Some of you may know that in my day-to-day job I’m a high school teacher and a coach. With a world trying to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic, the governor of the state I live in has declared that students will be sent home as of this Wednesday and stay there until at least April 6th. As of right now, teachers like myself will still be teaching, but we’ll be trying to do our best remotely. Its all about being flexible and trying to make the best of a challenging situation. But you didn’t check out this blog to hear all about that.
The NHL and every other major league sport has suspended its season for the forseeable future and I think its a fair possibility we may see the league forego having the playoffs at all. While I realize the NHL is a league whose revenues are more dependent upon fans attending games, it just doesn’t seem feasible with the current situation and the efforts to try to slow the spread of the illness down. So where does that leave hockey fans who suddenly find themselves starved of hockey? Like my day job, its about being flexible and trying to make the best of the situation.
Here are some suggestions of how to get your hockey fix during this time.
1. Watch the 2003 Wild Playoffs
If you’re going to be stuck without hockey, you might as watch the best parts of it. While Nino Niederreiter‘s Game 7 winning goal was fun, it still isn’t as improbable as the one in the video above was. But maybe its the nostalgia that keeps bringing me back to that first (and only) great run. That certainly was the 2003 NHL Playoffs when the 6th seeded Minnesota Wild and its collection of NHL cast-off’s (Wes Walz, Antti Laaksonen, Andrew Brunette, Cliff Ronning, Sergei Zholtok, Willie Mitchell, Jim Dowd, Pascal Dupuis, Filip Kuba, Darby Hendrickson, Brad Bombardir, Matt Johnson, Richard Park, Jeremy Stevenson, Andrei Zyuzin, Nick Schultz, Lubomir Sekeras, Brad Brown, Jason Marshall and Ladislav Benysek) and one young phenom (Marian Gaborik) triumphed over one of the most talent loaded teams in the league in the Colorado Avalanche. Seriously, the Colorado Avalanche boasted a ton of Hall of Famers like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and of course Patrick Roy between the pipes. No one, besides the Minnesota Wild itself felt it had a snowball’s chance in hell to win this series. Many experts thought it would end in a sweep but when the Wild managed to win Game 1, it was kind of a surprise to us all. Colorado would win the next 3 games and many felt it was fun while it lasted but the Minnesota Wild just wouldn’t go away and even though they had a pop-gun offense, the power play got hot and they ambushed the Avalanche the next two games to bring it to a Game 7. Manny Fernandez was brilliant in net for the Wild in that series. Heck, even Game 6 had plenty of drama too as you can watch below.
So if you haven’t seen it before, I won’t say much more so I don’t spoil it for you but its a must-watch. If you did see it before, and still have the tapes or it recorded somewhere (I know the Wild used to sell DVD’s of some of those playoff games) then dust off the VCR (if you still have it) or the DVD and give it a play. You will notice a lot more hooking, holding and clutching and grabbing in the so-called ‘dead puck’ era of hockey, in fact its pretty obnoxious but I am sure you’ll still enjoy the action. As if that improbable comeback from a 3-1 series deficit wasn’t enough the Minnesota Wild would do it again in Vancouver becoming the first team to ever pull off the feat twice in a single playoff year.
The Vancouver Canucks were a really solid team, which featured plenty of offense from its superstar Markus Naslund, to stud defenseman Ed Jovanovski to the much-reviled power forward Todd Bertuzzi. While Bertuzzi would go onto infamy over his thuggish play that ended Steve Moore‘s career, in the spring of 2003 he was in his prime and was one of the most dominant power forwards in the NHL. Bertuzzi wasn’t the only reason for Wild fans to dislike the Canucks; as super pests Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu loved taking liberties on Wild players early and often and would try to do in this series. The Wild would swap out Manny Fernandez in favor of Dwayne Roloson in this series and Roli helped shut the door as Minnesota would again battle back from a 3-1 series deficit to force another game 7 and history would repeat itself.
As for the next series against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, that’s not worth watching at all. Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere completely shut the Wild down and Minnesota would manage to score just one goal in their series as they were swept by the Mighty Ducks. It was almost like watching a mirror as both teams stuck to playing a defensive style that made the games boring and Minnesota just couldn’t find a way to score. As much as the Wild were a ‘Cinderella team’ that season, so were the Mighty Ducks except they swept their opponents all the way to the Stanley Cup finals where they would lose to the New Jersey Devils in 7 games. Still, it was a helluva run and still the farthest this franchise has ever gone in the NHL postseason.
Not a Minnesota Wild fan you say? Ok, ignore this first suggestion and check out the next 3 instead.
2. Dig out your old video game system and play some NHL hockey
Most fans I know have played hockey video games at some point. Even my dad, who is 70 years old has played video game hockey on his old Coleco Telstar because the only choices had had was hockey or Pong (it was called tennis but its the exact same as Pong). I’m going to guess that many of you out there probably have a system still lying around in the garage / basement and still have some of your old games. NHL games are a hit even for people that do not generally call themselves hockey fans.
