last November with the Color of Hockey.
“Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa rarely leaves home without his hockey stick.
It’s getting to be a habit for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, one that Kings fans hope he never breaks.
Mr. Overtime, Alec Martinez of Los Angeles Kings.
Martinez scored at 14:43 in double-overtime late Friday to defeat the New York Rangers 3-2 and power the Kings their second Stanley Cup in three
seasons. It’s the second time this month that Martinez has been the man of the moment: He scored the Game 7 overtime goal that defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 and sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final.
And proving that things do indeed happen in threes, Martinez scored an overtime game-winner in his freshman year at Miami University of Ohio that defeated Western Michigan University and sent the RedHawks to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship in the 2005-06 season. Overtime heroics don’t seem to get old for Martinez. Neither does winning.
“I saw there was a loose puck in my own end, and I just tried to get it in a forward’s hands, I think (Kings left wing Tyler) Toffoli had a great shot far pad,” Martinez told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after the game. “Fortunately, the rebound came to me and I was able to put it in. It was a great play by them, I was just the benefactor.”
Martinez’s playoffs and Stanley Cup Final heroics have sent people scrambling to Google and other search engines to learn more about him and his heritage.
“My grandfather—that’s the Spanish side of my family.” Martinez told the Frozen Royalty website in May 2013. “My grandfather’s brothers were born in Spain, but he was born here, in the States. That’s where I get my last name.”
“His wife, my grandmother, she was English-Canadian, and my mom’s side of the family is all English,” told MayorManor.com’s podcast in 2012. “If you want to break it down in percentages, I’m about a quarter Spanish. My parents don’t speak it, my dad doesn’t speak it. When my dad was growing up, the Martinez side of the family only spoke Spanish when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were walking about. I essentially have the last name, and a little (Spanish) in me but I hate to disappoint anyone, but I just don’t really know how to speak it.”
Los Angeles Kings defensemen Alec Martinez didn’t see it but realized he must have done something good, judging by the excited reaction of forward Jarrett Stoll and the rest of his Kings teammates.
L.A. Kings defenseman Alec Martinez.
Seconds later, Martinez realized that he had just score the overtime goal that pushed the Kings to a 5-4 victory past the ChicagoBlackhawks Sunday night and propelled Los Angeles to the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers. Game 1 is Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t know it went in until I saw Stolly going bananas there,” Martinez told reporters after the game. “He was pretty excited. That’s when I started celebrating, too. I didn’t really see it go in. I know it went off a couple of bodies. I just tried to get it though and fortunately it went it.”
The goal past screened Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford at 5:47 of the overtime frame was the latest up in a rollercoaster ride for the Kings in the playoffs. L.A. has rolled Lucky Sevens throughout the playoffs – winning all their series in seven games. They’re the first NHL ream to play 21 games through the first three rounds of the playoffs to reach the Final.
“Well, I think the playoffs are obviously a very emotional time of year, but I think we’ve got a good group of guys in here that have been through it before and know it can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster,” Martinez said. “But it’s real important to stay even keep, not get too high and too low. I think it speaks to the character of this hockey club that there are quite a few times throughout the series that we could have gotten down on ourselves. But the resiliency that (teammate) Willie (Mitchell) just spoke of is really evident in this team.”
The Kings now turn their attention to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers, a well-rested team that eliminated the Montreal Canadiens last week in six games. “Great goaltending. Great defense. Great forwards. Great special teams,” Kings Head Coach DarrylSutter said of the Broadway Blue Shirts.
“I’d say it’s against us,” Sutter said. “We’re up against it again.”
In a weekend column in The Los Angeles Times, Sandy Banks wrote that it’s time for Los Angeles Clippers’Donald Sterling to give up ownership of his National Basketball Association team in the wake of recordings on which he purportedly makes racist comments about black people. Banks offers a novel solution for Sterling if he wants to stay in the sports business.
Boston’s Jarome Iginla, a superstar likely Hall of Fame-bound when he retires.
