With the NHL season on hiatus due to a labour dispute, we can only imagine what kind of year it could have been. Hockey Night in Canada commentator Elliotte Friedman writes about the unique events of a hypothetical 2012-13 campaign, from opening night to the Stanley Cup Final.
October 11: On Opening Night, the stars are Jarome Iginla and Alex Pietrangelo. The defenceman plays almost 40 minutes and picks up three assists as St. Louis beats Colorado 4-3 in overtime. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock walks into his post-game media scrum and says, “You can fill in your Norris Trophy ballot right now.”
Meanwhile, Cory Schneider makes 52 saves off Calgary players not wearing the number 12. But Iginla scores three times on three shots, including the winner with 2:37 to go. The third score is an empty-netter, after which the Flames’ captain tries to give the puck to new head coach Bob Hartley. But Hartley gives it back, saying, “He had a lot more to do with the win than I did.”
October 12: The lights go dark at the Staples Center. The video screen replays the last moments of the Kings’ Stanley Cup victory over New Jersey (called by Bob Miller and Jim Fox, of course). After a few shots of the celebration, the crowd is stunned into silence by the face of Dodger legend Sandy Koufax. “I’m proud to see LA’s hockey team join the list of this city’s champions,” he says in a video message. Then, we switch to a grinning Kobe Bryant, who adds, “It’s about time.”
The crowd goes absolutely berserk, and the banner is raised. When the lights come back on, it’s noticed that night’s visitors, the Rangers, came out to watch the ceremony. “I wanted them to see what it’s like,” John Tortorella says.
October 13: As Nashville prepares to play its home opener, Shea Weber takes out an ad in the local newspaper, The Tennessean. “Predators fans are worried that I don’t want to be here,” it reads. “What happened last summer is in the past. I’m here for the future. I’m going to do everything I can to earn every cent.”
The game is tied 3-3 when Barry Trotz calls on Weber in the shootout. He skates to the faceoff circle, stops and blasts one of his patented drives past Jaroslav Halak to win the game. Afterwards, Weber, who likes interviews almost as much as he likes poison, says, “Maybe you shouldn’t fill out your Norris ballots yet.”
Moments later, with the Wild and Avalanche in overtime of Minnesota’s home opener, Ryan Suter picks up a puck left for him by Niklas Backstrom. Suter circles behind the net while Zach Parise glides towards the left side. As Suter fires a hard pass off the right boards, Parise cuts back that way.
As Xcel Energy Center’s fans rise to their feet, Parise wins the race to the puck and scores to create a delirious celebration — featuring three bras and two pairs of boxer shorts thrown on the ice. Afterwards, Wild coach Mike Yeo says, “I drew up that play on July 5.”
October 18: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia meet for the first time. At the opening faceoff, Claude Giroux, who felt Sidney Crosby’s slashes in last year playoff series forced him to have surgery, hacks at the Penguin captain. Crosby, annoyed that Flyer coach Peter Laviolette anointed Giroux the game’s best player, hacks right back.
Everyone in the building realizes, “This is really going to be something tonight.”
They won’t stop, forcing referee Wes McCauley to give them coincidental minors. When they get out of the box, they start the show. Both score a hat trick as Dan Bylsma and Laviolette keep throwing them out there against each other. Giroux’s third goal with 26 seconds remaining sends it to overtime before Evgeni Malkin sets up Crosby for his fourth of the night to end it.
As Crosby celebrates, Giroux glides by and gives him a little lovetap. Crosby skates back towards him, the two start jawing and all of a sudden, both teams are on the ice as the officials struggle to keep control.
Total mayhem is averted, but the rivalry remains red-hot.
The three players signed for a combined $ 60 million during the offseason. Kane says, “Mr. Thomson is used to a big return on his investments.”
October 30: With the Sabres and Bruins tied 2-2 in their first meeting of the season, the puck is shot down the ice towards Tuukka Rask. Rask looks up and sees Steve Ott charging at him. Ott smiles and yells, “Payback time!”
Distracted, Rask braces for a collision, but Ott changes direction at the last second, gets to the puck and pokes it past him for the winning goal. The Boston bench glares at Ott, who later says, “I don’t understand what their problem is.”
November 24: The New York Islanders advertise a “birthday party” experience on their website, including a Zamboni ride and high-fives with the players. Well, the young fan who had his/her party at the game on this night will never forget the experience.
John Tavares had three points after one period, seven after two, with teammates spending that second intermission plotting how they were going to break Darryl Sittler’s one-game record of 10. He slowed down in the third, however, finishing with an extremely impressive eight-point night that put him atop the NHL’s scoring leaderboard.
Asked about Tavares’ performance, teammate Matt Moulson said, “If he had any hands at all, he’d have finished with 12 points.”
December 26: The Bruins, in need of an emergency call-up, press Chris Bourque into action on Boxing Day against Ottawa. Father Ray, two days shy of turning 52, gets the Christmas/Birthday wish of his life by witnessing his son score the first NHL hat trick of his career in a 5-3 victory.
