November 12, 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.)
Our final end of decade rankings list will be the best goals of the past decade, so stay tuned for that.
This list remembers those goals that had meaning and weren't just pretty to look at. There are hundreds of thousands of goals scored in all levels of hockey annually, but there are few that hold much importance to a fan base or a league or the game itself.
Here are the Top 10 most significant goals of the last decade ...
No one gave the Minnesota Wild a chance against the two-time Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was the first playoff appearance in franchise history for the Wild, and they were expected to play the "happy to be here" part and go away quickly.
Things didn't go quite as the script planned, as Minnesota clawed back from a 3-1 series deficit and Brunette's overtime goal in Game 7 ended the series in dramatic fashion. The series winner would also be the last that was allowed by Patrick Roy who would retire in the offseason. The goal started a postseason run all the way to the Western Conference finals before the Wild ran out of gas against the Anaheim Ducks.
Sykora's goal did two things for the '08 Finals: It prolonged a series that had much hype heading into it, avoiding disappointment; and it turned into something that quickly put more eyes on to it. Even casual puck fans know that playoff hockey is great hockey, but overtime playoff hockey is gold. Two nights later, Game 6 quickly became must-watch TV, not only because Detroit had a second shot at winning the Stanley Cup, but how Sykora's goal gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a thought of hope heading into what would be the final game of the series.
8. Brett Hull's 700th goal in 2003
Only five other players had hit the 700-goal total in NHL history before Hull slapped home his milestone tally against the San Jose Sharks. Only Wayne Gretzky reached the mark faster. Currently sitting third all-time in the goals scored category in NHL history with 741, Hull enjoyed a 37-goal season in 2002-03, his next to last full season in the NHL. While the feat of reaching 500 goals is a celebrated achievement in the NHL, hitting 700 is something that requires a special player.
7. Maria Rooth's shootout goal at 2006 Olympics stuns women's hockey world
Women's hockey was best (and really only) known for the Canada/USA rivalry, which culminated at the 1998 and 2002 Olympic gold medal games. Rooth's goal, that gave Sweden the upset over Team USA in Torino, was monumental because it showed that women's hockey was more than just the American and Canadian rivalry. It also saved the Swedish women's hockey program, which was on the verge of going extinct in the years between the Salt Lake and Torino Games.
6. Tyler McGregor ends the 2006 NCAA West Regional Semis in shocking fashion
The 2006 West Regional final was supposed to feature the mighty Minnesota Golden Gophers against either college hockey powerhouses Michigan or North Dakota. A funny thing happened on the way to the final in Grand Forks, N.D. Little Holy Cross crashed the party and upset the Golden Gophers after Tyler McGregor's overtime goal. This truly was a "Miracle on Ice" moment for college hockey. Heading into the game, the Crusaders had never won an NCAA tournament game and Minnesota's roster featured 14 NHL draft picks compared to 0 for Holy Cross.
5. The 'Professor' swings the tide of 2002 Cup Finals
The 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings were no doubt the best team of this decade. When they entered the Stanley Cup Finals that year, they were facing a red-hot Carolina Hurricanes teams. After splitting the first two games at home, the Red Wings found themselves down 2-1 late in the third period of Game 3 before Brett Hull deflected the tying goal past Arturs Irbe, sending the game into overtime. With no goals through the first two extra periods, it wasn't until 14:47 of the third overtime before the game was decided. Igor Larionov, 42-years young at the time, dangled his way around Bates Battaglia(notes) and a sprawling Irbe before backhanding the winner top-shelf.
Detroit did not lose again in the series and later claimed their 10th Stanley Cup in five games.
How lucky were we, as hockey fans, that two straight years the Stanley Cup Finals ended with an overtime goal?
A member of the New Jersey's "A" line along with Patrick Elias and Petr Sykora, Arnott's goal 8:20 into the second overtime in Game 6 gave the Devils their second Stanley Cup title in five seasons. It was the 15th time in NHL history that the Stanley Cup was won in overtime and the only time this decade it's happened.
After having watched the Canadians win gold on Russian soil a year earlier as they managed only a bronze medal, Team Russia returned the favor a year later when the World Championships were played in Canada for the first time in the tournament's history. Ilya Kovalchuk sent the final against Canada into overtime and then sniped home the winner to give Russia its first gold medal since 1993. The Atlanta Thrashers captain picked the right time to score his only two goals of the tournament as Rick Nash(notes) sat in the box after a controversial delay of game penalty.
The United States had medaled only three times since the World Junior Hockey Championships became an official tournament in 1977 with two bronze medals and a silver. The 2004 tournament in Finland saw an upstart U.S. squad with future NHL'ers like David Booth(notes), Ryan Kesler(notes), Zach Parise(notes) (tournament MVP) and Ryan Suter(notes).
Down 3-1 in the second period of the gold medal game against Canada, Team USA battled back with goals from Kesler and Patrick O'Sullivan(notes) to tie things up heading into the final frame. With less than five minutes remaining, Marc-Andre Fleury tried to clear a puck from the defensive zone, but it ended up hitting off Braydon Coburn(notes) and into the Canadian net.
Team USA would win 4-3, but Canada would not have to wait long to relish a gold medal. Since the 2004 tournament, Team Canada has not lost a gold medal game and will look to win their sixth consecutive World Junior title next month.
The last time Canada had won gold before its triumph in Salt Lake, it had beaten the United States. How fitting it was that it reclaimed gold against its biggest rival. Jarome Iginla(notes) and Joe Sakic each scored twice, with the now-retired Colorado Avalanche captain sealing things with just over a minute remaining in the third period.
After Sakic's goal, a giant monkey was seen crawling off the shoulders of Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky's back, and the world hockey power was finally back on top of the international scene.