“Let the real estate magnate and Clippers owner take his millions and buy a hockey team,” she wrote. “Then he won’t have to worry about black superstars showing up for games on his girlfriend’s arm.”
Reading that line saddened me, angered me, and made me think that maybe I haven’t been doing my job with this blog. Her suggestion that Sterling “buy a hockey team” is a zinger, a real humdinger, perhaps designed to add a little levity to a serious problem. The only problem is that if Banks paid a little more attention to hockey maybe she’d know that the zinger has lost its zing – that hockey isn’t exclusively white anymore on the ice, in the stands, in the broadcast booth, or in the owner’s box.
With one paragraph, Banks bought into a stereotype. Hockey has the hat trick – a feat in which one player scores three goals in a single game. Banks scored a double negative by suggesting that Sterling and his alleged racist ways could find a safe haven in the overwhelming whiteness of hockey.
It’s a false image and its wrong.
Blacks and other people of color have a rich hockey history and are a growing presence in today’s game. If Banks watched Sunday’s Anaheim Ducks–Dallas Stars game Sunday she would have seen Anaheim forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is black, score two goals, including the tying goal in the closing seconds in the third period that sent the game to overtime.
She would have seen Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley, who is also black, score two goals for the Stars. It was stellar game for Daley, even though the Stars lost the game 5-4 in overtime and were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As a teenager, Daley overcame his then-coach and general manager of his major junior hockey team – former National Hockey League goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck – calling him the N-word in the 2002-03 season to not only survive, but to thrive. The ‘Beezer was canned from his position with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for using the slur and Daley has gone on to play more nearly 690 NHL games, all with Dallas. If she watched the entire Anaheim-Dallas series, she might have noticed forward Emerson Etem, an African-American born in Long Beach, California, playing for the Ducks.
If she caught any of the other Stanley Cup Playoffs games on television she might have gotten glimpses of other black players: Philadelphia
Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley.
Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds (a former Los Angeles Kings player) and his teammate, goaltender Ray Emery; Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T.Brown, who was brought up from the American Hockey League when Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos was injured but was so good that he remained with the team when Stamkos returned; Boston Bruins forward Jarome Iginla, who’ll likely be the third black player enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame whenever he retires; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya, who played for his native Sweden in the 2014 Winter Olympics; St. Louis Blues rugged forward Ryan Reaves; and Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman last season.
If she kept watching between periods she might have witnessed the new normal: former NHLers Kevin Weekes, Jamal Mayers, and Anson Carter and broadcaster David Amber – all black men – imparting hockey knowledge and analysis to viewers in the United States and Canada. If Banks attended a Kings or Ducks game, she might run into Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding, Jr., rap artist Snoop Dogg, or Isaiah Mustafa, the original Old Spice Guy who’s a hockey player and Kings season ticket holder. Say, wasn’t that director Spike Lee wearing a New YorkRangers jersey at Game 5 against the Flyers Sunday in Madison Square Garden?
If Banks glanced at the organization chart of the St. Louis Blues, she’d find David L. Steward, an African-American who’s chairman and co-founder of World Technology, Inc., is a part owner of the team.
And hockey isn’t just for the black rich and famous. Pamela Merritt – Twitter handle @SharkFu – is a black, life-long Blues fan who’s had her heart broken in the playoffs once again by an early St. Louis exit. Twitter’s @Kia1 is a black hockey mom who knows the price of goalie equipment and the art of negotiating the parental politics of organized youth hockey. Then there’s @IceHockeyDanceMom, a Southern California woman who’s raising a dancer-niece and hockey-playing nephew solo. You could almost feel the tears rise from the keyboards from a tweet she wrote last December that said “a coach just told me; I’m not rich, kid is black & So-Cal. #NHLDream unrealistic.”
Her nephew still plays hockey and he still dreams.
Lord knows hockey isn’t nirvana for players and fans of color, as Adam Proteau of The Hockey News chronicled in a recent column. But to suggest that a Donald Sterling would be at home in hockey isn’t a pithy zinger.
