Carolina Hurricanes’ star Andrei Svechnikov has perfected the legendary lacrosse shot, adding some excitement to this year’s shortened season. What does this mean for the future of personalities and signature styles in the league?
So I was reading a Reddit thread, unfortunately, on the important and academic matter of how we should name the lacrosse goal. While the answer is clearly “the Svechnikov,” because we should generally name things after the player who popularized them at the highest level, one commenter far more interestingly pointed out that fans had doubted the possibility of such a goal mere months before it actually happened.
It was surprising to read at first. People were gleefully confident in the ability of NHL defensemen to ruin fun things, and they knew this because no one had ever done those fun things. Like so many other problems with the league, the lack of lacrosse goals can be traced back to hockey culture.
While hockey culture impacts much more significant matters, like the boys club mentality that still persists in management circles, and the attitude that allowed someone like Bill Peters to coach in the NHL for nearly a decade, it also extends to smaller things. How do players act on and off the ice? How do they respond to questions? What would hockey look like if we didn’t judge players for celebrating or showing more openness?
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It’s beating a dead horse at this point, but hockey just doesn’t have many personalities. If I have to watch analysts wax lyrically one more time about generic hockey boy’s good-ol’-ontariahesque qualities, I might just stop watching. This is the reason our sole contribution to meme culture is Ilya Bryzgalov speaking in a funny voice. No one expects it from a hockey player, and that makes it a thousand times more hilarious than “heff to be mad” has any right to be.
Really, it’s a bit terrifying how far the road leads. Andrei Svechnikov is a really talented guy; he’s bringing creativity and finish to a team that lacks it. You might even say he’s getting overshadowed by genuinely inferior young players across the league because he’s on the Hurricanes. At this point, you have to wonder if he’d be the first overall pick in a 2018 re-draft.
That being said, I don’t think Svechnikov is one of the best in the world. Even when it comes to stickhandling or hand-eye, there are a fair number of similarly capable forwards. There is a ton of potential for stupid dekes and plays that we’ve never imagined!
This isn’t to say that no one else has their own little signature moves. I’ve been watching compilations of them since the playoffs ended! The problem is, most of these don’t really catch the eye out of their sheer stupendousness. They’re hockey plays, done by hockey men who do very well at hockey plays.
Alex Ovechkin is good at whamming pucks from the edge of the faceoff circle. Patrick Kane can play magic cups with the blade of his stick. But we’re only interested because one can hit the puck hard, and the other can stickhandle real good. It doesn’t have the same glamor as a lacrosse shot or Kucherov’s no move move (maybe the only other legit example), which are just amazing on their own. You don’t have to buy into the wickedness of a slap shot or really cool hand movements to appreciate them.
In every other sport, while these tricks moves might not define them, they certainly draw people in. At soccer summer camp when I was six, they didn’t teach us how to put our shoes on a soccer ball and to do a funky spin – they taught us the Maradona. Why can’t it be the same in hockey?
No Fun Allowed
The problem is, there is a legit mindset in the league, where amusing little things have to be disparaged or ruined. This is due in large part to commentators and analysts, but let’s not forget our own role in it, as fans.
I joked about naming the lacrosse goal earlier on, but that’s part of the problem. Why do we have to endlessly bicker over names? Who cares if a university player did it 25 years before someone did it at the highest possible level? By endlessly engaging in that pointless discussion, we’re ruining the most exciting play of the year.
Seriously, this is no different from Don Cherry trying to ruin victory celebrations for a team that desperately needs fan engagement, or the revitalized mocking of Nail Yakupov’s corny goal celebrations, which would never exist if he had lived up to expectations.
It’s the same mindset that leads companies to put Jonathan Toews on a commercial set, so he can stare blankly into your soul as he reads real human words off a teleprompter, drinking a green smoothie for a good cause.
I don’t think professional advertising agencies are clueless buffoons who can’t tell that Jonathan Toews is probably the least charismatic person in the world. We just have no engaging personalities to replace him with.
I can’t speak for the rest of the league, so maybe I’m missing something hilarious, but the only thing us Leafs fans had to chuckle about this year was Ilya Mikheyev and his beloved bowl of soup, which he has taken full advantage of. Anyone else notice a certain trend where Russians are literally breathing life into our sport, even though we seem to hate them for it?
Mikheyev is funny, sure, but over in the NBA, we have this every week. Like, here’s Serge Ibaka cooking Lord knows what on a regular basis as he conducts a better interview than anyone in the NHL. Kawhi is such an anomaly, not only because he’s Kawhi, but because his personality doesn’t belong in the NBA. A robot in basketball is a real good professional in hockey.
The point is, if we stop being stupid about “the Svechnikov,” we can get something really important out of it. It might seem trivial from a distance, but booming slapshots and quick stickhandling will never get anyone into hockey. Someone shoveling a puck into the net like a maniac, in a league that clearly takes itself too seriously, will.
As stupid as it is, this is why the NHL keeps the All-Star skills competition going. People really care who the fastest skater in the league is and who can do something creative in an even faker shootout. Those moments are engaging, and people become invested in them.
We need more Svechnikovs in the league, and embracing this attitude, ironically enough, will get people to take our sport seriously. For 50 years, we’ve had morons throwing octopi on the ice, and appreciating the Svechnikov is the next step.