The year in hockey 2011 was … well, really a bummer in a lot of ways.
Sure, we had the surging popularity of the NHL and hockey in general, to the point where a Stanley Cup Final featuring (GASP!) a Canadian team produced great ratings thanks to the Boston Bruins' bandwagon. We had the feel-great story of Winnipeg getting the NHL back, and moribund teams finding renewed optimism in places like Sunrise (Fla.) and Edmonton.
But we also had concussions to players of every style, size and star power, to the point where the word "epidemic" could be used.
We had a summer featuring three tragedies, following by the biggest tragedy in recent sports history as an entire KHL team was killed in a plane crash. For every high this year, there seemed to be a humbling low.
In between those emotions, however, we found humor, absurdity, snark, brutality, triumph and brilliance.
Here are the Puck Daddy Best of 2011 winners:
• Puck Daddy's 10 best players of 2011
• Puck Daddy's 10 best hockey goals of 2011
• Puck Daddy's 10 most shocking moments of 2011
• Puck Daddy's 10 best hockey saves of 2011
• Puck Daddy's Top 10 Jersey Fouls for 2011
• Puck Daddy's top 10 hockey fan moments of 2011
• Puck Daddy's top 10 hockey fights of 2011
• Puck Daddy's 10 worst hockey bloopers of 2011
• Puck Daddy's Top 10 shootout goals of 2011
• Puck Daddy's top 10 hockey fights of 2011
• Puck Daddy's top 10 hockey fights of 2011
But those categories don't cover all the bases. And now, the Puck Daddy Alternative Year in Hockey Awards for 2011. Happy New Year everyone.
Team of the Year
What if a collection of marginal North American minor league hockey players went to Russia and were given free reign to pummel anything that moved, by any means necessary?
Then you'd have Vityaz Chekhov of the KHL.
This good squad is on a two-year terror campaign. There were the brawls with Metallurg. There was the line brawl with Riga. There was Jeremy Yablonski elbowing Darcy Verot in the head during a fight. There was coach Andrei Nazarov attacking fans with a stick. There were goalie fights. In the summer, the Vityaz boys were fighting wedding guests.
Fight We Can't Believe Happened
Rick DiPietro dropping the gloves for a fight is like trying to play basketball with a crystal serving bowl. Brent Johnson, with the slight victory here.
Fight We Wish Had Happened
Brian Burke. Kevin Lowe. Lake Placid barn.
Constructive Criticism of the Year
On-Ice Taunt of the Year
While Artem Anisimov's gun shot against the Tampa Bay Lightning was awesome, we still have to go with Arron Asham's infamous (and since disowned) "Go To Sleep" move after concussing Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals.
Off-Ice Taunt of the Year
Two words: Poop glove.
Whine of the Year
After a shutout in Game 5, Roberto Luongo drew a contrast between his goaltending style and that of Tim Thomas of the Bruins. After those comments were vilified by the media and by the Bruins, Luongo spoke about it again:
"I've been pumping his tires ever since the series started, and I haven't heard one nice thing he had to say about me, so that's the way it is."
This set up Thomas for the dunk: "I guess I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires."
Invention of the Year
Matt Pratt from Reddit Hockey created these NHL soccer kits that became a sensation during the summer. We're still waiting for Reebok to give us one good reason why they don't actually exist.
In February, the Phoenix Coyotes partnered with a local jeweler to give away 3,000 cubic ziconia diamonds to women attending the game -- with one lucky lady winning an actual diamond valued at $5,000. Over 13,800 fans attended the game. The winner never claimed her prize. Ah, but the jewelry store did the fans right: Selecting a winner from the fans who did turn in information cards, and eventually giving away the ring. (Yes, we understand your confusion: "Worst Giveaway" and Ilya Kovalchuk on the power play is nowhere to be found?)
Booze In The Blender Award
In March, the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators combined their "Pink In the Rink" breast cancer awareness night with a special Margaritaville jersey night; the result might be what you see if you drank a bottle of tequila and ate a bowl of Starburst. Yes, those are beach balls as the faceoff dots, why do you ask?
Blog of the Year
The Puck Buddys started as a Washington Capitals blog run by two gay men. It's turned into a place to find coverage of the entire league from "boys who like boys who like hockey." It's coverage you simply aren't going to find on TSN; and it's also [expletive] hilarious.
