December 26, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
Oh, "The Love Guru," what could have been ...
Mike Myers with a new quote-worthy character. Justin Timberlake as a goalie nicknamed "Le Coq." Verne Troyer as an NHL coach. Stephen Colbert as a Don Cherry-ish announcer. Rob Blake(notes) as himself. The Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup.
And yet the 2008 comedy flopped like a meek winger trying to draw a penalty.
Such is reality for hockey in pop culture. For every "The Mighty Ducks" there's been a "Most Valuable Primate." For every "Battle of the Blades" there was that awful soap opera about players' wives on CBC. For every appearance by Cheap Trick at the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, there was Chaka Khan at the NHL Awards in 2008. All of her.
It's been a wild decade for hockey and popular culture. Acknowledging that we've probably missed a thousand references in music, movies, television, celebrities, literature and other media, here are the 10 biggest pop culture moments, references and trends of the 2000s. Fill the comments with your other favorites.
10. Hockey violence makes great music
"I can't stand to fly ..."
There was a point in the last decade in which John Ondrasik's maudlin "Superman (It's Not Easy)" was an unavoidable hit on mainstream radio, crossing over huge after 9/11 and hitting No. 14 on the singles charts. His stage name, Five For Fighting was a tribute to major penalties in hockey, which is pretty cool. Alas, Sufjan Stevens would release "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" later in the decade, a better Superman song and a better Kal-El/Jesus allegory than anything Bryan Singer could accomplish.
The late Warren Zevon, meanwhile, contributed "Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)" to puck pop culture from the 2002 album "My Ride's Here." It was co-written by Mitch Albom, featured Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, and had a guest spoken-word spot by David Letterman. The song has inspired an upcoming movie by director Kevin Smith, who sees it as a hockey drama capturing the goon era.
9. South Park's "Stanley's Cup"
The final episode of Season 10 of "South Park," the animated comedy classic, was dubbed "Stanley's Cup" and unleashed the unfiltered and gleefully offensive humor of Trey Parker and Matt Stone on hockey.
In the episode, Stan is forced to coach a peewee hockey team for community service and takes over a "Bad News Bears"/"Mighty Ducks" collection of misfits -- including a player with leukemia. Long story short: Stan's team ends up playing the Detroit Red Wings thanks to the Colorado Avalanche, loses in a bloody battle and the leukemia kid dies. It all ends up being rather funny, actually (video), in a wicked parody of sports movies sort of way.
Because of his dating history and bad-boy reputation, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers was already tabloid fodder. But his decision to go the "Devil Wears Prada" route and intern with Vogue magazine exposed him to an entirely new audience and helped him begin to transition into the fashion world. It also inspired a movie called "Puckface" about his adventures in the industry that's yet to see the light of the box office.
Still, it was a moment in which pop culture noted that a hockey player had more on his mind that cheap-shots and fighting; and please join us in noting the irony that it was Sean Avery that accomplished this.
7. As actors, they make great hockey players
Admittedly, Cam Neely set the acting bar high in the 1990s with his work as Sea Bass in "Dumb and Dumber." But let's give some of the NHL's best and brightest applause for trying.
Jeremy Roenick(notes): After his digital self had a star-making appearance in 1996's "Swingers," Roenick Prime carved out his own filmography in the 2000s. Who can forget his appearances as "Desk Sergeant" on "Hack", or "Assistant Coach" on "Ghost Whisperer", or "Security Guard" in "Leverage"? What's that? Everyone can? Okay then.
Soap Operas: Among the NHL players making their daytime television drama debuts this decade were Bill Guerin(notes), Rob Niedermayer(notes) and Kevin Weekes(notes) on "All My Children"; and Scott Gomez(notes), Jeremy Roenick, Sheldon Souray(notes), Chris Therien and Weekes again on "One Life To Live." Is Kevin Weekes hockey's answer to Susan Lucci?
"Rescue Me": The Denis Leary firefighter drama on FX featured appearances by Phil Esposito as a chief and Cam Neely as "Mungo."
6. Robin Scherbatsky loves the Canucks
There are a lot of reasons to celebrate the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." The cultural-meme establishing jokes. The work of Neil Patrick Harris as a living comedy deity. And, of course, the puck love it bestows on viewers via Cobie Smulders's character Robin.
Smulders grew up in Vancouver, had a crush in Pavel Bure, and her character is a Vancouver Canucks fan from Canada on the show. But beyond looking fetching in NHL gear, Robin has also been the provider (or butt of) some great hockey jokes on the show; witness Season 4's "The Intervention" reviewed by Neate Sager, as King Clancy becomes a sexual act.
Any show that name-checks Mayson Raymond and has a character respond by wondering what "the opposite of name-dropping is" must be applauded.
5. Famous people besides Alan Thicke like hockey
Back in the 1990s, the number of Hollywood celebrities who would admit a deep affection for the NHL amounted to ex-pat Canadians and Denis Leary. Ah, what a difference a decade makes. Consider the following categories of NHL loyalists.
Actors/Directors: Vince Vaughn and John Cusack both Committed To The Indian during the Chicago Blackhawks' revival. Tim Robbins played in several charity games while he and then-wife Susan Sarandon attended New York Rangers games. Viggo Mortensen appeared during the Montreal Canadiens centennial celebration. Kevin Connolly repped the New York Islanders on "Entourage". Chad Michael Murray appeared at the first Winter Classic in Buffalo. Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Caan attended the 2007 Stanley Cup finals. Whoopi Goldberg was a New Jersey Devils fan during the Cup years. NHL.com enlisted some legitimately cool people to blog during the playoffs, including David Boreanaz, William Fichtner and Kevin Smith. Jon Hamm was revealed as a St. Louis Blues fan with a dirty hat to prove it.
