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My Favorite Goal: Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, RotoWorld’s Ryan Dadoun remembers Tomas Hertl‘s four-goal night against the Rangers, which he capped off with a between-the-legs beauty.

When I’m watching a sporting event, any sporting event, I want to see creativity and emotion. As someone in his mid-30s who has spent his whole life in Toronto, one of the most memorable sporting moments I have is Jose Bautista’s bat flip. It perfectly embodied the jubilation and release of frustration that the city was feeling at that time. It also drew ire from some who viewed it as disrespectful. That argument has always rubbed me the wrong way, which leads me to my favorite goal, Tomas Hertl’s fourth against the New York Rangers on Oct. 8th, 2013.

It was a between-the-legs, top shelf goal on Martin Biron and while Hertl didn’t do anything as dramatic as flip his stick after the goal, he was clearly thrilled and the goal itself, some would argue, was needlessly fancy. Plus, Hertl’s San Jose Sharks had a 7-2 lead in the third period even before that goal. If there were people who took issue with Bautista showing that level of emotion after nailing a critical home run in a playoff game, you can imagine that there were people who took issue with Hertl’s actions for a needless goal in an early October contest.

Hall of Famer Adam Oates, who was the head coach of the Washington Capitals at that time, was one of the most famous ones to object to Hertl’s goal.

“I’m upset. I was just talking to George [McPhee] and he said all the kids do that nowadays, which I understand. But would he have done it on his first goal?” Oates said in 2013 via the Washington Post. “He hasn’t scored yet tonight and he gets a breakaway, is he going to do that on his breakaway? We’ll see.

“I think it was a little bit of a mood thing, which I’m sure they talked about, because they didn’t play him after that. I’m glad the coach did that because this league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”

Don Cherry was the other huge voice against Hertl’s celebration.

“There’s been a lot said about a lot of things, but let me say something: If the score [had] been 1-1, I would have said ‘Hey, what a goal!’ But I want you people out there to think about this: I want you think if Martin Biron was your son or your brother in an 8-2 [game], and everybody’s laughing at him,” Cherry said of Hertl, per Yahoo Sports.

He added, “I’m going to say something about the kid. He didn’t think he did anything wrong. He played in the Czech Republic last year. This is what they do. You can see him laughing at it. He didn’t understand. And kids, you don’t do that.”

With Cherry’s far more recent comments in the back of our minds, let’s awkwardly side step his assertion that Hertl didn’t know any better because he had been playing in the Czech Republic and instead look at the other argument: What if Biron was your brother? The Sharks had already won that game, so what purpose did Hertl’s goal serve other than to humiliate your theoretical brother?

Well, first off, your brother is a professional player getting well compensated to compete, not just for the sake of competing, but for the entertainment of others. The entire economy of the sport that allows these players to make the big bucks is based around the idea that they’re fun to watch. That people are willing to pay good money to watch them play. So entertainment value has meaning in and of itself and while you’re naturally rooting for your brother’s success every time he’s involved in a play, you have to be prepared to take some bad with the good, given how much the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

Obviously these are human beings we’re talking about, not just vehicles for entertainment. They deserve to be treated with respect. That’s why things like prioritizing player safety and weeding out abusive coaches is so important. The emotions of the moment can only excuse so much. Even so, there is still room for players to express joy and creativity even at the risk of some other players having their feelings hurt in the moment. 

Secondly, the goal wasn’t completely meaningless. While it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, it does have historical and more immediate context that’s fun to get into. It was a four-goal game scored in just Hertl’s third career contest. It came immediately after he scored two goals on Oct. 5th, giving him at the time six goals in three career games. It was fun to think about what the future might hold for him and the fact that he scored on a fancy move highlighted an extra level of skill that made him all the more worth tuning in to going forward, again tying back into the entertainment value that’s leading to the big bucks being made.

The move itself also makes the moment memorable. It turned what would have been a relatively meaningless blowout win in early October into a game we remember. It was something a little different, something a little fresh. Maybe that’s because older players have learned to show more restraint, but maybe rather than that being a knock on Hertl’s youth, it’s a knock on the conformity in the league. The idea that you shouldn’t give your all to score because you already have a big lead or the idea that you shouldn’t be celebratory when you score your fourth goal because it didn’t meaningfully impact the score itself just feels a little lifeless to me. You’re losing a little something special in the process.

Four goals is special. It’s worth trying for, for its own sake. Fancy goals are interesting and could throw off goaltenders. It’s worth attempting them from time-to-time. And I’d argue that celebrations are worth having when something big, like scoring fourth goal in a single game at the age of 19, happens. Rather than demean players, it humanizes the sport and shows that these are real people with real feelings playing the game, even if in the process some feelings might unfortunately get a little hurt. Though to that point, hurt feelings can also lead to fierce rivalries, which help make sports as worth watching as they are.

