Fri Jul 08 12:39pm EDT
When Tomas Jurco was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the first thing that came to mind wasn't that he played for Saint John in the QMJHL or scored 56 points in 60 games last season.
It was YouTube.
Before he was the 35th overall pick in St. Paul last month, he was the star of viral clips like this one, featuring an incredible shootout move during a game in Cape Breton:
That clip has over 300,000 views, and others are just as jaw-dropping. No wonder his teammates jokingly called him "YouTube Sensation" in the dressing room.
His inspiration came from summer ball hockey and, ironically, from YouTube: "It was random people, I would just try to (copy) them," Jurco told Yahoo! Sports in January. "Sometimes I would type 'best goals ever' on YouTube in the search and try to do that."
But here's the real trick for the puck magician: Being known as something more than a human highlight reel.
He's tried to downplay his YouTube fame by saying things like "I am not a clown" when asked about his Internet fame. At Detroit Red Wings prospects camp, he said the following about a clip called "Tomas Jurco the Magician" that has over 140,000 views on YouTube (via the Free Press):
"When I made that video I was 14," Jurco said after completing his first day Thusrday at the Wings' development camp in Traverse City. "I just put it on a Slovakian Web site and someone took it and put it on YouTube. I never thought that video is going to become so famous.
"On the one hand, I'm happy for it. But on the other hand, I don't like to be called YouTube sensation. I'm trying to be good hockey player."
He's not the first player to have YouTube serve as an introduction to his hockey prowess. Coming up, some other players who went viral before going pro.
But something Crosby did in junior hockey gave fans their first glimpse at future brilliance:
Playing with Rimouski Oceanic, Crosby wasn't the first nor the last player to pull this move and end up on YouTube. (Thank you, Mike Legg.) But this highlight hit the video-sharing platform right around the time it began gaining momentum, and was a frequently-referenced clip when the subject of "reality vs. hype" came up for the Next One.
It also fed the unprecedented hype for Crosby. From an ESPN The Magazine piece by the always delightful Gare Joyce:
One night at home before a sellout crowd, Crosby set up behind the Remparts net with Rimouski up 4-0. When the Quebec defenseman didn't challenge him, Crosby lifted the puck onto his stick blade like he was playing lacrosse. He then whipped a chest-high wraparound by a stunned Remparts goaltender. It was highlight-reel material, the kind of play that should have been wowing SportsCenter fans in Tampa.
But not everybody liked what they saw. Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry hammered Crosby on the air the next week. "I like the kid," Cherry said while tape of the goal rolled. "But this is a hotdog move. And the Quebec Remparts are going to remember that the next time they play. He's gonna get hurt. They're gonna grab the mustard and put it all over him." Cherry wouldn't let the incident die. A week later, he interviewed Brendan Shanahan(notes) and asked him about Crosby's swordsmanship. The Red Wings star said he'd be looking to take the head off a player who pulled a stunt like Crosby did in Quebec.
Crosby, who has a confidence that belies his age, did not apologize. "I know the unwritten rules," he says. "My father taught me about respect. I wasn't trying to embarrass anybody."
Like we said: a glimpse at what Crosby would become.
Robbie Schremp is not an NHL star. But he is a YouTube star. And, perhaps, the cautionary tale for a player like Jurco.
YouTube is littered with clips from Schremp, who was taken 25th overall in the 2004 Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. This one from 2007, in the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Skills Competition, has over 411,000 views:
In the NHL, Schremp had to deal with the accusations that he was, to use Jurco's words, "a clown." From the Province in 2008:
He doesn't buy the fact that he's been treated as a sideshow instead of being treated as a serious player -- at least that's what he's telling people publicly.
"Some people think that's happened and I don't know what to say to that, but I think the team has had a long-term plan for me and they've stuck with the program on me -- at least that's what they've told me and I don't have any reason to doubt them."
Schremp is currently an unrestricted free agent after the Winnipeg Jets didn't give him a qualifying offer. His next team would be his fourth in the NHL.
Another future star who came to the NHL while the YouTube revolution was in full force. Like Crosby, he was a can't-miss prospect who created a "derby" for teams at the bottom of the standings.
Like Crosby, one clip in particular fed into that legend:
That TSN bit about puck tricks has been viewed over 306,000 times on YouTube. We asked him about it last year:
"I was pretty nervous. When they told me what they were going to use it for -- something to show fans what the players were going to do in the NHL [All-Star Game] skills competition -- it was pretty nerve-wracking. It wasn't a one-take wonder."
But it was a calling-card for fans eager to see what this kid could do.
A player that YouTube made a star before he ever appeared in the NHL.
Omark was taken by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and played professionally in Sweden and for its national teams from 2006-2009. During that time, he built an impressive highlight reel on the Internet, including this goal that earned over 767,000 views:
What Omark did here, besides make eyes bulge with that pretty goal, was issue a challenge to web-savvy fans to debate his goal vs. a similar goal by Pavel Datsyuk(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings. This only fed Omark's growing fame.
When he finally made the NHL last season, fans hungrily awaited his first opportunity to dazzle in the shootout. He didn't disappoint in his debut, even if it pissed off the Tampa Bay Lightning something wicked.
The Minnesota Wild prospect, selected No. 9 overall in the 2010 Draft, played in Finland last season and for this Finnish national team at the IIHF World Championship. He was already known as a formidable offensive talent; this move made him a YouTube star:
How much did this change Granlund's star status? They made a postage stamp of him in Finland … which sold out on its first day of release.
He's not a YouTube darling like Jurco, but Ryan Strome — taken by the New York Islanders with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft — made his first impression with a lot of hockey fans via this move with the Niagara Ice Dogs:
"You have a little idea of what you're going to do ... When you're going in on the goalie I'm just trying any way to get the puck in the net. It worked out good that time and hopefully, it will happen a couple of more times this year."
And if it happens again, thousands of hockey fans will head straight to YouTube to find it.
• • •
Players going viral can build on celebrity or create it. Highlights are on the web first before they're seen on SportsCenter. They're important. How important? Important enough for Reebok to CGI Sidney Crosby several years after he was practical effects.
As Schremp has discovered, it takes more than a video library to make an NHL career. But there's no question that more and more fans are being introduced to new hockey talent via viral video content.
The more outstanding the move, the more memorable the name … which is why the Red Wings were more than pleased with Jurco being drafted, even if many fans have never see him play more than a few seconds at a time.