Realizing the TV cameras would be on him, Ray Bourque leaves his seat after Chris’ third goal, not wanting everyone to see his emotional reaction. Chris tries to get off the ice after that score, but the Bruins players won’t let him on the bench, allowing the standing ovation to continue.
December 29: Three days after playing his 1,000th game, the NHL and the Phoenix Coyotes honour Steve Sullivan for the milestone. Sullivan is the latest player to be rejuvenated under Dave Tippett and the Arizona sky, leading the team in scoring as it approaches the halfway mark.
Sullivan owns arguably the most impressive story of any player ever to reach 1,000 games, especially considering his recent history of back troubles. Fiercely proud and always confident in his abilities even if others weren’t, Sullivan has trouble finishing his thank you speech.
December 31: The Alumni Showdown overshadows the Winter Classic as the Maple Leafs and Red Wings try to outdo each other with memorable introductions. Mats Sundin, inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame one month earlier, is supposed to be the final Maple Leaf introduced.
But, in an event that was hidden from all but a select few, Dave Keon skates out wearing a number 14 jersey with a “C” on the front, intending to take a shift or two in the game. Keon, who attended a 2007 reunion of the 1967 Stanley Cup champions, has generally been estranged from the organization.
The Leaf fans in attendance love the moment, but it is overshadowed by what the Red Wings pull off. After Nicklas Lidstrom is welcomed with a huge ovation, the crowd is notified that Detroit’s team will start four forwards alongside the defenceman. At that moment, Gordie Howe is helped onto the ice by Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay and Steve Yzerman — with sons Mark and Marty monitoring.
There is not a dry eye in the house as the legendary Mr. Hockey stays out for the opening faceoff. Obviously, a lengthy shift is not possible, but this brief moment is golden.
January 26: At his annual All-Star Game media conference, Commissioner Gary Bettman “welcomes” Wayne Gretzky back to the NHL. The relationship between the league and its greatest player cooled considerably after The Great One left Phoenix. (Gretzky has agreed to forego anything owed after his departure date, but still has not been fully paid the salary he was to collect beforehand.)
Even though its dispute with former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes is not settled, the NHL takes the lead and gets this done. Gretzky says he’s looking forward to being involved with the game once again — although he’s not sure in what capacity it will be. Bettman says there is a role waiting for him in the NHL, should he want it.
January 27: Columbus hosts the mid-winter showcase. The Blue Jackets didn’t know exactly what to expect this year, but Jack Johnson and Brandon Dubinsky are All-Stars from a group that plays hard and really annoys its opposition.
Dubinsky, who stormed out of a summer scrimmage because he thought the other team was stacked against his, energizes the hometown fans by antagonizing the Rangers’ three All-Stars — Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist. The microphone on Lundqvist picks up Dubinsky saying, “Do you miss me?” as the forward jabs at the goalie’s pads.
February 25: The Colorado Avalanche drop a neutron bomb at the trade deadline by acquiring Tim Thomas from the Boston Bruins. Battling to make the playoffs, Greg Sherman decides to take a chance, and Thomas, whose family now lives in the state, is bitten by the hockey bug when his new team is given permission to make contact two weeks before the deal.
Thomas smiles throughout his introductory press conference, but refuses any questions about anything other than hockey. As is to be expected, he is inconsistent upon his return. He shows some top-level brilliance, but is playing catch-up to the rest of the league.
April 6: Eric Staal sets up Jordan Staal at 1:57 of overtime to give Carolina a 4-3 victory over Ottawa, clinching a playoff berth for the Hurricanes. It is exactly what everyone in the organization envisioned, the Staal brothers celebrating a huge victory and a postseason berth in front of a packed arena.
After the goal, Eric tries to give Jordan a high-five, but the younger brother jokingly pulls his hand down and skates away.
April 11: Jaromir Jagr picks up his 71st point of the season, passing Mario Lemieux for seventh on the all-time list. Jagr’s had a great year for the Stars, missing just two games, becoming the eighth player to hit 1,700 points and the 12th to 1,000 assists.
Afterwards, the future Hall of Famer says Lemieux sent him a congratulatory text message, and then gives that big Jagr smile. “I wrote back that I always knew I was better than him,” he says.
April 13: With Bruce Boudreau unleashing him at every opportunity, Teemu Selanne scores his 37th goal, the 700th of his NHL career. He’s now seventh all-time, eight behind Mike Gartner. During the year, he passed Jagr, Luc Robitaille, Lemieux, Yzerman and Mark Messier on the career goals list.
Selanne is such a beloved figure that Kings fans (the game is in LA) give him a standing ovation and chant, “One More Year,” even though they despise the Ducks. Of course, when Selanne later scores the OT winner, they boo him off the ice.
That is not the only big story on the final night of the regular season.
The Rocket Richard Trophy is up for grabs as Tampa visits Washington. A renewed Alexander Ovechkin (69 goals) leads Steven Stamkos (67) going into the game. After two periods, Stamkos is scoreless, but Ovechkin has three assists as the Capitals lead 5-2. In the final frame, the Lightning forward goes wild, scoring a natural hat trick. His third of the game — and 70th of the season — ties it 5-5. He is the ninth player ever to reach 70 goals.
