Tomas Hertl and Keeping Hockey Fun
San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl became the youngest player to score 4 goals in a game since March 1988 last night, as the Sharks decimated the New Yorks Rangers.
The 19-year old Czech’s audacious forth goal was what hit the headlines however, splitting the hockey world and exposing an increasingly bizarre battle within the sport.
Hertl, who has been compared to Jaromir Jagr in his native country, went ‘through the legs’ on Rangers goalie Martin Biron to cap off a remarkable night for the young forward.
Not only did he pull off one hell of a sweet move, but he did it at full game speed. People marvelled when Marek Malik did it in a shoot out; this was in a damn game!!!
But rather than celebrate this wonderful piece of skill, some have chastised Hertl.
Washington Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates admitted to being upset by the young gun, who now leads the NHL in goals (6) and points (7), telling CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley “I’m glad the coach did that because in this league it’ll bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”
Brooks Laich was perhaps a little more accurate in his assessment:
“You tell me that if the Sharks are down 2-1 and he tries that [move] and he doesn’t pull it off, he goes back to the bench and the coach is going to go, ‘Nice try?’” Laich said. “He’s going to say, ‘Shoot the puck in the net like a man does.’”
“It was a situational move. That’s exactly what it was.”
I don’t think anyone is disputing Laich’s point about it being a situational move. But as I said before, even at 7-2 to do that is pretty special; it got fans and pundits across the world talking about something great again, rather than the ongoing (and slightly tedious) fighting debate post George Parros injury.
Hockey became about skill with a puck again. It became truly fun again.
But here lies one of the major problems the NHL, and the sport, has.
We cry out for personality, for flair and for excitement. And then when we get some, people call it disrespectful or brush it aside as a ‘rookie mistake’ that will be learnt from.
I recall a clash between Atlanta and Pittsburgh early in Sidney Crosby’s career. The Pens phenom and Ilya Kovalchuk went at each other all night. Crosby took a penalty, Kovalchuk converted on the powerplay and casually stopped in front of the penalty box and pointed at Crosby.
The Russian was hauled over the coals by some. But I personally loved it. That bit of ‘needle’, that little spark.
Alexander Ovechkin is another who has been ‘scalded’ for his exuberance, despite being one of the few players in the world who can genuinely bring fans to their feet.
Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and now Hertl were all labelled as disrespectful by ‘hockey insiders’ and certain luminaries. Linus Omark also fell foul of the same crowd after his shootout spin-o-rama.
And yet you only need to look at the reaction to Hertl’s performance online over the past couple of days to see what these moments mean to so many people. You only need to see how loved Pavel Datsyuk is across the hockey world.
People love highlight reel plays. They love guys who will speak up and speak out.
Certain folks really need to stop coming down on the spark plugs in the game. The sport is sorely short of personalities these days; lets not wear down the ones we do have.