Amid the serious, sometimes tedious business that is the NHL — along with the rest of professional sports in 2019 — the Carolina Hurricanes in recent months have carved out a curious, amusing niche with their postgame celebratory shtick.
Their “Storm Surge” routines, tailor-made eye candy for social media video clips, follow victories at PNC Arena. Channeling the backyards and street hockey patches of their youth, the players carry out their various choreographed routines, including rushing to one end of the ice and launching themselves high into the glass above the boards or, in one recent pantomime, conjuring up a home run scenario with a jubilant victory dance — everyone hop like Big Papi! — around an imaginary home plate near center ice.
Your faithful puck chronicler, who first began going to NHL rinks some 60 years ago, finds the whole thing corny, decidedly contrived, but overall a really good chuckle. For better or worse (wait for it), the Hurricanes have embraced the “leave ’em laughin’ ” ethos of the hockey entertainment biz.
Good for them. It works. People in the stands are enjoying it, along with untold masses who witness the antics on broadcast news and myriad social medium platforms. If you are expecting a curmudgeonly “get off my lawn!” condemnation here from a graying print scribe, sorry, you’re in the wrong front yard. A lot of my parts are, shall we say, challenged these days, but my funny bone is firmly planted in the comedy shop. Anyone who likewise grew up on the early-’60s Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins, learned that to laugh is to survive. Good day to you, Eddie Bressoud.
We live in increasingly cynical times. Opening the daily sports section or turning on sports talk radio too often is a leap into a snakepit. At its core, the entire sports industry is built around games that were created for fun and recreation. The Hurricanes have decided to top off victories with a harmless, joyful giggle at the expense of absolutely no one. Fun, victimless humor. Hard to find nowadays, particularly if you’re shopping among the curious options considered family entertainment.
Yet, like all humor, it doesn’t work for everyone. Good pal Brian Burke was among the first to roll eyes and wag a finger Raleigh’s way. Burke, who won the Stanley Cup as GM in Anaheim, was among the first to mock the Storm Surgers in his new role as Sportsnet commentator.
“Pee-wee garbage,” exhorted the truculent 63-year-old Burke back in November. “Bush league.”
Ex-Bruins coach Don Cherry continued the beatdown last weekend on Canadian TV during his iconic “Coach’s Corner” segment. Grapes, who turned 85 earlier this month, felt it was conduct unbecoming the National Hockey League.
“These guys, to me, are jerks,” said Cherry. After going on to note the Hurricanes remained challenged to bring paying customers through the door, he added, “They’re still a bunch of jerks, as far as I’m concerned.”
Within 24 hours, the Hurricanes embraced the insult Probert-style and were selling “Bunch of Jerks” T-shirts, complete with team logo, on the Internet for $32 a pop. Some 72 hours later, they had them stacked in various sizes at the club’s pro shop in Raleigh.
Insult typically is paired with injury. For the Hurricanes, it has translated to money in the bank. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reported on Monday that the Internet sales topped 1,600 T-shirts in the opening 24 hours.
It could be a one-hit wonder, with sales plummeting if the Hurricanes fail to inch their way into one of the two wild-card playoff positions in the East. Or it could catch fire the way it did in Boston in October 2004 when Sox outfielder Johnny Damon labeled himself and teammates a “Bunch of Idiots.” By the end of the month, the “Idiots” were front and center in capturing the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years.
Granted, the Storm Surge is total gimmickry, and old-school NHLers such as Burke and Cherry, with a due reverence for the league, understandably wince over the antics. It’s not hockey. It has no historical reference. The great Canadiens teams that lifted hockey to levels of near religiosity in the 1950s and ’60s didn’t have Rocket Richard racing around and re-creating “Canard, Canard, Oie!” following wins in the Forum. Aside: Duck, Duck, Goose! was a recent Storm Surge sensation.
But there were those in the ’60s who decried expansion from six to 12 teams as a gimmick. The same happened when carbon sticks took the place of wood, and even before, when players first donned helmets and goalies wore masks.
Your faithful puck chronicler was in the Anaheim press box for the Bruins’ first game there in 1993-94 when a humongous “Mighty Duck” character descended from the arena rafters as part of the pregame ceremony. A dumbstruck Bruins GM Harry Sinden shook his head in disbelief and muttered, “This is the NHL?”