Washington regains the lead on a seeing-eye shot from the blueline by Karl Alzner, his second goal of the night. With the Lightning net empty for an extra attacker, Alzner blocks a shot and follows the ricochet out of the zone. Ovechkin gets there first, breaking in on the empty net to seal the game and tie Stamkos. But, he sees Alzner behind him and waits, allowing the defenceman to take the pass and score the hat trick.
In Toronto, the Maple Leafs are hosting Montreal and Carey Price, who has put the Canadiens on his back and is carrying them at an MVP level. They aren’t the Flying Frenchmen, but play an airtight, disciplined game and have overachieved. The Canadiens must win in regulation to take advantage of the NHL’s new playoff system. A victory in overtime does no good.
Another of their great stories, likely Rookie of the Year Alex Galchenyuk, scores twice to give Montreal a 3-1 win.
As Canadiens fans celebrate their victory, HNIC switches to the back end of our doubleheader — Edmonton at Calgary. As you’d expect from their roster, the Oilers are brilliant one moment, exasperating the next. But Ralph Krueger’s patience is paying off and the Oil is finishing strong. Like the Canadiens, a win gets them a shot in the new playoff system.
The atmosphere is insane, with the Flames and their fans desperately wanting to end Edmonton’s season. But Taylor Hall is built for games like this. He is the best player on the ice; his 50th of the season is the winner on a huge night for the Oilers.
April 15: The NHL switched to its new “four-conference” re-alignment setup for this season. To ease players’ complaints about two of them having eight teams and two having seven, an agreement was made: if the fifth-place teams in any conference were within two points of the fourth-place team, a one-game “wild-card” would be held — just like MLB did Friday night.
In Year One of this plan, there would be two such games.
As good as Carey Price was this season, Roberto Luongo was even better. After thinking about it for a few weeks, Luongo allowed the Canucks to trade him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Motivated and determined, Luongo thrived behind Randy Carlyle’s system.
The Canadiens beat him once to force this extra game, but he absolutely refused to let it happen a second time — Toronto’s unquestioned best player as the team ended the longest playoff drought in the NHL.
The second wildcard would be in California, with the Sharks hosting the Oilers. Buoyed by their victory over Calgary, Edmonton swarmed San Jose early and led 2-1 after two. But, as Joe Thornton walked towards the ice for the start of the third period, a television camera caught his eye.
He slowed down, winked and mouthed, “We’re ok.”
Thornton then went out and proved it, setting up three goals to eliminate the youthful Oilers. “Todd McLellan told me if we didn’t come back and win, he was going to take my ‘Risk’ board and smash it,” the captain said.
April 30: After 20 years and four playoff defeats, the Senators finally win “The Battle of Ontario.” Jason Spezza plays the series of life against his hometown team, with 11 points in six games. Ottawa eliminates Toronto at Air Canada Centre, with one Senators fan holding up a sign saying, “About #%^&@ time.”
May 1: Steve Bernier scores the winner in overtime as New Jersey advances to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One year earlier, Bernier’s major in Game 6 of the Final leads to three Kings goals, ending the Devils’ comeback attempt.
That night, as the team’s dressing room door opened, Bernier stood waiting for the media, barely avoiding breaking down while answering for his penalty. On this night, the rest of the Devils players hide from reporters as long as they can, so Bernier can savour this much nicer moment.
May 15: Chicago and Detroit go to overtime for the sixth time in their Howe Conference Final. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith have scored extra-time winners for the Blackhawks, with Brendan Smith and Henrik Zetterberg replying for Detroit.
Kane, who has responded to questions about his off-ice activities with a brilliant season (he is a Hart Trophy finalist), ends the series by firing a screen shot past Jimmy Howard. Interviewed post-game by Scott Oake, the Chicago forward says, “I’m looking forward to my celebratory glass of milk.”
May 16: The Florida Panthers reveal themselves to be the true Cinderella story of the 2012-13 season, eliminating Ottawa in Game 7 of the Beliveau Conference Final at Scotiabank Place. Their trade talks for Luongo fell apart because they wouldn’t include Nick Bjugstad, but the rookie forward helps fellow youngsters Quinton Howden and Jonathan Huberdeau bring a late-season energy as Kevin Dineen rotates them through the lineup.
After the handshakes, Daniel Alfredsson receives a defeaning ovation as he does one final lap around the Kanata rink.
May 28: The Vancouver Canucks are going back to the Stanley Cup Final. Annoyed by their first-round elimination one year earlier, the Canucks eliminate Chicago to reach the ultimate series.
“We thought we could turn it on in the playoffs last season and got embarrassed,” Kevin Bieksa said. All year, the Canucks are all business, led by the Sedins and Cory Schneider. That attitude is personified by a workmanlike dismantling of their most hated opponent.
Madison Square Garden is the scene of the craziest post-game celebration ever. Fans hand beer to players over the glass, Tortorella brings his beloved dogs on-ice to skate with the Cup and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes a citizen’s arrest when Glen Sather lights a victory cigar in smoke-free Manhattan.
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