“Razor” and the “Wayne Train” rolled into Madison Square Garden Sunday and rolled out with a 4-2 Stanley Cup Playoffs win against the New YorkRangers.
Flyers goaltender Ray Emery.
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ray “Razor” Emery and right wing Wayne “Wayne Train” Simmonds keyed the Flyers victory that tied the best-of-seven series at a game apiece. After surrendering two first period goals to Rangers right wing Martin St. Louis and left wing Benoit Pouliot, Emery played an exceptional game.
He quieted talk about his suspect lateral movement by stopping 31 of 33 shots, including key saves on Rangers rugged forward Rick Nash. Emery, who signed with the Flyers as a free agent during the summer after winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, played in place of injured Flyers starting goaltender Steve Mason. He earned his first Stanley Cup Playoffs victory win in exactly three years – April 20, 2011 – as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
Simmonds sealed the Flyers victory with an empty net goal scored in the closing seconds when he gathered the puck deep in the Flyers zone, muscled through two Rangers players while skating the puck out of the zone, and fired it into the vacant Rangers goal from just past the center ice red line.
The victory tied the series at one game apiece. But it also highlighted the importance of Emery and Simmonds to the Flyers. Emery was brought in to compete with Mason for the starter’s job. When the team tabbed Mason as their Number One goalie, Emery settled in as the consummate back-up, the role he had in Chicago which had Corey Crawford between the pipes.
Simmonds played 16 minutes, 27 seconds of snarly, aggressive hockey with lots of work along the boards and in front of Rangers goaltender
Henrik Lundqvist. But his best and perhaps most-difficult scoring chance came with Lundqvist pulled from the net and with the puck deep in the Philadelphia zone.
The empty night goal was another big moment in what’s been a breakout year for Simmonds, who scored 29 goals, 31 assists and collected 106
Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.
penalty minutes in 82 games. He led the Flyers in goals. Not bad for a player who wasn’t considered the centerpiece of the 2011 trade that brought him, forward Brayden Schenn and a second-round draft pick from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Flyers forward and former captain Mike Richards.
But these days hockey people are talking about Simmonds as one of the National Hockey League’s top power forwards. To Philadelphia fans, the hard-working wing is pure Flyer, especially after he notched Gordie Howe hat tricks – a goal, an assist, and a fight – in February 2013 games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets.
And he’s adding more dimensions to his game, proving he’s more than just a big body player who makes a living scoring close-in goals off rebounds and screens.
“The one area I think he’s improved and he’s starting to establish himself is the Rush game,” Flyers Head CoachCraig Berube told The Los Angeles Times last month. “He’s skating with the puck and doing more things off the rush, a few goals off the rush.”
Sunday’s empty-netter offered a perfect – and timely – example.
Say you’ve won the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, lead your team in scoring as a defenseman, and are sixth among the league’s blue-liners in goals and assists.
Is that enough to earn a free round trip ticket to Sochi, Russia to represent your country at the 2014 Winter Olympics? Maybe not, if you’re Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
Whether or not P.K. Subban should be on Canada’s Olympic team has sparked debate.
One of the biggest questions heading into Hockey Canada’s January 7 announcement of its Olympic team is will Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, make the cut?
“It would be silly not for a Norris Trophy winner to be on the team. I don’t even know why that’s a debate,” said Cyril Bollers, president and head coach of SkillzHockey, a Toronto-based program and team that’s produced a bevvy of minority NHL and major junior hockey players. “You’ve won a prestigious trophy and you’re the best defenseman in the whole entire league, why would there be a debate for you not to be on the Olympic team?”
But questions about whether Subban will make it to Sochi have been brewing since October when media reports indicated that he appeared to be a long shot to play on an Olympics squad assembled by Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman and guided by Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock.
Babcock added fuel to the debate last month when offered what seemed to be read-the-tea-leaves comments about Subban’s game and his chances of making Team Canada.
