Top 10 MOMENTS of 2017-18
Nothing impacted the hockey world this season, or perhaps any other season, more than the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. It touched lives in communities across North America and spawned an outpouring of emotion from coast-to-coast, from novice hockey to the NHL. In terms of magnitude it’s undeniably the hockey story of the year.
In the NHL, it was a remarkable season for surprises. The Stanley Cup final pitted the best expansion team of all-time, in any sport, against a club and a superstar most had written off after so many years of playoff disappointment. Our top 10 NHL moments are dotted with tears, some from pain, some from joy. All are from the heart.
NO. 1 VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Nothing went according to script in Vegas for the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, and with one tragic exception, that was good news. Due to one of the worst mass shootings in American history, the Vegas home opener was a somber affair, with a tribute to those affected and Las Vegas resident/defenseman Deryk Engelland taking the mic before the game to deliver thoughtful words to the crowd. The Golden Knights won that game and many more in their shocking run. After taking eight of their first 10 games and using three different goalies to do it, Vegas became one of the most intimidating places to have a road game in the NHL, with the ‘Vegas Flu’ becoming a thing for opponents not used to the city’s 24-hour charms. A roster that raised zero eyebrows during the expansion draft turned out to be fine-tuned for today’s NHL, with GM George McPhee assembling a speedy, responsible and talented bunch of castoffs that would end up winning the Pacific Division and ran roughshod through the West in the playoffs.
NO. 2 WASHINGTON
In the same season Alex Ovechkin notched career goal No. 600, the Washington Capitals accomplished several things they had never done during the ‘Great 8’ era. First and most importantly, they brought home the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, beating the Golden Knights in an “upset” in the final (Vegas was the odds-on favorite heading in). And the fact the Caps knocked off archrival Pittsburgh in the second round made the victory all the more meaningful. Ovechkin led the charge from the regular season on, doing some of his finest work while wearing the captain’s ‘C.’ He bounced back from a so-so 2016-17 campaign by putting up 49 goals to earn his fifth Rocket Richard Trophy in six years (and seventh of his career). Though the Penguins were obviously fatigued after two straight title runs, the Capitals get full marks for dispatching Sidney Crosby’s crew in six games, banishing the notion that Washington would always choke against their rival.
NO. 4 LUONGO’S STIRRING SPEECH
FEBRUARY 22, 2018 – In the wake of one of the most publicized school shootings in American history, Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo stepped up to the microphone and spoke from the heart before the team hosted Washington. Luongo talked about living in Parkland for the past 12 years. He praised the teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and lauded the students for their bravery. It was an emotional address, but a fitting one that represented how many were feeling at the time. The Panthers and other members of the hockey world (such as Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere, who attended that high school) embraced the school in the aftermath, with members of the Eagles hockey team representing the school as a whole. In what became a bittersweet coda to the tragedy, that hockey team ended up winning the Florida state title just 10 days after the mass shooting.
NO. 6 BRIAN BOYLE
NOVEMBER 1, 2017 – For New Jersey, it was a season of triumph. A pre-season afterthought in the Metro Division, the Devils rode an MVP performance by Taylor Hall to an unlikely playoff berth, with help from an unlikely cast that included Brian Gibbons and Keith Kinkaid. But when it comes to feel-good stories, it was hard to beat Brian Boyle, the giant shutdown center who not only had one of his best offensive seasons, but did so after missing the first 10 games of the season due to leukemia. To compound the stress, Boyle was told a few days later that his two-year-old son, Declan, might have an aggressive form of cancer. He was later diagnosed with a different non-cancerous malady that still required treatment, but Boyle was all set to spend time with his son in Boston during the NHL allstar break when teammate Hall went down with an injury. Boyle was chosen as his replacement, and with his family’s blessing, he headed to Tampa Bay. Joining him on the trip? His father, Artie, himself a cancer survivor. Boyle also had a special moment in November, when he scored his second goal of the season, on Hockey Fights Cancer night versus Vancouver. After celebrating with his teammates, the religious Boyle poignantly looked up to the skies.
NO. 3 SEDINS ANNOUNCE RETIREMENT
APRIL 2, 2018 – Ever since GM Brian Burke traded for the right to pick second and third in the 1999 draft, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been an integral part of the Canucks. The superb Swedes helped the team get to the Stanley Cup final in 2011, and with their immaculate vision and beguiling chemistry, the linemates set nearly every offensive record in franchise history over the course of 18 years in Vancouver. When it was time to announce their retirements, the Sedins did so with class – the same way they did everything else in their careers. Citing a need to spend more time with their families, the Sedins decided to step away from the game, but gave fans a few more opportunities to see them live before all was said and done. In the most fitting ending to a career marked by excellence, Daniel scored the OT-winner in the twins’ final home game, with Henrik naturally getting an assist. It was Daniel’s second goal of the contest against Arizona, and it blew the roof off the joint. Both players finished their careers with more than 1,000 points, an Olympic gold medal and an Art Ross Trophy, while Henrik also had a Hart Trophy and Daniel nabbed a Ted Lindsay Award. Next stop is the Hall of Fame.
