In my colleague Stu Hackel's tremendous dissection of what we'll call "The Big Stall" last week in Tampa Bay -- when the Flyers held on to the puck to lure the Lightning out of their 1-3-1 trap -- he said it was "as bizarre as anything I've seen in 50 years of watching the NHL." And he wasn't talking about Mike Milbury walking off the Versus set in a corny, staged protest.
That was quite a statement by Stu, and it got me thinking: what weird and wondrous stuff have I seen in nearly 40 years of watching the NHL, 16 of which have been spent covering it for a newspaper? Here's my list:
1. Watching Pittsburgh Penguins coach Herb Brooks go absolutely ballistic at former Colorado Avalanche TV play-by-play man John Kelly after a game during the 1999-2000 season. Kelly had said during the broadcast that Penguins tough guy Matthew Barnaby had a tendency to "embellish" in order to draw penalties after taking hits.
Brooks blew his stack in a fit of fury in the hall outside the Pens' dressing room for all the media to see. At first, he thought that nicest-guy-in-the-world Peter McNab, the Avs' color guy then (and now), had dissed Barnaby. Oops, as Rick Perry might say.
2. The November game in 1997 when Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy, bored and on the losing end of a game against the Rangers at New York's Madison Square Garden, stickhandled all the way to the red line, doing a spin move to shield the puck and turn his enormously padded rump to a Rangers defenseman.
3. Watching Roy come within, say, one inch of scoring a goal in Philadelphia. He always wanted to score one, and was crushed after the game that the puck hadn't gone in.
4. Roy smashing two TVs and a VCR in the visiting coaches' office in Anaheim in 1999. Avs coach Bob Hartley had prematurely pulled the temperamental netminder from a game the Avs went on to win.
5. Watching Avs GM Pierre Lacroix have a between-periods screaming match with winger Martin Lapointe of the Red Wings in the hallway at Denver's McNichols Arena in 1997. Lapointe had laid out Avs defenseman Alexei Gusarov with a big hit, one that made Gusarov's eyes roll back in his head, and Lacroix went looking for Lapointe by the Wings' dressing room. After some francophone screaming, Red Wings assistant coach Dave Lewis came charging over and yelled at Lacroix, "Don't you talk about our guy after what your [bleeping] guy did to us!" That bleeping guy was Claude Lemieux, of course, and the storied blood rivalry between the teams was just getting started.
6. Watching the live December 1979 broadcast of the game at Madison Square Garden when Bruins players climbed into the stands to go after heckling Rangers fans, culminating with Boston's Mike Milbury beating a fan with the guy's shoe.
7. Being in Pittsburgh on Dec. 27, 2000 for Mario Lemieux's return as a player after three years in retirement, and watching him get a point on his first shift against Toronto. About as electrifying a moment as I've felt in a hockey building. (He finished the game with a goal and a pair of assists.)
8. Standing in the Penguins' locker room at the old Igloo after a morning skate and watching Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky talk with rookie Sidney Crosby. The Great One was in town to scout some Team Canada Olympic candidates. Wish cell phones took pictures in those days.
9. Sitting with longtime hockey journalist Russ Conway at the bar at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto (a legendary place for hockey talk) and listening to him tell stories about how he caught the shameful Alan Eagleson in crimes as the former NHLPA boss. If you haven't read Conway's book "Gross Misconduct", you need to get it right now.
10. Being in San Jose's press box and sitting through a fairly sizable earthquake that struck during an April 1999 playoff series between the Sharks and Avs. The box essentially was a free-standing structure, and when the quake hit, I had visions of tumbling out and well down to the stands far below. Let's just say we all hit the bar pretty fast when that one was over.
11. Seeing defenseman Al Iafrate sitting on a metal chair in a hallway outside the Sharks' locker room, puffing hard on a cigarette between periods. Amazing that players can smoke and still have the lungpower to play hockey at the game's highest level.
12. Watching a bunch of Avs players play basketball at a Dallas hotel. Actually, I'm not sure it was basketball or "Let's see who can slam the ball hardest against the backboard." Easily some of the worst hoops I've ever witnessed.
And lastly, a pair of tales from the trenches to send you on your way:
1. One late night in Chicago, a player dared me to dance with a transvestite on a disco floor. "I'll give you a hundred bucks if you do it," he told me, so of course I did. But when the dance over was over, the player only flipped me $20. I protested and he said, "No, you had to kiss him/her." I misplaced the $20, but I still want my c-note, player. You know who you are.
2. One day in San Jose, at the end of a long road trip and out of clean clothes, I bought what I thought were some cool pants at a kind of consignment store. Yeah, they were a little on the purple side, maybe a bit bright, but I thought they were stylish. The wrong trousers to wear to a morning skate, it turned out.
Sharks veteran Marty McSorley took one look at them and said three words: "Bad pants, man."
After the Avs finished their skate, it was time for them to chant "Barney!" at me and I nearly got tossed in the shower. Upon my return home, my wife at the time took one look at the pants, picked them up and walked them out to the dumpster without saying a word.
No doubt, they were one of the weirder things she'd ever seen in hockey.