“The great thing about playing on the Olympic team is you’ve got to be a 200-footer,” Babcock told The Toronto Star. “You’ve got to do it in both ends of the rink consistently and the coach has to trust you.”
“What I mean by that is, you don’t put people on the ice you don’t trust, so you have to be dependable,” Babcock continued. “So that’s the No. 1 priority. I mean, there’s skating, elite hockey sense, but you’ve got to be a trustworthy player – whether you’re a goaltender, defenseman, a center. That’s what we told (the players) at camp, I don’t think it’s different for anybody.”
Babcock’s comments were vaguely similar to the rationale given by Subban’s detractors for why he should be excluded from the Canadian squad.
Subban’s a high-risk, high-reward defenseman whose defensive deficiencies would be exposed on the larger international ice surface that the games will be played on in Sochi, his critics say.
He takes too many penalties, he’s too flamboyant and too cocky for a team-oriented sport, they add. Besides, Team Canada will have enough offensive firepower from the blue line with the likes of Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith, the Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty, and Shea Weber of the NashvillePredators.
The “Whither P.K.” drama reached reached such a fever pitch in Canada that The Province newspaper of British Columbia wrote a scathing editorial last month headlined “With P.K. Subban, What Are They Thinking?”
“Some say that the hockey establishment’s snubbing of Subban is related to his strong personality and to the fact that he is black,” the op-ed piece said. “He plays the game on his terms and won’t conform to the code of expected behavior. If that’s the case, it’s the establishment and not Subban that should adapt.”
“Subban is one among the greatest defensemen in the world,” the editorial concluded. “He’s exciting to watch, has real joy for the game and is a terrific, entertaining personality. Leaving him off Team Canada would be unthinkable.”
Subban has taken all the Olympics talk in stride.
“Obviously, just like most of the Canadian players in the league, I’d love to have that opportunity to represent my country,” Subban said on Sirius XM’s “HockeyNight in Canada Radio” in November. “There’s a ton of players to pick from. The reality is that in Canada we’re so good we could send maybe even two teams over if we had to. I don’t think there are too many people who would want to be in Steve Yzerman’s position right now because there are so many great players to pick from, but I’m confident he’ll make the right decision in selecting a team, for sure.”
Putting together a hockey team to compete in the high-pressure Olympic tournament isn’t as simple as putting together an NHL All-Star team, said Darren Lowe, head coach of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues men’s hockey team.
Yzerman and Babcock must put together a team of players who fill specific roles and Subban could become a victim of numbers because of that, according to Lowe, who was the first black skater to play hockey for Canada in the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Adding to the roster anxiety is the fact that the Olympics is happening outside of North America and away from NHL-sized rinks. Team Canada and Team USA have performed poorly on the larger international ice surfaces used in Europe and elsewhere. Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are looking at players who they think have the skating skills and hockey sense to thrive on the 200 ft. long by 100 ft. wide international ice.
“He seems to have a very good offensive game, that’s without question,” Lowe said of Subban. “Based on how many offensive or power play guys they’re going to select for the team, and how many guys they’re going to have as shut-down guys, there becomes a debate. There are obvious guys who are going to make the team and then there are those who are that sort of in-between who are good at something. But how many guys will they have who are good at whatever he’s good at? That’s the only reason why I would think there’d be a debate.”
Subban’s advocates scoff at the claim that he’s a potential liability on big ice by reminding people that he played junior hockey for the Ontario Hockey League’sBelleville Bulls. They play their home games on a international-sized rink
Remember, they say, that Subban helped power Canada to Gold Medals at the 2008 International Ice HockeyFederation World Junior Championship – a tournament played on big ice in the Czech Republic – and the 2009 IIHF Junior World Championship that was played on NHL-size ice in Ottawa.
They debunk the Subban is penalty-prone argument by pointing out that he had 41 penalty minutes as of Dec. 31, 2013, only one minute more than the Kings’ Doughty.