It’s worth adding that while there were some big names who were against Hertl’s celebration, he did have one big defense. Joe Thornton made a NSFW comment that arguably ended up being more famous than the goal itself. Those comments also ended up sparking another separate controversy about when a reporter should regard what’s being said in a locker room as off the record.

Another person whose take is interesting is the person on the receiving end of the goal, Biron. He enjoyed a 508-game NHL career and Hertl’s goal was scored in his 507th contest. Rather than be upset with the goal specifically, Biron was more upset with his play and the situation he was in with the Rangers at the twilight of his career.

“Our bench were going to gun for him, obviously, because it’s 8-2, he scored four goals, and he’s celebrating like he just won the Stanley Cup,” Biron told The Athletic in 2018. “I didn’t really realize (Hertl) celebrating too much, but I know that our players after the game said some of the veterans like Couture and Joe (Thornton) got up over the bench and said don’t worry, we’ll talk to him. … The (Sharks) veterans were like, we know he overdid it.

“But the kid was young, his family was in the stands, it’s exciting. I get that. There’s a bit of old school/new school (debate) that goes into that. So I wasn’t mad because of the goal itself. It was more the situation. It was kind of the beginning of the end. I played in St. Louis a few days later and it didn’t go well, and I was like, it’s time to move on.”

As for Hertl, that four-goal game offered a window into his potential. In the years that followed, there would be growing pains, until he really began to click late in 2017-18 and then broke out in 2018-19 with 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games. He’s carried that success into this season as well and is now one of the cornerstones of the Sharks’ offense. He even added two more hat tricks back in January, but for me that fourth goal back in 2013 remains the most memorable moment of his career, both for what it was and for the discuss it sparked.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

PHT Morning Skate: Babcock betting on himself; impact of Fabbri trade

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Mike Babcock on the pressures he’s currently facing with the Maple Leafs struggling: “I’m going to do (the job) as hard as I can for as long as I can. I’ve always bet on Mike Babcock. I’m going to continue to bet on him.” [Toronto Star]

• It’s not been a fun season if you’re employed as a Maple Leafs backup goaltender. [One Puck Short]

• Brady and Matthew Tkachuk have turned into phenomenal NHLers. [TSN]

• It’s been a pretty good first 20 games for the Panthers under Joel Quenneville. [Miami Herald]

• ‘Scrappy’ Jets gaining an identity at season’s quarter-mark. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Morgan Frost, one of the Flyers’ top prospects, has been recalled. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• How Barry Trotz went from 50/50 sales to winning the Stanley Cup. [Sportsnet]

• What’s bugging the Predators of late? [A to Z Sports Nashville]

• The Bruins are eager to see Charlie McAvoy reached another level. [Boston Herald]

• Fun story from the NCAA over the weekend: Nine minutes before pregame warmups started, North Dakota’s Josh Rieger was eating a pound of buffalo wings. He got the call, rushed to the rink and scored his first goal. [Grand Forks Herald]

• How Robby Fabbri trade impacts Detroit Red Wings, Andreas Athanasiou. [Detroit Free Press]

• Five women who should be inducted next into the Hockey Hall of Fame. [Sporting News]

• Kris Versteeg asked to be released from his contract with the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. [NBC Sports Chicago]

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes are benefitting from the addition of assistant coach Phil Housley. [NHL.com]

• Looking at the best and worst in the history of Flyers jerseys. [Hockey by Design]

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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.

Sportsnet fires Don Cherry following Coach’s Corner comments

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Rogers Sportsnet has fired Don Cherry following his comments during Saturday’s Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

“Sports brings people together – it unites us, not divides us,” read the statement released by Rogers Sportsnet on Monday. “Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday Night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down. During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for. Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.”

During a rant about seeing people in the Greater Toronto Area not wearing poppies to honor fallen soldiers, the 85-year commentator singled out immigrants ahead of Remembrance Day on Monday.

“I live in Mississauga, nobody … very few people … wear a poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it, nobody wears a poppy. Now you go to the small cities … And the rows on rows … you people who come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

The negative response to Cherry’s comments caused Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley to issue a statement on Sunday saying that the comments do no reflect what the network represents. Cherry’s Coach’s Corner co-host, Ron MacLean, apologized on Twitter and during Sunday’s “Hometown Hockey” broadcast.

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong … I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond. Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”

The NHL responded with a statement of its own:

Cherry, who coached the Boston Bruins for five seasons before becoming a full-time hockey commentator with the CBC in 1981, refused to apologize, telling the Toronto Sun, “I have had my say.” Following the news of his firing, he told the paper, “I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers.”

