December 28, 2011
The Philadelphia Flyers observe a moment of silence to honor the memory of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team.
It's hard to claim it was a good year for hockey when you look at what made this list, but it's safe to say it was a good year for talking about it. If you found yourself in a conversation with a puckhead at any point, chances are that you didn't run out of topics.
This year was full of drama, intrigue and surprises.
Dustin Byfuglien was arrested for boating while intoxicated, Matthew Barnaby for driving while intoxicated, and Mike Milbury charged with assault. Someone threw a banana peel at Wayne Simmonds. A week later, Sean Avery alleged that Simmonds called him a gay slur. Ron Wilson signed a contract extension and then announced it on Twitter on Christmas morning.
Speaking of the coaching carousel, it certainly yielded an eyebrow raise or two. Bruce Boudreau took the blame for the Washington Capitals' problematic first quarter and found himself out of a job... for less than a week. Then he was hired to replace Randy Carlyle in Anaheim. Ken Hitchcock shocked everyone when his return to coaching happened not with the Columbus Blue Jackets, as everyone expected, but as Davis Payne's replacement in St. Louis.
And yet, none of these stories cracked our list of the most unexpected and shocking moments of 2011.
The turning point of the Stanley Cup Final wasn't a big goal or a big save -- it was a big hit. In Game 3, with the Vancouver Canucks leading the series 2-0, defenseman Aaron Rome stepped up on Nathan Horton at the blueline and caught the Boston Bruins' winger with his head down.
It was a shocking moment in and of itself, as Horton lay on the ice convulsing, his arm outstretched, before being taken from the ice on a stretcher. But even more shocking was the supplementary discipline, as interim sheriff Mike Murphy suspended Rome for four playoff games, twice what most expected. It was the longest suspension in NHL playoff history.
Rome was a huge loss for the Canucks, who had already lost Dan Hamhuis to a rib injury and, with Rome's suspension, had nobody that could step in to keep their top shutdown pairing humming. And, while Horton was a huge loss for Boston, the Bruins were able to rally around the moment, taking over the series and eventually winning the Cup.
9. Chara runs Pacioretty into stanchion; police called, stanchions replaced
Two months earlier, the Boston Bruins had been on the other end of a controversial hit, as Zdeno Chara ran Montreal Canadiens' winger Max Pacioretty during a late-season game between the two clubs. Pacioretty was taken to hospital with a concussion and fractured vertebra.
Habs fans were outraged, going so far as to call the police and demand an investigation into what they deemed a willful act of assault. Chara said it was a complete accident:
"It was just a hockey play that developed. I know deep down I didn't do it intentionally. I said it before, it's not my style. I never try to hurt anybody. I play physical, I play hard, but that's not what I intended to do."
The NHL saw it the same way and no action was taken against the Bruins' captain. Action was taken, however, against the stanchion, as the league replaced the padded stanchions with rounded glass before the 2011-12 season began.
8. Vityaz head coach attacks KHL fans with hockey stick
We've seen coaches flip out before, and we've even seen them go after fans, but we had never seen a coach lose it and attack fans with a hockey stick until KHL head coach Andrei Nazarov did it during a 3-2 loss to Dynamo Minsk.
My favourite part is at about 0:45 of the video when the guy that just tried to climb the glass and bludgeon fans with one of his player's sticks looks at his assistant coach like, Those fans are crazy, huh?
7. High school hockey brawl tarnishes Texas State Championship
There were some crazy hockey brawls in 2011, from the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins' all-out brawl in February to the Turkish fracas that called for intervention from riot police, but nothing came close to this crazy scene during the Texas State Championship.
It's tough to watch, especially the brief span at the one-minute mark where a kid comes across the ice to board another kid, only to be wiped out by a flying elbow to the back of the head from someone else. It's like something out of Mercer Mayer's One Monster After Another. Good grief.
6. Thrashers become Jets, return to Winnipeg
There were a number of potential homes bandied about when it became clear that the NHL would be unable to find an ownership group for the Thrashers in Atlanta -- Kansas City, Las Vegas, Hamilton -- but the triumphant return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg was an unexpected twist. You'd have thought Winnipeg gained independence the day it was announced.
But the franchise's move north didn't just impact Jets fans. It also kicked off a lengthy discussion regarding realignment, which finally ended when the league announced it would be going to a four-conference system starting in 2011-12.
5. Philadelphia's thoroughly unexpected offseason
Was 2011 the most shocking offseason Flyers fans have ever seen? Heck, the only one that could rival it was the one that saw the Torrance family tending the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. (They're Flyers fans -- check out Danny's jacket.)
Not only did GM Paul Holmgren move Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the same day in separate trades, completely changing the makeup of the team, but he inked Ilya Bryzgalov to a massive 9-year, $51 million deal. And then, the coup de grace: he signed Jaromir Jagr. No one saw that coming.
4. Stanley Cup Final marred by Vancouver riot reprise
Frankly, it shouldn't have been as shocking as it was. Vancouverites have a history of rioting -- seriously, the Hudson's Bay Company windows have been shattered by angry mobs so many times it's a wonder every window on Granville Street isn't plexiglass -- and they rioted the last time the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 1994.
Still, with the Vancouver Olympics being such a riot-free success, and with Canucks fans certain their team couldn't lose four of the last five games in the Final, hopes were high. And then they were destroyed in one horrific scene, along with much of downtown Vancouver, as the large crowd turned violent in a hurry.
3. Sidney Crosby headlines epidemic of concussed NHLers
2011 was supposed to be Sidney Crosby's coming out party. Granted, he was already a superstar, but he was in the process of establishing himself as more than that when a series of head hits brought everything to a halt. Crosby found himself sidelined with a concussion for a whopping 11 months.
In November, the Penguins' captain finally made his triumphant return, only to return to the injured reserve after only a handful of games due to another onset of concussion symptoms.
But Crosby isn't the only one. At the time of this writing, three of the league's best defenders -- Chris Pronger, Kris Letang, Shea Weber -- are out with concussions, and the list of NHL superstars sidelined with head injuries continues to grow at an alarming rate. As of this writing, there were 28 reported concussions in December alone.
2011 should have been Crosby's year; instead, it was the year of the concussion.
2. Belak, Boogaard, Rypien and the summer of tragedy
I cringe at being the last person of 2011 to link these three deaths together, especially since they were all very different. Boogaard's was an accidental overdose. Rypien took his life due to depression. And Belak's death is thought to be accidental.
Still, all three suffered from depression believed to be at least somewhat correlative with their NHL roles, and it was difficult to separate these shocking deaths from the concerning information coming to light about the effects of repeated head blows.
But, putting away the soapbox, they were simply three horrific, devastating losses for the hockey community, linked at a basic level by the brotherhood that mourned them. All three continue to be missed.
1. Hockey's darkest day: Lokomotiv perishes in plane crash
Already reeling from the passing of Belak, Boogaard, and Rypien, the hockey world was stunned on Wednesday, September 7, 2011, when a plane carrying KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, struck a tower mast on takeoff and crashed, taking the lives of 43 of its 45 passengers
There wasn't a single person in the hockey world untouched by this horrific tragedy. One of Russia's top hockey teams was simply erased from existence. Families were devastated. It was a nightmare.
If 2011 wasn't the worst summer in hockey history, I don't want to know what was.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Tracy McGrady to Dwight Howard: Trade to Nets might not be a good idea
• Forde: Notre Dame aims to keep Big Ten, Pac-12 rivalries | Leagues 'expand'
• Four guns stolen from Panther Kion Wilson during a Best Buy trip