Friday, February 5, 2010

Let's talk about hockey

It sucks. Actually, that's not really true. Hockey can be just as exciting as any sport you can think of. Its players are highly skilled, it's played on ice, and is the only team sport that allows fights to occur on a regular basis. If the NHL wasn't run by complete nitwits and the majority of its American television coverage was on a channel that more than 75 people actually get, then hockey might be more popular in America. I used to be a huge hockey fan, but ever since they canceled the entire season due to a labor dispute, I just haven't got back into it all the way. Plus, the team closest to me, the Atlanta Thrashers, is run by a bunch of nincompoops who seemingly do not care about winning, and play in a city which couldn't care less if the Thrashers were to leave tomorrow. When you're star player (Ilya Kovalchuk) turns down a 100 million dollar contract and you have to trade him for 60 cents on the dollar, things are not going well. When you have the same general manager for nine years and your team has not won a single playoff game during this period, you obviously couldn't care less about winning. So, the way I figure it, since nobody else cares about the Thrashers outside of the players and maybe the coaches, then why should I?

However, this post isn't about the ineptitude of the Thrashers, instead I'm going to talk about Owen Nolan. Nolan is the most famous hockey player born in Ireland, even if he grew up in Canada. Nolan is known as a power forward, which in hockey means he's a guy that can score goals and likes to mix it up and deliver hard checks. Nolan's also known to get into a fight or two. Currently with the Minnesota Wild, Nolan is 74th in NHL history with 1,774 penalty minutes, and 73rd in goals with 419. His best season came with the San Jose Sharks in 1999-00, where he finished 2nd in goals (44) and 6th in points (84). Nolan also appeared on the cover of EA's NHL 2001 and from personal experience, he is pretty dominant on that game. So, I'm going to watch some YouTube videos featuring our fearless Irish hero.

- Our first video is a hockey fight featuring Nolan vs. then Sabers defenseman Doug Houda. Since Nolan is still on the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche), I think this is from 1995. Anyway, hockey fights are usually somewhat awkward affairs, what with all the sweater pulling and the fact that they are on ice skates, and this was no real exception. Nolan dominated the short fight, forcing Houda down on the ice and getting the only two blows that landed while in Houda's guard. Score that fight for Nolan.

- The next video is another fight from the 2000-01 season, featuring then Shark Nolan against the Calgary Flames' Jason Weimer. Weimer starts the brouhaha with a body check which Nolan takes extreme exception to. The two fight mainly against the board, trying to throw punches to the head while their opponents helmets are still on. I'm not an expert, but punching a man's head covered by a helmet seems like a good way to break your hand. Weimer lands a couple of short rights before Nolan gets the takedown on Weimer before the referees break it up. The announcers are somewhat surprised at Weimer's actions, but then review his pentalty minutes and decide it's not much of a surprise after all. After the fight, the P.A. plays Chris Issak's "Baby did a Bad Bad Thing." which I guess is appropriate but wouldn't be the first song I played after I fight. Well, to each their own. We'll score that fight a draw.

- Next on the fight card is a fight from the 2003-04 season where Nolan, now on the Toronto Maple Leafs, takes on Matt Barnaby of the New York Rangers. Before I go on, I'd just like to say that I find it astonishing how much hockey fight videos there are on YouTube. If you were an NHL player and have gotten into a fight in the past 30 years, then its probably going to be on the internet. Anywho, Nolan starts the fight by punching the crap out of Barnaby while he is pinned up on the boards, the only thing saving poor Barnaby is that he still has his helmet on. They finally get off the boards, and Barnaby lands a couple of punches before Nolan gets in another right. After some jersey grabbing, Nolan lets Barnaby hit him with a left, and laughs after Barnaby punches him. That's usually not a good sign. Barnaby lands a right to the apparent amusement of Nolan. The refs finally break it up. I give this fight to Nolan, as he dominated early and laughed in Barnaby's face when he let his weak punches land. That's got to be a little embarrassing. Barnaby was a guy that made his living basically annoying the crap out of his opponents and being a general pest, and, according to the video description, was a "creep". I think that's an accurate description.

- Here's a video that doesn't involve fighting. It's Owen Nolan at the 1990 NHL Draft, where he was picked first overall by the Quebec Nordiques. Nolan has a three star mullet in the clip, it was definitely business in the front, but needed a little more party in the back. The analysts say that Nolan is the best combination of toughness and talent, and compliments Nolan on his "dark, surly side" saying he likes to fight, likes to hit, and likes to score goals. Well, who doesn't. Our man Nolan is interviewed for 20 seconds, saying he's glad to be here or whatever, they show his parents in the crowd, and that's pretty much it. I wonder if Owen regrets that mullet.

- Finally, we wrap this up with a video from the 1997 NHL All-Star Game. The video starts with a mini profile of Nolan, talking about his Irish background and the fact that his parents move out of the violence of Belfast and into the tranquility of Ontario when Owen was young. I guess it worked out pretty well for them. At this point, Nolan has two goals, and is looking for a third to complete the hat trick in front of his hometown crowd in San Jose. With two minutes left in the third, the East's Mark Messier loses the puck accidentally on purpose, giving Nolan a 1-on-1 breakaway against goalie Dominik Hasek. Nolan points to the upper-right corner of the goal, calling his shot. Nolan then shoots it towards the right corner, bouncing it off the post and into the net. That's how you finish off a hat trick. The fans throw there hats onto the ice in celebration. Seems like a bad idea, but they do get their hats back, so it's all good. Since it's an All-Star game, Nolan does a quick interview with the Fox sideline reporter. He said something about Hasek killing him all season and for most of the game until his called shot, and expresses excitement or something over his hat trick. In case you were wondering, the East beat the West in spite of Nolan's hat trick, 11-7, but I don't think anyone was wondering, so you can do what you please with that information.

In conclusion, you may wonder, why review Owen Nolan videos?  Well, I say, why not. Honestly, I did it because he happened to be the 74th all-time leader in penalty minutes. So there, it was a random choice. Next time I might review a movie or a game of Sonic and Knuckles for the Sega Genesis. You just never can tell. However, if anybody had any ideas, feel free to submit them.

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