NO. 5 ANDREW COGLIANO
JANUARY 14, 2018 – Of all the ways Andrew Cogliano’s ironman streak was going the end, a suspension was the least likely. The Anaheim Ducks veteran had never accrued more than 45 penalty minutes in any given NHL season, but a late and questionable hit that involved head contact on Los Angeles’ Adrian Kempe saw Cogliano draw a two-game ban from the league. The suspension snapped Cogliano’s consecutive games streak at 830, ranking him fourth all-time behind Steve Larmer (884), Garry Unger (914) and Doug Jarvis, the champ at 964 games. (Jarvis’ streak, interestingly enough, ended on a healthy scratch.) Cogliano was understandably emotional in the wake of the suspension, and the two games served were the first he had missed in his entire NHL career. The versatile left winger broke into the league with the Edmonton Oilers in 2007-08 and had never missed a game until the suspension. Making the situation all the more sticky was the fact the man behind the ban, NHL department of player safety head George Parros, is a former teammate from Anaheim. Parros was forced to vigorously defend the suspension to both the Ducks and the public, particularly since Dustin Brown of the Kings was not suspended for a dodgy crosscheck around the same time. But in the end, it’s just impressive to think about all the bumps and bruises Cogliano must have played through without missing a start. For the record, Florida defenseman Keith Yandle now holds the current ironman title at 715 games and counting.
NO. 7 COLORADO CLINCHES
APRIL 7, 2018 – It took until the very last game of the season, but the Avalanche got there. Deadlocked for the final playoff spot in the West, the Avs faced St. Louis in a winner-gets-in scenario and came out on top with a rousing 5-2 victory. And this was no ordinary wild-card win. Last year’s edition of the Avalanche was the worst NHL entry since the 2004-05 lockout. Season over season, this year’s Colorado squad improved a mind-boggling 47 points from 2016-17’s total of 48. At the helm of the turnaround was star center Nathan MacKinnon, who evolved his speed game and put up a Hart Trophy-worthy season. GM Joe Sakic pulled off a coup in his biggest trade to date, a threeway affair with Nashville and Ottawa that saw Matt Duchene leave Denver in return for a king’s ransom of picks and prospects. Losing a talented center could have stalled the Avs, but they kept on chugging behind MacKinnon and linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, helping erase the ugly memories of the season before and even winning two playoff games against Nashville in the first round.
NO. 8 CONNOR McDAVID
OCTOBER 4, 2017 – There was a lot of anticipation and excitement surrounding the Edmonton Oilers heading into the season and their boy captain was the main reason. In the season-opener against the archrival Calgary Flames, Connor McDavid lived up to those expectations by dousing the competition for a hat trick in a 3-0 win on home ice. The second marker was the gem of the bunch, as No. 97 caused a turnover in his own zone, then blew past three Flames en route to a breakaway goal on netminder Mike Smith. The idea of McDavid doing almost everything for the Oilers that night became an unfortunate harbinger, as Edmonton underperformed all season, missing the playoffs and not even really coming close. Outside of McDavid, the team was slow and goalie Cam Talbot couldn’t handle the load. McDavid was excellent throughout, however, finishing the season with a league-best 108 points and winning his second straight Art Ross Trophy. Alas, the woefulness of his teammates undermined McDavid’s chances at a second consecutive Hart Trophy, which in itself opened up a huge debate in hockey circles: does a player’s team need to make the playoffs in order for him to win the Hart? Can a year without a post-season berth have any true value in the NHL? Voters made their opinions heard, and McDavid was not a finalist for MVP honors. But watch out next season…the kid doesn’t settle for losing.
NO. 9 SCOTT FOSTER
MARCH 29, 2018 – It’s the stuff of Disney movies and the reason pro sports can still surprise. The Chicago Blackhawks were already without starter Corey Crawford for a game against Winnipeg when backup Anton Forsberg got hurt during a pre-game ritual. Third-stringer Collin Dellia (making his NHL debut) played most of the game – until he got hurt, too. That paved the way for Foster, the arena’s emergency goalie, to jump in. An accountant by day, the beer-leaguer did play for Western Michigan University, but that was a decade ago. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced to preserve a Chicago win, while his beer-league buddies watched in awe from a local rink. In the end, the 26-year-old Foster saw a little more than 14 minutes of action, stopping shots from Tyler Myers, Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien, among others. Needless to say, Foster was mobbed by the Hawks when the final buzzer sounded in the 3-1 victory, while coach Joel Quenneville, in his post-game availability, could only chuckle about the kismet surrounding the accountant.
NO. 10 JAROMIR JAGR WAIVED BY CALGARY
JANUARY 29, 2018 – One of the most legendary careers in NHL history likely ended this season when the Calgary Flames waived 45-yearold Jaromir Jagr. The first-ballot Hall of Famer tallied one goal and seven points in 22 games for Calgary, where his lack of foot speed finally caught up to the sharp mind and big body that had dominated for so many years. Of course, Jagr was not finished with hockey. He ended up going back home to finish out the season with Kladno, the team in which he also has an ownership stake. But after two Cups, an Olympic gold, five Art Ross Trophies and a Hart Trophy, Jagr’s NHL ledger can probably be settled up. He was one of a kind and a model for younger players in his twilight, a tireless worker who famously got in extra practice whenever he could. He finished with 1,921 career points, second all-time, and just 34 games shy of all-time leader Gordie Howe (1,767).