Remembering the Belfast Giants’ viral Christmas hit, 10 years later

The idea had been rattling around inside Belfast Giants general manager Todd Kelman’s head for several years. But he needed a special group of players, ones who would really embrace his vision.

It was in his fourth season with the Elite Ice Hockey League team that Kelman felt the time was right. One morning after practice he entered the locker room and told his players he needed them back at the rink later that day. The team was going to film a Christmas video to help promote their four-game homestand at the end of the month. If you didn’t want to be involved, he told them, don’t be involved.

When the Giants players arrived later, they didn’t know what to expect since Kelman had not outlined his idea. When he did, there was some hesitancy at first, but free food and beer helped the players go along with the plan.

“Todd was brilliant with his marketing and I knew he had some kind of idea and it was going to work out,” said defenseman Mike Hoffman, who retired in 2013 and now does real estate in Massachusetts.

The video would see the players dancing and lip-syncing to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” The beer might help loosen them up, but we’re talking about professional hockey players. How would they pull off the routines?

In order to get the players to look acceptable while dancing, Kelman called up Deborah Maguire, a professional choreographer who also headed up the Giants’ cheerleading squad. She wanted the video to look like it had been rehearsed and not just feature a bunch of hockey players dancing around like goofs. (Sure, they still do that but you can see there was effort put in.)

The entire process took five to six hours, with the players practicing in the morning, returning in the evening and then practicing again the next day. It quickly went from a fun time with teammates to their competitive natures coming out and wanting to perfect the routines Maguire had created.

“Once we started learning the routine we started to take it quite serious and we were the ones to say no, we want to do another take, that’s not good enough,” said forward Craig Peacock, who joined the EIHL’s Glasgow Clan in 2016. “I think we just really got into the spirit of it. Obviously the beers helped, too.”

You can see a leftover beer can in a stall during Peacock’s solo part.

Belfast Giants

The elf (costume) on the shelf

Hoffman is the giant elf you see popping up during the opening scene inside the locker room. The costume wasn’t supplied by the team as Kelman’s budget consisted of just the food and drinks. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 250 lbs. defenseman actually owned the outfit.

I know what you’re thinking: They make elf costumes in that size?

“It was snug,” Hoffman said. “The pants were big. The top was pretty snug. It fit like a charm.”

Hoffman had purchased the costume that week in preparation for an ugly sweater Christmas party with his classmates from the University of Ulster. Walking in town with teammate Rich Seeley, he saw it in a store window and it called out to him. “It was like a movie scene where it’s glowing in the light. It’s one of those things you just see it and it’s meant to be,” he said.

Belfast Giants

As the rehearsing began, there was a desire to include more festive items. That’s when Hoffman nonchalantly asked Kelman, “I’ve got a giant elf costume. Do you want me to run home and get it?”

“We’re not going to ask why, but go get it right now,” Hoffman, who still has it in his possession and wears it on Christmas Eve, was told. 

Hoffman’s dancing, by the way, wasn’t completely influenced by the beer on location. Some things are just natural.

“I brought a couple [of dance moves] over to Belfast,” he said.

The dancing solo to prevent more dancing

Winger Dan Welch features later on in what could double as a scene from a Michael Jackson video. That part was necessary in order to complete the process in a timely fashion. To avoid having to teach the players another dance routine head coach Doug Christiansen, who had previously played with and coached Welch, volunteered the defenseman due to a particular skillset he possessed.

“I think Doug asked Todd are we done and Todd said it’s not like we have anyone who can moonwalk,” Welch recalled. “Doug goes, Yes, we do. He grabs me and said all right, we’re doing this, and I was put through the paces on that by the dance instructor.”

And Welch ended up as one smooth criminal.

Belfast Giants

A global reaction

The Giants posted the video to their YouTube page on Dec. 12, 2010 and within 24 hours it went viral. Sites in the United Kingdom picked it up, and places in North America like Yahoo and ESPN noticed, which helped the view count. But when Carey herself Tweeted out a link to the video, its popularity skyrocketed.

“I don’t think any of us expected it to go the way it did,” Peacock. “To this day, as soon as we get to December I get people tagging me on Facebook. I can’t escape it. It’s going to be that for the rest of my life, and you know what, it’s a good memory and it’s good fun.”

As of this month, the YouTube video has over 373,000 views. It would have already eclipsed 400,000 if not for a typo on the game schedule at the end, which forced the team to replace the original after it had been viewed between 50,0000-100,000 times.

“We thought it would be funny for our fans. We had no idea it would do what it did,” said Kelman, who is now with the Cardiff Devils. “It was insane. It was something.”

Ticket sales spiked for the homestand and the Giants also sold a large amount of jerseys to people in the U.S.

Since the Giants released the video in 2010 teams from all over have done something similar to gain notoriety. The following year many wondered if there would be a sequel. According to Kelman, Christiansen had a simple reason for why a follow-up would never be created.

“Here’s how we avoid the question: You ever seen the movie Caddyshack?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen Caddyshack.”

“Ever seen Caddyshack II?”

“No, I never saw Caddyshack II.”

“Watch Caddyshack II — that’s why you don’t make sequels.”

A bonding moment 

Who needs a long road trip to increase team chemistry when you can get your players together for a silly Christmas video? That’s what the experience provided for the Giants. They got to bond away from the ice, goof around, and make lasting memories for themselves and their fans. 

“We had a good team that year,” said Peacock. “Those early years I was in Belfast that was the one thing I loved about being there was we always had such a good team morale. It’s a long season. Our season’s structured a little different than North America and the league’s the most important thing. Us doing that in the middle of the season, having some fun together, was a good pick-me-up for everyone because around Christmas time in our league you play in so many games. Every game is like a playoff game when you’re trying to win the league because there’s so much importance on it.”

The Giants would win 41 of their 54 games that season and come within a point of the league title. They would also reach the semifinals of the league playoffs and come up just short during the final round of the Challenge Cup. No trophies, but still a successful year for the organization.

“It was a great team builder and a lot of people had a lot of fun,” said Welch. “Because of it we’re all kind of connected in a way.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.