Philadelphia this season introduced Gritty, who is, for lack of a better term, the new team mascot. Gritty has big bug eyes and a wild orange beard that looks like it was salvaged from a dumpster fire behind a South Philly upholstery shop. To these eyes, it’s hideous. At the far end of Broad Street, Gritty’s running 1-2 with cheesesteaks as fan favorites.
So here’s to the Jerks. In a town where the Hurricanes have been all but embalmed the last 10 years, they have 11 remaining home dates on the regular-season calendar to go out there and break a leg. OK, that’s not a hockey term. But it is entertainment. In an entertainment industry, that’s all that really matters.
McGuire close to the action
Pierre McGuire has worked between NHL benches for NBC since 2005, conducting quick-hit interviews with coaches during breaks and otherwise relating the pulse of the game from his unique “Inside the Glass “ position. No sport comes close with such journalistic imbeds.
“Not what you’d call a sanitary place to work,” said McGuire the other day as he checked into a St. Louis hotel for another night on the 31-city circuit. “There’s a lot of bad language, lots of spitting . . . sometimes blood . . . not the most sanitary conditions. And usually, not a lot of wiggle room to get out of the way if something is coming your way.”
Such was the case Monday night in Columbus, Lightning vs. Blue Jackets. On a very brief video clip that went viral on social media, the NBC camera captures a puck as it flies within 2-3 inches of McGuire’s forehead and then bangs into the camera lens. At first glance, the slow-motion video looks as if it might be photoshopped, but the near scrape was real and could have been ugly.
“Actually the defenseman, Dan Girardi, he was right next to me and yelled, ‘Everybody look out!’ ” noted McGuire. “He wasn’t sure if it was going into his bench, my bench, or the Columbus bench . . . so it was all hands on deck!”
The puck banged straight into the camera lens, with the NBC cameraman parked adjacent to McGuire’s left shoulder. His coworker was rattled, said McGuire, but OK.
In his first days at the position, recalled McGuire, a game in Buffalo had the Sabres’ Ales Kotalik colliding with the Rangers’ Karel Rachunek near his center-ice position. Big hit, bad outcome . . . for the guy holding the NBC microphone.
“It was basically a chop right over my head,” McGuire said. “I couldn’t tell whose stick got me. But Rip Simonick, the [Sabres’] trainer, says to me, ‘Pete, you’re bleeding bad.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I know, Rip.’ He says, ‘You want to go get stitches?’ And I say, ‘No, gotta finish the period.’ It was right at the start of the period. So I used a towel and got all the blood out of my eye, basically, and then the Sabres’ doc shot surgical glue into my forehead between periods and that stopped the bleeding.”
Rachunek (who later died in the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash) and Kotalik both offered apologies during intermission. “The guys felt terrible,” said McGuire, who works upward of 125 broadcasts per season. “And I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize — it’s part of the deal when you’re down here, I get it.’ ”
Among the changes McGuire has seen in his boardside tenure: the league’s implementation of curved glass above the boards, adjacent to the benches, and typically at each side of his “Inside the Glass” perch.
The league moved to curved glass after the March 2011 hit that Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara put on the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre. In a footrace along the boards, Chara’s hit sent Pacioretty careening into the rigid stanchion near the end of the Boston bench, leaving the Habs forward with a fractured cervical vertebra and severe concussion.
“I think the league’s been really good and proactive in a lot of safety things,” McGuire said. “They don’t get nearly enough credit for a lot of the things they’ve done.”
McGuire is also fairly certain it was a Chara hit in the 2010 Olympic Games that sent Finnish defenseman Kimmo Timonen, ex- of the Predators and Flyers, sailing into his broadcast spot.
“Clean, hard hit and Timonen went flying . . . and I caught him in the air,” said McGuire. “And you hear him say, right on the mic, ‘Thanks, Pierre.’ Amazing. I’ll tell ya, he got hit hard.”
Despite his close shave with the puck in Columbus, McGuire won’t opt to don a hard hat or advocate for protective netting.
“If you’re going to do it the right way, you’ve got to be right in it,” he said. “You really do. I don’t think it’s that dangerous. It was neat to see the video in Columbus, but that was sort of the perfect storm.”
Ex-Bruin Ward reinvents himself
Ex-Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward, swapped to Boston from the Rangers at the February 2007 trade deadline, has made a successful career recovery on the other side of the boards.
Ward, 46, nearly 2½ years ago landed a gig with SportsMEDIA Technology Corp. out of Durham, N.C. SMT this coming October will be a key player in the NHL’s new Puck and Player Tracking System that will drive a motherlode of data to a variety of platforms, including broadcast and possibly gambling initiatives.
