Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A guide to the fun but confusing world of watching decades-old NHL footage on YouTube

I spend way too much time watching clips of NHL action from decades past.

You probably already figured that out, especially if you’re a reader of the Friday Grab Bag and its weekly way-too-detailed delve into the archives. Maybe the book about NHL history tipped you off. If we’ve ever spoken in person, you may have noticed my ability to steer literally any given topic of conversation into a reference to a mid-80s NHL game within minutes. I’m told that my wife has.

The point is that I’ll often find myself making what I think will be a quick trip over to YouTube to grab a recent highlight or rewatch a play that’s in the news. Next thing I know, an hour has gone by, I’ve forgotten what I came there for in the first place, and I’m watching some dude’s grainy recording of a Jets/Oilers game from 1987. If you’ve got a rip of a novelty VHS blooper tape from 1991, I’m in. I’ve watched the “All Heart” montage so many times that I recently heard Hero of the Day on the radio and got legitimately confused when Bob Cole and Joe Bowen didn’t start calling goals during the guitar solo.

And I regret nothing. It’s great, and I highly recommend it. I’m not going to be some grumpy old guy who lectures you about how hockey was more fun back in the old days. I absolutely do believe that and I’m right, but I won’t lecture you about it. I’m simply going to suggest that you occasionally take the time to head over to YouTube, type “NHL” and a long-ago year into the search bar and start clicking through whatever random offerings come up.

But when you do, be prepared. If you’re not used to the old NHL, you’re going to see and hear some things that will be strange. So today, let me walk you through 10 differences you’ll notice when you watch old school NHL footage. And just for fun, let’s even try to figure out if there’s anything we should be bringing back.

The occasional epic coach meltdowns

What you’ll notice: NHL coaches have always been a disagreeable bunch. That’s still true today, with guys like John Tortorella, Joel Quenneville and Bruce Boudreau carrying on the tradition of hotheaded antics behind the bench.

Well … kind of. Because while today’s coaches will occasionally yell and flail their arms and (maybe) grab their crotch, they really can’t hold a candle to the old school. These guys did not hold back.

Oh, your coach threw a fit? Robbie Ftorek threw a bench. Your coach gave the other team a mean look? Herb Brooks and Jacques Demers started tossing haymakers. Your coach angrily demanded a replay review? How adorable. Here’s Mike Keenan jumping on the ice and trying to fight the timekeeper.

And we didn’t even mention the time Tom Webster punched Doug Gilmour, which wasn’t even the craziest thing he ever did. And if there wasn’t an opponent or a referee around, old school coaches would just attack their own players.

NHL coaches used to be completely insane, is what I’m trying to say.

Should we bring it back: Are you crazy? Of course we should. This stuff was amazing. I’m not sure how we could go about mandating at least one epic meltdown per season for every NHL coach, but let’s look into it. Or at least make somebody rehire Patrick Roy.

Faceoffs in random locations

What you’ll notice: These days, faceoffs can only happen in nine places on the ice – the two circles in either zone, the two dots outside either blueline or at center ice. But up until 2007, faceoffs could also be held elsewhere under certain circumstances. If a puck was shot out of play, for example, the faceoff would take place wherever it had last been touched (with some restrictions).

So when you’re watching an old game, you’ll occasionally see the teams line up for a faceoff at some seemingly random spot. And your modern-NHL-fan brain goes “Uh, that’s not right.”

Should we bring it back: Yes, if only for how much confusion it would cause among younger fans. I’ll go even further: I think we should bring this back, but limit it to one random faceoff location per game. Make it the linesmen’s choice. Consider it a small measure of payback for making their lives miserable with the stupid offside review.

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