Musicians: Snoop Dogg wore a fake George Parros(notes) mustaches in supporting the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup run. Country singers Taylor Swift and Dierks Bentley had ties to the Nashville Predators. Kid Rock was a Detroit Red Wings, or at least a Chris Chelios(notes), super-fan. Because it was overcast, Billy Corgan attended the Winter Classic at Wrigley. Garth Brooks worked with NHL and NHLPA charities. And in our favorite marriage of team and music celebrity, Lil' Jon because synonymous with the Atlanta Thrashers for the opportunity to turn Stanley into his pimp cup.
(Special Acknowledgement: While we're happy bands like Cheap Trick and others played NHL events, we must applaud the League and The Hives for one of the greatest All-Star intros in history in 2008.)
Hot Blondes (non-dating category): If nothing else, the 2000s will be remembered for bringing the Six the Cylon from "Battlestar Galactica" to the NHL Awards in Vegas; Kristen Bell revealing her schoolgirl crush on Chris Osgood(notes) and hopes for a Stanley Cup sponge bath; Christie Brinkley cougar'ing up the Nassau Coliseum; and Hayden Panettiere giving us the photo above.
4. Def Leppard disrespects Stanley
On Oct. 9, 2008, the Detroit Red Wings opened their Stanley Cup defense at home with a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But that indignity would pale in comparison to the one at the Fox Theater that night.
The NHL continued to populate its special events with culturally relevant performers (see: Khan, Chaka) by hiring Def Leppard to play its "Face-Off Rocks" in Detroit on opening night. The classic rockers performed a few tunes and lead singer Joe Elliott was given a rather simple task: Taking the Stanley Cup and placing it on a pedestal.
As task he spectacularly failed to accomplish, placing the Hockey Grail upside down on stage. As we said at the time:
This was the proverbial slow-motion car crash; like on "The Price is Right," when a contestant is about to put the $199 price tag on the tube of toothpaste and the crowd simultaneously shrieks "NO! NO!"
Elliott would blame the NHL and its history for the goof: "The practice run the day before with a coffeemaker went swimmingly because it, like every other sporting cup I've ever seen, was wider at the top than the base." But Chris Chelios of the Wings suggested that the Def Lep singer disrespected the Cup on purpose because he was in a rotten mood.
In either case, the impossible was made possible: People were talking about Def Leppard in 2008.
3. Celebrity Puck Bunnies turn players into tabloid fodder
To us, he's Mike Comrie(notes), journeyman center of unfulfilled offensive potential. To them, he's singer/actress Hilary Duff's arm candy, a handsome blockhead photographed as she dashes from sushi restaurants and attends Lakers games.
There have been other relationships of note, with models and actresses and model/actresses and Willa Ford. Some go well, others are Angelica Bridges and Sheldon Souray. But it's been a good decade for hockey players and their celebrity lady friends.
2. Sarah Palin, pit bull with lipstick
In the 2004 Presidential election, John Kerry strapped on a pair of skates and showed off his hockey prowess to the media. It didn't really make a difference for the campaign, because photos of a gawky white dude playing hockey don't exactly have Bigfoot-like scarcity, and because pundits were more concerned with him being an elitist French-looking flip-flopper.
In 2008, hockey actually did help define a candidate: Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, named as Sen. John McCain's running mate on the Republican ticket. Before we knew anything about her policies or politics, we knew she was a "hockey mom" from Wasilla; and for many Americans, it was the first time the term "hockey mom" was given a face, albeit Tina Fey's.
During her Republican National Convention speech, Palin used the hockey mom motif in a memorable one-liner:
"I was just your average hockey mom. I love those hockey moms, you know, they say, what is the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick. I was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better."
Palin's relationship with hockey would continue during the campaign, as she was invited by the Republican donors who own the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues to drop the ceremonial first pucks at home games. More fans booed than cheered during the appearances, and the Sarah Palin Curse was soon a topic for Flyers fans and for Manny Legace's hip.
Speaking of hockey and relationships: Let's not forget Palin's daughter's baby-daddy was a high-school hockey player who would go on to pose in hockey-related photos in Playgirl.
1. "Miracle" on film
If "Slap Shot" is the greatest hockey movie of all-time, "Miracle" is the greatest movie about hockey of all-time.
The 2004 film captured the 1980 Miracle on Ice with thrilling cinematography that showed the game like we all wished it could be shown on television. But the real magic, and the backbone of the film, was in Kurt Russell's embodiment of Coach Herb Brooks. Roger Ebert explains:
That leaves Kurt Russell and his character Herb Brooks as the center and reason for the film. Although playing a hockey coach might seem like a slap shot for an actor, Russell does real acting here. He has thought about Brooks and internalized him; the real Brooks was available as a consultant to the film. And Russell and O'Connor create a study of a personality, of a man who is leading young men through a process that led him to disappointment 20 years earlier. He has ideas about hockey and ideas about coaching, and like the Zen master Phil Jackson begins with philosophy, not strategy.
The film works as a sports movie, and it worked as a box office ($64 million and strong DVD sales) and critical success. But Russell-as-Brooks is the hockey pop culture moment of the decade; Snake Plissken morphing into the most famous figure in U.S. hockey history, and inspiring at least one 4-year-old to memorize the performance.