Maybe it’s like this in other sports and my NHL tunnel vision doesn’t allow me to see it, but every year in hockey, we always have some sort of inane media-generated controversy.
The latest came Tuesday when San Jose Sharks 19-year-old Tomas Hertl, a 2012 first-round pick from the Czech Republic, scored four goals in a 9-2 rout against the Rangers. The fourth goal — and eighth Sharks goal of the night — came by Hertl skating in on a breakaway, slipping the puck backward between his legs and flipping it against the grain under the bar.
The Shark Tank went into a frenzy. Insane goal, one that went viral on YouTube and trended on Twitter, not simply because of Hertl’s stunning move, but because it came from a baby-faced teenager that few people — other than scouts paid to know these kids — had ever heard of.
Hertl officially had taken the hockey world by storm — not just Silicon Valley.
The next day, though, questions started to rumble: Did Hertl, now nicknamed “Sharknado” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl,” disrespect the Rangers (like they didn’t do that to themselves) or disrespect the game?
It especially blew up when Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, a Hall of Fame center who was as skilled a playmaker as there was during his playing days, told Caps reporters he was “upset.”
“I was just talking to [GM] George [McPhee] and he said all the kids do that nowadays, which I understand,” said Oates, quoted by the Washington Post. “But would he have done it on his first goal? He hasn’t scored yet tonight and he gets a breakaway, is he going to do that on his breakaway?
“I think it was a little bit of a mood thing, which I’m sure they talked about, because they didn’t play him after that. I’m glad the coach did that because this league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”
It’s true Todd McLellan sat Hertl the final eight minutes, and the assumption was he was trying to protect Hertl in case the Rangers wanted to retaliate. The Sharks coach denies this and can’t believe folks are criticizing the kid.
Oates is as respected as you get, but his quotes made my forehead boil Thursday. Coincidentally, as I was simmering, I happened to overhear (OK, I was eavesdropping on) two guys at a salad bar.
Ojars Linde and David Jordal were going on and on about Hertl’s goal. Linde said, “That’s the stuff we love about hockey.” Jordal said, “Reminded me of you in your younger days.”
This is what NHL dinosaurs and old-school media folks need to hear. The NHL is about entertainment, not a bunch of robots cycling in the corner or blocking shots. Hertl flashes impressive skill on a fourth goal of a game, and he’s accused of making a “rookie mistake?”
Hertl’s goal got the NHL on ESPN, Deadspin, had 7-year-olds asking their dads to rewind the DVR so they can see the goal again (former Wild defenseman Shane Hnidy, now a broadcaster with the Winnipeg Jets, recounted that story).
“You score three goals in a game, you can do whatever you want. We’re in the entertainment business,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Added Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin, “He scored a beautiful goal. It was fun to watch. If I were a fan of the game — which I am — I loved it. Is hockey the only sport where if you do something nice, you talk about showboating?”
Exactly. This wasn’t Nail Yakupov sliding the length of the ice on two knees after scoring a tying goal last season.
This was a kid being a kid, a kid excited he did something that hadn’t been accomplished by a rookie in 25 years.
A Selanne production