In my opinion, if you’re looking for a game to play the one to go to is NHL ’94 by Electronic Arts released for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Sega CD and the PC. This was and arguably still is the best hockey video game ever. While the NHL pressured Electronic Arts, to not include fighting it is still a fantastic experience. The one-timer, the Hartford Whalers and hearing the rendition of Brass Bonanza being played at the start of the period or after a goal is scored just brings back so many great memories. I know there are many who will argue they enjoyed playing Konami’s Blades of Steel for the Nintendo Entertainment System more and if that’s your view, go ahead and play that instead.
Either way, no matter system break out that hockey video game and play and re-live your childhood days. If that’s Activision’s Ice Hockey for the Atari 2600, why not? Just enjoy playing some hockey because with COVID-19 keeping a lot of us indoors you might as well make the best of it. Want a little distraction, check out former Saturday Night Live star (RIP) Phil Hartman starring in this commercial for Activision’s Ice Hockey during the early 1980’s.
Just watching that commercial makes me want to play a game or three. Or if you may not have a video game system anymore but remember those hockey video game days fondly you may want to check out my friend Chris Alaimo at Classic Gaming Quarterly who did a complete history of NHL ’94.
So whether its the Atari 2600, Nintendo, Sega Genesis, N64, XBox, Playstation or any system that you may still have where you still have a hockey game for it. Hook it up and have fun.
3. Watch Miracle or actual ‘Miracle on Ice’ Games themselves
With the 40th anniversary of the improbable sports triumph being celebrated this year, the movie Miracle got a lot of play on sports networks. It’s a great film, where they used actual hockey players to replicate the great moments giving it an authenticity that made it unique. I’m going to guess most of you have seen this movie many times so maybe you want something a bit more authentic.
I was just 2 years old when the actual game was being played and I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I have any kind of memory of it. I certainly had heard about the game and as I got older I read Phil Coffey‘s Boys of Winter and learned so much more. Then there was the ESPN‘s 30-for-30 feature Of Miracles and Men which was outstanding as it gave a look at the great game from the view of the Soviet players. Honestly, there is almost a cottage industry of great documentaries about that game. But have you ever really watched the complete game? I’m going to guess a fair amount of you have not and so here’s a great opportunity to do so.
As we all know, as great as the U.S. game against the Soviet Union was, it wasn’t for the gold medal. That was against Finland and it only got a brief mention in the Miracle movie and most of the documentaries about that epic sports story. Far fewer probably have seen the entirety of that game which had plenty of drama of its own. So why not watch that too! It is still Al Michaels on the play-by-play and Hall of Famer Ken Dryden on the commentary, enjoy it for all the vintage goodness this version has as it even kept the commercials too.
4. Read a hockey book
Want to disconnect a bit? Want to stay away from all the noise of the regular updates about what’s being canceled next? I get it, so the best idea for that is to grab a hockey book and read it. A book I’m reading right now is Ken Dryden’s The Game because I had heard so many great things about it. And wow, this book certainly lives up to that praise. Without giving too much away, it’s Dryden’s story about playing for one of the greatest NHL dynasties ever in the Montreal Canadiens and his own day-to-day thoughts, struggles as he goes through his last season. Its very in-depth and well written and well worth your time even if you’re like me and you weren’t old enough to have lived through those dynasty days of the Canadiens.
Another great read is Phil Coffey’s book the Boys of Winter which I mentioned above. In my opinion, its the best book about the Miracle on Ice because it profiles every player (both American and Soviet) as well as the coaches too. It brings all of those profiles as it describes that epic game itself.
The last two books I’ll mention are books which would mostly appeal to Minnesota hockey fans in Bob Showers‘ Minnesota North Stars History And Memories with Lou Nanne which gives you just about everything you could want to know about that organization. There are so many great pictures and stories from the man who was there from the start of it all.
Lou was even kind enough to help my friend Dan Whenesota with his Minnesota sports video documentary which covers the real reason why the team left for Dallas. Check it out!
He has a book too, A History of Heartbreak: The Events that Tortured the Souls of Minnesota Sports Fans which will be coming out in September of 2020. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy and I can’t wait to read it!
My last book I’m going to recommend is Tourney Time by Loren Nelson and David La Vaque. I know I’ve mentioned this book and retweeted about this book on Twitter many times the last few weeks, but its really that good. If you are a person who loves the Boys State Hockey Tournament. It is full of great stories and interviews from the people who were there and lived it all; throughout the 75 year history of the Tourney.
Or, if its nice and sunny out. Go outside! COVID-19 doesn’t work out in the sunlight and it may just be the best thing for yourself. Don’t believe me, it’s true. Yet if its cold and rainy and you’re in need of a hockey fix try any of these suggestions you’ll be glad you did!