so the officials should have known who he meant.
Imagine that you're the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs…
Wait! Stop crying. We're not done with the hypothetical yet.
Imagine that you're the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it's about ten years ago. See! Much better. It's before the salary cap, the team is good, and you're in the playoffs every year.
In fact, imagine you've got a big playoff game coming up this very night. In the final moments before the teams take the ice, what do you need to do?
As best I can figure it, as coach of the pre-lockout Maple Leafs you basically have five jobs:
- Remind everyone not to bother ever coming back past the red line and helping Curtis Joseph in any way
- Double-check the line combinations to make sure Mats Sundin isn't playing with anyone good
- Tape the emergency ketchup packets to Tie Domi's forehead (Ottawa Senator games only)
- Stop by Richard Peddie's office to meet the candidate he's interviewing for the GM's job and wonder how they both managed to get their ties stuck in the fax machine
- Make sure you've successfully completely the incredibly simple task of filling out the lineup card correctly
Could you handle all of that? If so, you're one up on Pat Quinn, coach of the Maple Leafs squad that faced the New York Islanders in the opening round of the 2002 playoffs.
Here's how game five of that series started:
If you're confused, here's what just happened: The Leafs lineup that night was meant to include Robert Reichel. But the Islanders realized that Quinn had accidentally listed Mikael Renberg (who was hurt) as #21 instead. They waited until the game began, then alerted the officials. Because Reichel wasn't listed on the official lineup card, he couldn't take part in the game and was sent back to the dressing room.
Let's rewind the tape and go through some of the highlights:
Referee Paul Devorski
We start with a closeup on Devorski, which seems like an opportunity to just put this out there: He looked like Al Bundy, right down to the bald spot. Everyone else thought this too, right? We all made "Referee Bundy" jokes whenever we saw he was working a game? It wasn't just me? Cool, good to know.
Oh, and then we all yelled "Whoa Bundy", struck a one-armed football pose, and sang the "duh duh-duh duh duh-duh duh duh vegetable garden" song at the top of our lungs, right? Hm. I see. Everyone is going to just awkwardly stare at me now?
See, this is why I never feel comfortable opening up to people. Let's just move on.
That weird noise in the background during play
This game is being played at the ACC, and yet instead of total silence there's this weird noise where it sounds like thousands of people actually paying attention and cheering. Must be some sort of problem with my youtube account. I should probably contact tech support.
Bob Cole informs us that the Leafs are starting Lumme, Berg, Corson, Domi and "Healey", which might mean that Glenn just wandered by and Bob got confused but is probably referring to journeyman winger Paul Healey. Go back and read those names again. Is that the worst starting lineup in NHL playoff history? I think it might be.
I mean, the 2002 Toronto Maple Leafs not only had those five players in the lineup at the same time, but it actually seemed like a good idea to start them. How bad must the rest of the roster have been? Well, here are some other players who actually dressed for playoff games that year: Bob Wren, Jeff Farkas, Nathan Dempsey, and Don MacLean. And yet, that team still made the playoffs easily, and last year's Leafs missed by 12 points.
What I'm trying to say here is: I need a drink.
Hey look, it's a baby-faced Alex Ponikarovsky , making his NHL playoff debut. He sits there for a few seconds, adjusts his helmet, and then begins to twitch uncontrollably before executing a double face palm. This kid was born to be a Maple Leaf.
The first sign of a problem: The officials head for the timekeeper's bench
There's nothing all that interesting here, but I just wanted to mention that I like the timekeeper's sunglasses. That's not a look you see from a lot of NHL officials. Since he's sitting in the front row, I'm going to assume he's wearing sunglasses because they were just handed to him by Bret "The Hitman" Hart.
"Somebody may have complained as to the starting lineup." – Harry Neale.
"Yeah, everyone who saw that Paul Healey and Aki Berg were in it." – Leaf fans.
As the officials attempt to sort things out, Shayne Corson and Michael "I can never remember if we actually called him Mike" Peca wander over to see what's up. I don't know if they got a chance to discuss what was unfolding, but given which game this was I'd like to think the conversation went like this:
Peca: "It's right there in the rulebook, Shayne. You guys don't have a leg to stand on." Corson (under his breath): "After my crazy brother-in-law's next shift, neither will you."