JohnParis, Jr., the first black hockey head coach to win a professional league championship, said the criticisms of Subban should actually be considered compliments.
“We go back to the best of them all, who was Bobby Orr by far,” Paris, Jr., told me recently. “Some of the most ridiculous comments we heard about him were ‘He can’t play defense, he can’t do this, he can’t do that.’ Bobby Orr did everything that was physically and mentally possible for a defenseman to do – the best one ever to put on a pair of skates. But they found a way to criticize him enormously. Doug Harvey was the same thing, Paul Coffey was the same thing. Nicklas Lidstrom, for a while they gave him a difficult time. Good hockey players are always subject to a little bit of controversy. Subban is in the same category. Being an extraordinary athlete, it’s normal they’re going to criticize.”
But Bollers believes the criticism aimed at Subban has a certain edge to it.
“I think the issue is if you watched when P.K. first entered the league he brought that sort of swagger, the low-fives and all that sort of stuff, and I guess the NHL wasn’t ready for that,” he told me recently. “At times he’s very confident about in how he plays and his ability and sometimes that rubs people the wrong way.”
It rubbed “Hockey Night in Canada” commentator Don Cherry rougher and tighter than one of his starched, high-collared shirts. The man with the flamboyant wardrobe wasn’t a fan of the player with the flamboyant game.
But Cherry has been one of Subban’s biggest boosters as the Team Canada roster announcement nears. So has Edmonton Oilers great Wayne Gretzky.
“I keep hearing a doubt that he’s going to be on Team Canada,” Cherry said on a recent “Coach’s Corner” segment during a “Hockey Night in Canada” telecast in December. “What are they, nuts?”
Cherry took it a step on “Hockey Night in Canada Radio” a few days later.
“But if they let him go, he could turn it on with that big ice surface, and that cannon (of a shot) he’s got from the point,” Cherry said. “I don’t understand how they can think about (not choosing him). I’m not knocking the guys that they’ve got, but good gravy. He’s supposed to be the best defenseman, you think he’d be there somewhere.”
I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I still can’t resist.
Remember a few years back when hockey purists were appalled when WashingtonCapitals forward Alex Ovechkin dropped his hockey stick like it was hot and danced around it to celebrate scoring his 50th goal of the season? Mr. Ovechkin, meet AdrianAlvar Stein, a forward for Norway’s second-division Narvick Arctic Eagles.
After his team defeated Norway’s Viking Hockey earlier this month, Alvar Stein felt the need to bust a move – or two, or three. Norway may not be an international hockey power – though it’s in the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics – but it sure is funky!
Alvar Stein’s dance was light-hearted but according to the Artic Eagles’ web site – with a rough translation via Google – how he wound up in Norway is a compelling story.
He’s 22 years old and was born in Swaziland, a landlocked country in southern Africa. He was abandoned on a church staircase moments after his birth, his umbilical cord still intact. He was adopted by a Norwegian family and moved to the Scandinavian country.
In 171 career games in Norway’s second division, Alvar Stein scored 43 goals and 63 assists. He collected 150 penalty minutes and had a plus/minus of -16.
As for his dancing, a story on the team’s web site said “Adrian danced in front of 1,000 crazy crowd as he usually does (in) the living room and locker room in front of teammates.”
Would Alvar Stein do his celebratory dance in the National Hockey League? I think not. But that’s not to say NHLers haven’t put on their boogie shoes – or skates – and done a little shake. Let’s moonwalk down memory lane and look at some of the league’s challengers to Fred Astaire, Patrick Swayze and John Travolta.
Disco’s long been dead, but not to the guy running the Los Angeles Kings public address system or then-King Jeremy Roenick. Nobody put JR in the corner.
Call this “The Ovechkin Games: Stick Catching Fire”:
Why should forwards have all the fun? Goalies like to groove:
Even old-school-era players liked to get down:
The older generation passed their Golden Slippers to the New Kids on the Block:
The Old Spice Guy is the epitome of perfection. Chiseled and confident, he’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” the television commercials say.