SMT’s role won’t be to generate the data, but rather to aggregate the information into a basket and then push it out through a firehose.
“So, we’re ingesting the data,” explained Ward. “We take all the inputs . . . time code them . . . take them into our system. Then we are the outputter to all kinds of possible second-end users. It can be anything from broadcasters to league stats to wagering . . . to anybody who needs or wants to draw from that tracking will take it from us.”
The NHL unveiled its PPTS at last month’s All-Star festivities in San Jose, Calif. The Germany-based Jogmo World Corp. will mine the numbers via chips to be placed in every puck and worn by all players.
SMT, its tech innovation also seen in the NFL (first-down yellow line during broadcasts) and major league baseball (the PITCHf/x strike zone) will pick up the data Jorgo delivers.
Ward, who considers himself a jack-of-all-trades with the company, is formally an SMT sports technology analyst, hired in November 2016 after constructing a PowerPoint pitch after an intensive six weeks of research.
“It was a 24-slide presentation of things that I found needed to be improved or fixed,” said Ward, noting his prior roles as a player and, for a short time, broadcaster. “I knew there were shortcomings in the [broadcast] technology that existed in the NHL. Then I managed to get in front of the president of the company, and halfway through the presentation she stopped me and told me she was going to walk me into the CEO’s office. I plugged it in at the corporate conference room, presented my ideas, and I got hired on the spot.”
Ward, who quickly became a successful broadcaster following his retirement after the 2009-10 season, to that point had not worked for more than a year after being arrested in Cary, N.C., following an alleged altercation with his wife. As reported then, he was charged with assault against a woman and interfering with an emergency 911 call in October 2015.
The charges ultimately were “dismissed and expunged,” according Ward, who, though separated, said he enjoys an amicable relationship with his wife and remains close with their three children. The episode cost him his broadcast career, in large part ultimately leading to his new gig in tech. He now sounds remorseful and contrite, while at the same time energized as he works back from a costly, devastating chapter in his life.
“I’m not perfect. I had some demons . . . I had some life choices that didn’t bode well,” said Ward, who noted a gambling addiction of 20-plus years that he finally overcame after his arrest. “I am toxic to a lot of people, even though what people assume happened [as part of the arrest] didn’t happen.”
Among the residual costs, added Ward, was that he “had a massive amount of what I thought were friendships in the hockey world and the broadcast world dissolve in a matter of seconds.”
“But hey, listen, I am responsible for the choices I made — and this is where I’m at.”
Headed into Saturday’s matinee against the red-hot Blues, the Bruins had 36 wins with 21 games remaining. A tall order, but Bruce Cassidy could become only the second Bruins coach to post back-to-back 50-win seasons. Tom Johnson picked up 57 and 54 wins from 1970-72, before being dismissed in February 1973 with a 31-13-4 mark. The Bruins finished with 51 wins, but 20 of those were recorded under new bench boss Bep Guidolin. Guidolin recorded 52 wins the following season . . . Contrary to new-age coaching methodology, Guidolin, who entered the league as a 16-year-old during World War II, drove the boys hard in late-season workouts. “We’ll be on the ice every day at home and on the road for an hour or hour and a half for the next six weeks,” he told the Globe the day he was promoted from the AHL Braves. “We need those good legs to keep digging in the last period.” . . . Bobby Orr was among those not pleased to see Johnson dismissed in ’73, noting at the time, “Maybe we just didn’t have the guts to do enough for him.”
The Coyotes on Sunday will retire Shane Doan’s No. 19, commemorating the 1,540 games he played for the franchise, placing him among the august company of Keith Tkachuk (No. 7), Jeremy Roenick (97), Teppo Numminen (27), and Winnipegers Bobby Hull (9), Dale Hawerchuk (10), and Thomas Steen (25) . . . Once he gets in a game for Philadelphia, Cam Talbot will be the eighth goalie to suit up this season for the Flyers, an NHL record. Only three other clubs, Quebec, St. Louis, and Los Angeles, ever used seven in a season. The 1989-90 Nordiques squad, coached by Michel Bergeron, included Ron Tugnutt (35 games), Greg Millen (18), and ex-Boston College Eagle Scott Gordon (10). Gordon is now the Flyers’ bench boss . . . The Bruins, three weeks into the new season when the Red Sox clinched the World Series at the end of October, will have five games remaining when the Sox open their season March 28 in Seattle. Too many games, too long a season, for both leagues.