Neale clues in
Neale, figuring out that the Leafs may have an illegal lineup but incorrectly thinking that Ponikarovsky is the offending player, concludes his explanation by explaining what the Leafs will have to do next: "Then they undress Ponikarovsky ." In related news, my wife perks up and pays attention to a hockey game for the first time ever.
A Brian Papineau sighting!
Everyone spray your water bottles around the room!
Bob Cole is on the case
"Reichel is number 21, and this is just a guess for now but somebody else could be listed as 21," offers Bob Cole helpfully. "Or maybe somebody got the players confused and accidentally used the wrong name for one of them, or as I like to refer to it, broadcasting," he does not add but totally could have.
Quinn breaks the news to Reichel
Quinn informs Reichel that he has to leave the bench immediately, and Reichel responds with the all-time greatest "Are you shitting me?" reaction in Leafs history. The combination annoyed/bemused/completely unsurprised look on his face is hilarious, and is topped only by…
All the other players on the bench
If you watch the tape carefully you can actually pinpoint, Ralph Wiggum style, the exact moment when each player realizes what's happening. Going left-to-right, we have:
- Jonas Hoglund, who immediately goes for the exasperated facepalm before withdrawing his hand in horror at the realization that he missed the "no playoff facial hair memo" that the Leafs apparently sent around. Hey, remember when playoff beards were a cool novelty that a few players did, not some sort of mandatory convention that every player goes along with but secretly seems to hate? Me neither.
- Ponikarovsky, who stares passively into the middle distance until he realizes what's happening, then tries (and fails) to be nonchalant about it since it's his first playoff game and for all he knows this happens all the time.
- Alexander Mogilny, who looks like he wants to crawl out of his own skin and go off somewhere to die rather than be around any of these people for even one more second. So, no different than every other moment of his Maple Leafs career. Come to think of it I don't think he's actually aware that anything is happening.
Of course, the entire scene at the bench is made ten times more awesome by the fact that, hovering in the background the entire time, we get to see…
The Don Cherry Doppelganger
Seated directly behind the Leafs bench is the most famous Maple Leaf fan of this generation: The tanned guy who's always back there and looks unnervingly like Don Cherry, aka the Don Cherry Doppelganger.
Who is this guy? And more importantly, is he aware that he looks like Don Cherry? He has to be. The only men in the history to sport a white goatee are Don Cherry, Colonel Sanders, the snowman narrator from the Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Christmas special, and this guy. He's clearly doing it on purpose.
I've been fascinated by this guy for years, and I'd happily keep writing about him for roughly 6,000 more words except that he's been sitting in a front row seat at the ACC for the last decade and is therefore obviously rich enough to buy and sell my entire family without missing a yacht payment.
Note to self: delete this whole section before publishing.
Reichel makes his exit
At this point Reichel hops over the boards, takes a few confused strides around the ice, and then half-heartedly wanders off and disappears for the evening, which was confusing for Maple Leafs fans because that's also what he did on every shift he ever took in Toronto.
Oh, and we also get a half-second shot of Reichel walking down the hallway, taken from a fish-eye lens that the CBC had helpfully mounted on the ceiling for some reason. I love the kid reading the magazine who pauses briefly to look over his shoulder – "Oh cool, a Toronto Maple Leaf is walking right by me and oh never mind it's just Reichel back to my article."
While bizarre, this mistake didn't end up costing the Leafs. They went on to win this game (which would turn out to be best remembered for this and this) and eventually the series, and Quinn's mistake was quickly forgotten.
In a strange twist, this moment may even have actually helped the Maple Leafs. With Mats Sundin sitting out and Reichel ejected, Quinn had to triple-shift his fourth-line center for the rest of the night. That happened to be a kid named Alyn McCauley, who had a great game and ended up being a key player as the Leafs beat the Senators in round two before losing in the conference finals.
Quinn was fired after the 2005-2006 season because the Leafs missed the playoffs by two points, which back then was considered a failure instead of a best-case scenario.
A confused Robert Reichel still wanders the hallways of the ACC to this day, pausing only briefly to wonder why Don Cherry is sitting behind the Leafs bench.