But when he’s not shirtless, in a shower, or on a horse in the TV spots, the Old Spice Guy – aka actor Isaiah Mustafa – has skates on his feet and a stick in his hand, working diligently to perfect his hockey game. Mustafa, to put it mildly, is a puck nut.
“Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa takes his stick everywhere – even to South Africa.
He has a goal in his garage that he fires 300 pucks into daily; when he’s not traveling he’s at his local rink at 6:30 a.m. every day for a morning skate and pickup game; when he does travel he takes his hockey stick with him to practice his stickhandling; he has a Budweiser goal light that goes off every time his beloved Los Angeles Kings score; and he’s a Kings season ticket holder.
The success of the Old Spice ads has enabled Mustafa to mix business with hockey pleasure. He’ll be in Sochi, Russia, in February hawking Old Spice at the 2014 Winter Olympics and catching a hockey game or two. He attended the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas last year, and was mistakenly taken for a Vancouver Canucks fan when he visited the city for Old Spice during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Mustafa admits that he’s hardly the second coming of Wayne Gretzky when he’s on the ice. The former National Football League practice squad player/turned actor is a relative late-comer to playing hockey – but he’s game for developing his game.
He attended a Weekend Warriors adult hockey camp in Montreal in summer 2012 to sharpen his skills and tweeted “Apparently there’s a whole left side of my body that needs to learn to skate.”
Mustafa, center, with friends at an adult hockey camp. (Rick Parisi, Weekend Warriors Hockey).
“I look at it like this: I gotta catch up,” Mustafa told me. “I gotta catch up with these dudes who’ve been playing all their lives. If I don’t start by doing crazy training, which I’m used to from football, I’ll be one of the dudes that just gets out there – a weekend player. I can’t just do that. I literally have to be the best I can be.”
Mustafa says he’s always loved hockey and the Kings, but he didn’t start playing the game until 2001. A woman he was dating at the time had a son who wanted to play hockey, so she bought equipment for him and Mustafa.
“She’s like ‘If you take him he’ll keep playing.’ So I ended up taking him a few times and the kid just stops, he didn’t want to play anymore,” Mustafa said. “I went a couple times more, like pickup games. Then I started acting, got busy and didn’t start thinking about skating anymore until right around the time the Kings won the Stanley Cup” in 2012.
After the Weekend Warriors camp, Mustafa joined a team that played in a tournament in Las Vegas but he “got so frustrated because of the fact I was the worst player out there.”
“I was, like, ‘screw it, I’m going to play everyday and in one year when I play in this tournament again I’m going to shock the s*** out of you guys,” he said, laughing. “That’s what I’ve been doing since mid-July. It’s been non-stop.
And he’s been watching hockey non-stop. When a relationship fizzled in 2011, Mustafa didn’t drown his sorrow in booze or women. He called his cable provider instead and ordered the NHL Center Ice package. He watched NHL Network “every damn day to learn the game inside out.”
“I literally watched every game I could possibly watch,” Mustafa told me. “I got to know (NHL Tonight analysts) Jamie McLennan and Kevin Weekes so good, I would just tweet them ‘like Hey guys, nice show, nice comment.’ I learned way more than any person should know that season.”
Mustafa said when people see the Old Spice Guy on the ice they “sometimes do a double-take and they go ‘Hey, are you…’ and I’m like, ‘yeah.'”
“Then they always ask ‘What got you into hockey,'” he said. “I just want to play, I want to challenge myself to see how good I can get. Honest-to-God, I think I’m getting better, but I’ve ‘ve got a ways to go.”
Inquiring minds want to know: Does the Old Spice Guy smell good after three sweat-drenched periods of hockey?
“He ALWAYS smells good,” Mustafa insisted. “If you asked him he would literally slap ‘good’ into your mouth and tell you to use Old Spice body wash because it prevents people from asking such asinine questions. But that’s just him.”