In order to avoid making this post epically long, I decided to break it up into three separate entries. Like the Unofficial Awards, this is a long-standing tradition in my life, with the title most likely inspired my my father's love of watching reruns of westerns with me as a child.
Despite the number of hours I spent screaming at my TV and mentally strangling the NHL (yes, it’s possible to strangle an organization) over the course of the last year, the 2008-2009 season turned out to be a pretty good one. It fell one game short of being great, but it’s not like I didn’t enjoy the ride. Here we have the best of the best, or at any rate, the best that I could remember off the top of my head. Please feel free to remind me of any highlights that I might have missed.
--The Winter Classic. Despite Pavel Datsyuk’s wind-aided goal, the Classic was an amazing experience and, quite frankly, one of the few things the NHL got right this year. It was so much fun that part of me felt bad for the fans of other teams who had no rooting interest in the game. You pretty much knew it was going to be epic when Mike Babcock and staff came out wearing fedoras. I think that was the moment when I realized that he was probably the only coach who could replace Scotty Bowman in my heart. The other highlight of the game: Henrik Zetterberg + eye black. I’m just saying… (Why are there not any better pictures of this? Seriously.)
--Possibly my favorite part of the playoffs was Ozzie semi-silencing his critics. He was supposed to be the Wings’ weak link, and he came this close to walking away with a well-deserved Conn Smythe trophy. Honestly, of all the Wings, he’s the one I felt worst for at the end of Game 7. It seemed like no matter how well he played, analysts kept saying he was going to implode and the next game would surely showcase the “real” Chris Osgood. But game in and game out, the man was an absolute wall. I’m of the opinion that the way a player performs when he’s under maximum pressure shows his true character, and this year, Ozzie did nothing but reaffirm my faith in him. Despite losing, the man has nothing to be ashamed of.
--I was also a huge fan of CBC’s Coldplay intro to the Finals. If ever there was a song that you wouldn’t associate with hockey, it’s “The Scientist.” Those Canadians made it work in a spectacular fashion, though. In moments like those, I almost wish that I was Canadian. Last year, when I didn’t have cable, my playoff mantra was TGFC—thank god for Canada!—and CBC was literally the only thing that kept me sane. Despite the fact that they lost their Song, aka the unofficial Canadian anthem, this year, those guys never let me down.
--In other random media notes, I was thrilled to see the reemergence of the Cup lift commercial. This is quite possibly the greatest advertisement ever made. It’s hard to believe that the NHL was responsible for it. That strange and pathetic sound you hear every time it’s played is thousands of grown men simultaneously bursting into tears. At any rate, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. I can’t tear my eyes away from it when it’s on, nor would I want to. When I missed games this year, I would stop fast forwarding through the commercials on my DVR just so I could watch this one. And there’s no greater complement that I can give to a marketing instrument.
--Speaking of mesmerizing, one of the Wings’ season highlights was Datsyuk’s epic shootout goal against Minnesota. Much like the Cup commercial, I don’t think I will ever tire of watching this replayed on youtube. It’s pretty safe to assume that at least 75% of the views for that video were from me. It was a Dangle Dangle Special of the highest order.
--Also on the subject of Datsyuk, few interviews could top his chat with Mickey Redmond while serving his quasi-suspension after the All-Star Game. It should be mandatory that he give interviews like that 365 days a year.
--Another of Mick’s finest moments was the interview he and Ken Daniels did with Gary Bettman in which Mickey “debated” (which is a kind way of saying that he delivered an intellectual ass-kicking) many of the issues nearest and dearest to Wings fans’ hearts with the commish. Because, clearly, I needed another reason to love Mickey Redmond. Not many people involved in the game have had the audacity to publicly stand up to Bettman and *gasp* question his actions, and you have to imagine that it took the commish a week curled up under his security blanket made from Sidney Crosby’s game-worn jerseys to get over the affront. I’m not sure whether I liked the look on Bettman’s face as he squirmed while Mr. Bingo Bango dared challenge him or the awkward look on Ken Daniel’s face as he desperately tried to find a way to rein Mickey in. I still haven’t found a youtube video of this “debate,” and that makes me sad on many levels.
--The fake Henrik Zetterberg ads. These things make my life. As far as I'm concerned, they're sheer brilliance on the part of the guys who created them. Also, this video. It should send chills down your spine if you're a true hockey fan.
--One of the best regular season things the organization did was begin the $15 student tickets around Christmas time. I realize that this was only in response to the lousy economy, and thus it’s a little hard to take joy in it, but it allowed me to attend more games that I had ever been able to before. I hope they continue this next season, because, let’s face it, Wings games are like my version of crack. The more I watch, the more I need to fulfill my craving.
And a few more on a personal level:
--I had the opportunity to meet Ted Lindsay at the Joe this year. I got his autograph, but more importantly, I was able to shake his hand. This was perhaps one of the finest moments in my career as a hockey fan (yeah, I said “career”).
--During another visit to the Joe, my friend and I were running late and arrived after the game had started. The concourse was pretty much deserted as we were running to our seats. As we passed by one of the pillars, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. Sitting right there, 5 feet away at a book-signing table, was none other than Mr. Hockey. I stopped dead in my tracks and blurted out, “Holy shit, that’s Gordie Howe.” He then proceeded to look up at me and laugh. That’s right. Gordie freakin’ Howe looked me in the eye and chuckled at me. I stood there for a moment with what can be best described as a look of bewilderment on my face. Then I did a little half-wave, and ran away to find my seat. You had better believe that I’ll be telling that story to my grandkids some day.
--Going to my first playoff game was another personal highlight. I'll never forget rising to my feet in unison with the entire crowd as the Wings broke in on a 3-on-1 in overtime. While there is literally nothing that can ever be done to make me enjoy playoff OT, this was by far the greatest play I've ever witnessed in person at the Joe.
--Starting this blog has quite possibly saved my life. It’s hard to believe, considering the enormous amount of time that I waste on the internet every day, but for some reason, I was completely unaware that there was a vast hockey blogging community until halfway through this season. Once I saw the brilliance that was out there, it was only a matter of time until I felt compelled to join in and have my say. Putting my thoughts out here has been a wonderfully cathartic alternative to ranting and raving at (yes, “at,” not “to”) my friends and family who care about the Wings significantly less than I do. Mostly it's just good to know that there are other crazies like myself out there. Suffering alone is no fun at all.