No word yet on how Sportsnet plans to use the first intermission of the early Saturday Hockey Night in Canada game yet.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Flyers’ important week; Splitting up Hall, Hischier

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Bruins would like Charlie Coyle to take more shots on goal. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Caps defender Jonas Siegenthaler continues to grow into his role. (Washington Post)

• It might be time to split up Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. (All About the Jersey)

• The Flyers are about to enter the most important week of their season. (Broad Street Hockey)

• It’s been a tough start to the month of November for the Hurricanes. (Cardiac Cane)

• What’s holding back Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei right now? (New York Post)

• These Fender NHL telecaster electric guitars are pretty interesting. [Puck Junk]

• What can Jay Bouwmeester and Zdeno Chara teach us about longevity and the hall of fame? (The Hockey News)

• Guy Carbonneau’s defensive awareness helped get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. (NHL.com)

• Just because Dan Girardi retired, it doesn’t mean he has to step away from the game. (Sportsnet)

• The NHL issued a statement on controversial comments Don Cherry made on Saturday night. (Canadian Press)

• Andrew Berkshire shares his thoughts on who the best Canadian team in the NHL is. (Sportsnet)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Why Hurricanes have embraced ‘bunch of jerks’ moniker

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“Young men expressing themselves for joy of winning. You don’t do this thing in professional hockey. What are these guys? Jerks or something?”

“I know what I’m talking about. You never do anything like that. They’re still not drawing. They’re a bunch of jerks as far as I’m concerned. Imagine Justin Williams doing stuff like that.”

Don Cherry is known for his colorful suits that he wears every Saturday during Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coach’s Corner” segment. Who knew he’d be the inspiration for one of the best-selling fashion designs in the state of North Carolina?

Taking to his pulpit on February 16, Cherry railed against the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-win celebrations, also known as the “Storm Surge.” The brainchild of team captain Justin Williams, they were quickly embraced by Hurricanes fans and around the hockey world. 

“Listen, things are changing,” Williams told NBC last week. “This isn’t a historic hockey market, it’s relatively fresh. We obviously won a Stanley Cup here, but it’s relatively fresh. This team got here in 1997. It’s not like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadians or the Boston Bruins, an ‘Original Six’ who had decades and decades of hockey history.”

Following Cherry’s yelling at clouds, the Hurricanes acted fast and teamed up with BreakingT to create the “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts, which sold well and sold out fast. The team store inside PNC Arena is constantly running out of inventory. (An update to the shirts was made after Cherry doubled-down on his criticism by labeling the fan base as “front running.”)

They weren’t popular just with fans, though.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Curtis McElhinney’s dad ordered a handful and shipped some to his son. Warren Foegele’s friends back home in Markham, Ontario hit him up asking if he could get them a few.

The Hurricanes embracing the “jerks” really blew up the entire “controversy” and emboldened the team and fan base even further.

“I think what I love about it is it could have went a different way when you get criticized for what you’re doing,” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “But the guys, they didn’t. They took it and they ran with it in a positive light and the fans took it and ran with it in a positive light.  

“It’s not about everyone else, it’s about our team, it’s about our community, it’s about our fans and we’ve enjoyed this year. That ‘little bunch of jerks,’ whatever you want to call it, has kind of brought us together in a way that’s unified the fans and the players even that much more, which was already a pretty strong bond.”

As the Hurricanes pursued their first playoff berth since 2009, the extracurricular activity excited a fan base that had been patiently waiting for turnaround and helped create a new legion of supporters in the process.

“You know, I think we’ve been kind of irrelevant for a while here in Carolina and that was kind of one way to maybe boost some people in the stands, and obviously get people to think of us of a team that was playing really good hockey throughout the season,” said forward Jordan Staal.

The excitement isn’t contained to solely inside PNC Arena. Dougie Hamilton has noticed he’s been recognized more at dinner or out on the street this season. There’s been a buzz around Raleigh this season as the Hurricanes made their march to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then knocked out the defending champion Washington Capitals in seven games in Round 1.

From the night Cherry entered “bunch of jerks” into the lexicon to the end of the regular season, the Hurricanes were tied for the third-most points (33) in the NHL with a 16-7-1 record. They could have hit back at the longtime commentator, but instead, as they’ve done all season long, they leaned into the negativity and embraced it.

“I don’t want an apology,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said in February via the News and Observer. “He can say what he wants to say. I should thank him. It was good for us.”

Game 3 of Hurricanes-Bruins is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Watch the live stream here).

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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.