The 12 Days of NHL Christmas

’Tis the season to be jolly.

The most wonderful time of the year.

The season of giving.

And now that all the presents have been unwrapped, did Santa bring you everything you wanted?

For a guy from just outside Boston whose lucky number is 13, the Hockey Gods nearly delivered the ultimate present last June. Turns out it was the ultimate gag-gift. I am, however, a good sport and enjoy a well-timed, well-played prank every now and again, so I will play along.

That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of presents the game of hockey gave us in 2013. This time of the year is not just a season of giving, but also a time of reflection.

No partridges, pear trees or turtledoves, and always on the prowl for maids a milking. Until that time, Presto’s 12 Days of NHL Christmas…

12 seeds a charging…

Every year there is at least one team, a perennial bottom dweller, that makes a run and gets the hockey world excited.

Despite a penchant for the likes of Bryan Berard and Garth Snow, I have been quite fond of referring to the New York Islanders as the worst franchise in all of professional sports over the years. That, however, did not stop them from making a good run in the then Atlantic Division, reaching the playoffs for the first time in five seasons and putting a little scare in the top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins before flaming out.

(Honorable mention going to the Columbus Blue Jackets who attempted a similar stunt and fell just short of the playoffs, losing out on the eighth seed in a tiebreaker.)

11 becomes a symbol…

The debates about where professional athletes rank on the true heroism scale and about putting the game in front of their own safety overshadowed a moment, but it was still one of the signature memories of the Boston Bruins run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Just after the midway point of the second period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Bruins forward Gregory Campbell laid out to block an Evgeni Malkin slap shot while the Penguins were on the power play. The shot snapped one of the bones in Campbell’s leg, but did not take the gritty forward out of the play. He finished the shift, about a minute of time on ice, before the puck was cleared and he made it to the bench.

Heroic? Stupid? Maybe a little bit of both.

10-year agreement…

The first present the National Hockey League gave the world in 2013 came on the 12th day of Christmas, ironically enough, and was probably its most poignant. In the wee hours of Jan. 6, the NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement in principle to end the most recent of the three lockouts during commissioner Gary Bettman’s reign.

Hockey was back, fans rejoiced and many wondered if it was all really worth it? Soon enough, however, hockey returned with a vengeance with seemingly no long-term effects from a work stoppage some foresaw crippling the game in the United States, and by the time the action packed condensed schedule came to a close in late June, the lockout seemed a distant memory.

Nine beards of glory…

Ok, so we had to stretch to fit the rhyme scheme, but the beard former Colorado Avalanche defensemen Greg Zanon rocked last season was borderline godlike, it could get away with whatever it wanted.

Eight weeks ’til Sochi…

Yes, the Winter Olympics technically do not take place until 2014, but this summer the NHL reached its second biggest agreement of the year when it came to terms with the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee to send its players to the February Games in Sochi, Russia.

Some thought the agreement was inevitable, all sides just squabbling over money, but the way the league has a propensity of pointlessly denying hockey fans the game to bicker over dollars and cents it was still somewhat nail-biting waiting for assurance the two weeks of hockey glory would be back.

Seven sins forgotten…

Funny how the most vile acts can bring out the finest in humanity.

The love lost between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins is a tale as old as time. Yet, when one side of the NHL’s version of the Hatfield and McCoy’s was at its lowest, their bitter enemy stood and showed their support, making us all feels a little bit better.

Six years in prison…

Athletes getting in trouble with the law has sadly become nothing of a special story. It is happening with more and more frequency it seems these days. At least when hockey players get in trouble with the law, however, they make it memorable.

The summer of 2004 gave us Mike Danton and his murder-for-hire plot gone wrong. During the 2009 offseason, Patrick Kane decided it best to punch a Buffalo taxi driver in the face over the matter of two dimes. And this October we had Semyon Varlamov.

Though the charges were recently dropped against the Colorado Avalanche netminder, Varlamov made headlines early in the season when he faced domestic assault and kidnapping charges, which of course were followed by rumors that it was all a conspiracy to derail the Russians chance of medaling in Sochi.

$5-million tab…

The NHL’s longest running soap opera came to an end at this summer’s draft when the Vancouver Canucks sent goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils. The trade brought to an end a goaltending controversy that lasted the better part of a year after the Canucks fell apart in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and soaked up international headlines.

The end to the drama was somewhat anticlimactic considering the Canucks had clearly favored Schneider and were stuck with incumbent starter Roberto Luongo, but not before Luongo – who in my estimation is one of the most underrated personalities in the game below the 49th parallel – gave us a couple of gems with Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Four scoreless games…

The Trade That Wasn’t went beyond Boston and became one of the pivotal storylines of last year’s postseason.

In late March, with a trade in place to send Jarome Iginla to the Bruins from the Calgary Flames until the soon-to-be Hall of Famer called and audible and put the kibosh on the deal. Hours later he was off to Pittsburgh to chase the Stanley Cup that had eluded him throughout his illustrious career with the Penguins.

The cruel twist of irony of course saw the heavily favored Penguins swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Iginla went scoreless and was a -4 in the four games, and then pursued a contract with Boston in the offseason.

Three-goal celly…

When Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall polished off the fourth hat trick of his young career in early December, one of the Edmonton faithful reminded all of us why we play the game.

Two epic wins…

We have been known to say that everyone loves a good comeback. Before the 2013 playoffs came to an end, the Boston Bruins got to taste both the thrill of victory and bitterness of defeat in a pair of epic comebacks.

Unfortunately for the Hub, the latter was the last the Black-and-Gold faithful experienced last season as the Bruins were 76-seconds away from forcing a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final before the Chicago Blackhawks scored a pair of goals 17-seconds apart to score a 3-2 win in Game 6 and skated with the Cup on Boston ice.

The loss was heartbreaking, seemingly not nearly as heartbreaking as getting to stick it to Phil Kessel one last time.

And a spin-o-rama with a sick ’stache…

Tomas Hertl will get all the press when it comes to ballsiest goal of the year because this one never found its way to the back of the net, but I will never forget the day Kaspars Daugavins came into my life. Only his ’stache was of finer beauty.

Where have you gone to, Daug-man?

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