Investigative Blogging of the Year
Kyle Scott and Crossing Broad kept the heat on linesman Steve Miller for the "missing puck" from Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with this video. This led to a blockbuster story by ESPN that confronted Miller with the facts and found him on the defensive.
Song Parody of the Year
As hotly contested as it's ever been, what with "Mack The Shark" emerging from San Jose and a collection of inventive songs from the Canucks fans. But in the end, they all play backup to the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs, James Reimer, and the Bloge Salming/Down Goes Brown brain infection that occurred when you heard this Rebecca Black spoof for the first time.
Hockey Announcer of the Year
Every franchise has their homer announcers. Few actually keep themselves in check. Announcer Mike Hickey of the Springfield Junior Blues went fanatic in a game against the Topeka RoadRunners, at one point screaming down to the ice: "In the middle! With the long hair! Jerk! Greasy little punk!" In a remarkable moment, he used his "coach's corner" segment the following day to apologize for his behavior and "step away" from the booth for a bit.
Class Trip of the Year
In March, 3,600 elementary and junior high students attended the annual Portland Pirates "School Day" game against their AHL Worchester Sharks. What a fun day of learning about athleticism and teamwork! Oh, yeah: And also about punching people in the face. At 16:24 of the first period, things got chippy between the teams, and the brawl that broke out saw three fights and four ejections. Parents were "outraged" and "horrified" over the display. Alas, the Pirates were forced to apologize for, ahem, a fight at a hockey game.
Creeper of the Year
Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks' photo-bombing, as Kes-lurking remains superior to Tebowing.
Prom Proposal of the Year
Oliver Levin, 16, asked his Wayland High School friend Sarah to the prom … with the help of a dozen random Boston Bruins fans. He then cut the video together and surprised her with it at school. And she said … yes, of course. What girl doesn't want some random old guy with a cigar helping to ask her to prom?
Beer League Team of the Year
Somehow, this became the Year of the Beer League team on Puck Daddy, with two hilarious volumes of creative (and outlandish) names. And while The Jim Wolf Paek and the Victorious Secrets will forver be in our hearts, we must give the nod to the team that inspired this meme: The Hat Trick Swayzes. They're like the wind …
House of the Year
The home of Detroit Red Wings fans Michael and Sarah Tyler of Livonia, which became an epic tribute to the Wings during the Stanley Cup Playoffs … including its own Facebook page.
Goalie Mask of the Year
While it wasn't exactly a good luck charm for him or the Anaheim Ducks, Jonas Hiller's Movember mask featuring his teammates with 'staches was an instant classic. But it ran a close second to what was, without question, the creepiest thing we saw this year: Carey Price's tribute to Jacques Plante at the Heritage Classic. The ears and hair were to represent Price's, but the eyes and mouth are Plante's. CREEPY.
Vigilante of the Year
Drew Larman of the ECHL Florida Everblades was shopping at supermarket in Fort Myers when he heard a scream. The purse of Beverly Whaley had been snatched, and the 59-year-old did a face-plant in chasing the assailant. So the 6-3, 195-pound Everblades center went into action mode, running after the perp in a full sprint and finally catching him at his car. He lunged in front of the car door and stopped it from closing with his arm and leg, and snatched the purse from the snatcher. At the time, Larman didn't give his contact information to the woman, the store or the police. He simply returned to the Batcave and waited for Commissioner Gordon's signal …
Infographic of the Year
Thanks to Puck Daddy contributor Dan Gustafson of the awesome hockey infographics site Sixteen Wins, we better understood the Bruins' bar tab.
Interview of the Year
Via HBO 24/7, nothing was more humMANgous big than Ilya Bryzgalov on the universe (and killing tigers).
Puck Daddy's Man of the Year
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. He's the rare breed of honey badger who can piss you off and then back it up. Marchand called out the Montreal Canadiens in March; in April, he had five points in seven games to eliminate them. He's a guy who can score two goals in a Game 7 on the road to win the Stanley Cup, and he's a guy who can rabbit-punch the other team's star player in the same series. Now, he's one of the top offensive weapons on the Bruins, and has a Stanley Cup ring (and the dancing on the bar) to prove it (even if they needed to edit his celebratory tattoo). Call him a rat, call him a pest, call him what you will. As Matt Damon once said in "Ocean's 13": The Nose plays.