Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to when a fan mocked Steve Sullivan for getting hit in the face by a high stick … and was then later hit in the face by a puck.
With the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche facing off on Wednesday Night Hockey (watch live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET) we are hopping in the ole time machine to take a quick look back at the most absurd moment to happen between these two teams. Yes, it’s the Steve Sullivan fan incident from Jan. 26, 2001, when a heckler in the stands ended up getting a taste of his own medicine.
Chapter 1: The matchup
During the 2000-01 season the Blackhawks and Avalanche were two trains going in two very different directions.
The Blackhawks were stuck in the middle of the most irrelevant stretch in franchise history and looking completely hopeless. It was an impossibly bad 10-year run where they made the playoffs one time, were in the process of ruining the relationship with fans, and were on their fifth different head coach in four years.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, were one of the elite teams in the league. They had an All-Star laden roster that was five years removed from a Stanley Cup, had been in the Western Conference Final three more times since then, and were on their way to winning a second Stanley Cup a few months later.
It was a mismatch, and the game started exactly as you would expect with with the Avalanche racing out to an early 3-0 lead.
Chapter 2: Steve Sullivan gets high-sticked
It was at that point, midway through the second period, that an otherwise random high-sticking incident took place involving Sullivan and Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay.
As Tanguay attempted to clear the puck out of the Avalanche zone, his stick inadvertently clipped Sullivan in the face leaving a cut on the bridge of his nose. When Sullivan skated back to the bench, slumped over and in pain with a towel to his face, a glass-banger in the front row decided to start heckling the injured forward.
It did not go unnoticed by Sullivan.
Banging on the glass is annoying, but I’m not going to stop you.
If you want to try to heckle the other team, just keep it clean and within the lines of good taste. You’re the fan paying the money to sit in the good seats, do what you want (again, within reason).
A good rule of thumb, though, is do not mock the injured players.
Chapter 3: Sullivan gets some revenge on the scoreboard
Maybe he was feeling some extra motivation. Maybe it was some good luck. Whatever the case, Sullivan did his best to bring the Blackhawks closer on the scoreboard by scoring a pair of shorthanded goals against Patrick Roy on the same penalty kill to cut the deficit to 3-2 late in the second period.
Sullivan was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad Blackhawks team, finishing the season with 34 goals including a league-leading eight shorthanded goals.
A good way for a player to silence a heckler is to do something during the game that impacts the result. For a few minutes, it looked like Sullivan might be able to do that. But again, the gap in talent between these two teams was so much that not even two shorthanded goals in less than a minute were enough to swing the result in Chicago’s favor (the Avalanche went on to win 5-2).
Chapter 4: Sullivan strikes back
It turned out to the best way to get even for Sullivan in this case was simply the opportunity to return the favor.
With the second period coming to a close, Roy attempted to clear the puck off the glass and accidentally put it in the stands where it hit an unsuspecting fan in the head.
You will never guess which fan it ended up hitting.
In the video posted above, Sullivan points out that he didn’t realize what happened until teammate Tony Amonte pointed it out to him. Sullivan then skated over to the glass and shared some “choice words” with the fan who had done the same earlier in the period.
Probably the best part of the exchange is the fans wife/girlfriend/friend holding the towel on the fan’s head, laughing, and giving Sullivan a thumbs up.
You can see everything, as well as Sullivan’s commentary, in the video above.
For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.