May 20 — Celebrities, Excitement & Free Beer

Wednesday’s Wheelhouse

BEAUTIFUL ART-ISTRY: Connor McDavid was officially recognized as this year’s Art Ross Trophy winner (shocking, right?) after posting a ridiculous 105 points in 56 games.

BE-LEAF IT: Auston Matthews’ 41 goals earned him the Maurice (Rocket) Richard Award, and he is the first-ever Toronto player to win it since its inception in 1998-99. Moreover, he’s the first Maple Leafs player to lead the league in goals since 1945-46, when Gaye Stewart notched 37.

ALEX-CLUSIVE CLUB: Alex Ovechkin’s second period goal on Wednesday was his 800th, when counting both the regular season and playoffs — the sixth-ever NHL player to hit the mark. Surprisingly, zero (none, zilch, nada) of those goals have come in OT during the playoffs. Cue the “best goal scorer ever” arguments…

HAT TRIC-KINNON: Nathan MacKinnon recorded four points — including a hat trick — as the Avalanche continued their onslaught on the Blues. St. Louis finished the game with only four defensemen after Nazem Kadri was given a match penalty for a hit to the head of Justin Faulk.

GROUNDBREAKING HIRE: The Devils have hired former U.S. Women’s National Team captain Meghan Duggan as their manager of player development. She is believed to be the first openly gay person to work in NHL’s hockey operations, having married ex-Canadian national player Gillian Apps. Who says hockey rivals can’t find love?

FREE BEER FOR CANADA: Budweiser announced that the winner of the Scotia North Division will receive a new 24-foot goal light for their stadium. Oh yeah — the winning city will also get free beer!

Why NHL Playoff Hockey’s the Best:

The Casual Fan Appeal

After the Tampa Bay Lightning outlasted the Florida Panthers in their 5-4 Game 1 instant classic on Sunday night, The Athletic writer Sean Gentille had an idea: what if this was the first taste of NHL action for some fans? (from “I didn’t know anything that was happening, but I was so, so into it’: How Lightning-Panthers made new hockey fans,” Sean Gentille, The Athletic, 05/18/21)

Gentille tracked down four South Florida-based social media users who shared that Game 1 had served as their introduction to hockey and were quickly captivated by the level of excitement. Part of that stems from the uniquely awesome qualities of a game that featured the return of Nikita Kucherov, five lead changes, and seemingly non-stop bad blood. While you may not find that every night during the regular season, playoff hockey is filled with tight contests that feature blinding speed and intense physicality.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It might seem surprising to hear sports fans down south laud this exciting brand of playoff hockey, but it shouldn’t be. For as much as the sport offers its hardcore fan base, there’s plenty for the casual crowd to enjoy, too. Sure, hockey is more often appreciated on a different level by those in the know. However, for someone just getting introduced, it’s an easy-to-follow game with a clear objective (puck in net), thrilling pace of play, and loads of excitement — whether witnessed live or on TV.

In recent NHL history, Commissioner Gary Bettman has overseen a largely successful dive into non-traditional hockey markets — with franchises landing in Florida, Carolina, Nashville, Las Vegas, and now Seattle. The growth of these fan bases highlights the easy sell of hockey to adrenaline-loving sports fans, even in markets where cold weather is something of a rarity. As SB Nation blogger Jon Bois once tweeted, “why watch overtime playoff hockey when you can simply snort cocaine and ride a motorcycle out of a helicopter.”

ESPN’s new TV rights deal with the NHL hinges on this new fan appeal. Sure, they’ll get a healthy segment of die-hards, but a key element of the deal comes down to the network’s reported $2.8 billion wager that a new audience will take to the sport.

If you’ve watched even a second of the 2021 NHL playoffs thus far, it’s easy to see why ESPN made that bet.

Check back tomorrow for more reasons why the NHL playoffs are the best

Top-Shelf Thursday — Top-5 Celebrity Hockey Fans

Celebrities love going to hockey games during the playoffs. Country music stars come out in bunches to support the Nashville Predators, and when the LA Kings are in the Stanley Cup Final — don’t even get me started on that list. I appreciate the true hockey fans who are committed to the sport, regardless of the time of year or where their team ranks in the standings. These celebrities deserve a shout out for their dedication.

5. Jay Baruchel

I’m not sure if the Montreal Canadiens have a more loyal fan than Baruchel. He is an actor that always has a hockey reference in his movies. Baruchel wrote and produced Goon starring Seann William Scott — often considered a top-5 hockey movie – and directed Goon: Last of the Enforcers. On behalf of all hockey fans — thank you Jay, for creating another hockey cult classic.

4. David Boreanaz

Boreanaz is most known for his roles as Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Agent Seeley Booth in Bones. He is included on this list is because he absolutely loves hockey and is a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan. In his fictional office in Bones, Agent Booth displays a black and white photo of the Flyers, a signed portrait of Bobby Orr, and a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. There is also an episode that revolves around Boreanaz playing hockey with a special guest appearance by Luc Robitaille.

3. Margot Robbie

Who doesn’t want to watch a hockey game with Margot Robbie? She is a New York Rangers fan who can often be seen at MSG wearing a Henrik Lundqvist jersey. As an avid fan of the team, she is extremely animated during games — saying that she tries to keep herself composed knowing there is a chance she will get photographed, but gets so into it she can’t help herself. Robbie and her friends once dressed up as the Mighty Ducks for Halloween and walked around NYC in the iconic “Flying V” formation. Where can I sign up to be her best friend?

2. Vince Vaughn

Our favorite Chicago Blackhawks fan. You can usually spot at least one Hawks reference in his movies — most notably in his movie with Kevin James, The Dilemma. In the scenes filmed at the United Center, extras filled the seats while James’ character was brought to center ice in an attempt to score a goal for an intermission promotion. Vaughn ended up striking up a friendship with then-Blackhawk, Dave Bolland, while filming in Chicago.

1. The Office Cast

Collectively this includes John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Steve Carell. One of the best things that Office fans saw during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final was the fictional Halpert family rivalry — Jim vs Pam — when the Blues and Bruins squared off. In a surprise twist, Krasinski attended a game at TD Garden with David Denman, aka Roy Anderson. Like Krasinski, Carell is a fan of the Boston Bruins and was a goalie growing up. He is the self proclaimed “LeBron James of rec-league hockey.” Such a Michael Scott thing to say.

Editor’s Honorable Mention

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a celebrity who has done a lot to grow the game of hockey with casual fans — Justin Bieber. Dislike him or hate him, he has done a lot to bring awareness to our favorite sport.