In the near-century since they formed, the National Hockey League has risen from just a secondary sport in the U.S. to one of the most popular around. From the “Original Six,” they have expanded to 32 teams, including cities you don’t associate with hockey like Tampa Bay and Nashville. It’s a multi-billion dollar business with national TV deals and a passionate fanbase, managing to overcome such things as lockouts and other issues to continue to be popular. Of course, nothing is perfect and that includes the NHL which has been home to some of the most embarrassing moments imaginable. It’s not just the usual muffs like a player losing a puck in his own uniform or missing an easy shot. No, it’s moments that stand even larger as embarrassing if not downright humiliating for those involved.
It’s not just certain players or such, sometimes they hit the NHL as a whole, making the entire organization look bad. Incredibly bad plays, mind-boggling mental miscues and some bad management choices, they are moments that fans of those teams grouse about, that some can laugh at but in many cases, just marvel they could happen at all. Some are situations totally out of the control of anyone while others could easily have been contained but weren’t. Here are 15 of the most notably embarrassing moments in hockey history and how the NHL has had a few black eyes beyond just the players on the ice.
16 Maple Leafs Get the Finger
15 Boston Garden Blackout
While iconic and beloved, the Boston Garden was an old arena and thus prone to difficulties (like lack of air conditioning) that could make hockey games a bit tough. But nowhere was that more on display than the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals as the Bruins faced off against the Oilers, already down three games to none and needing to stay alive. It was a rough weather period for Boston with heavy fog hitting the region and it got to be too much for the Garden’s aged electronics. At 16:37 of the second period, with the game tied 3-3, the transformer blew and plunged the Garden into instant darkness. Viewers at home saw the feed totally cut off for a few minutes before local broadcasts let them know of the blackout. The game was postponed to be replayed in Edmonton and the Oilers completed their sweep for the Cup.
14 Patrik Stefan
13 Tortorella Storms the Flames
We get it, things get hot, tensions are high, folks lose their tempers, it happens. But this has to rank among the more humiliating ways for your team to be viewed. Hired as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks in 2013, John Tortorella quickly resumed his reputation for his energetic manner and yelling at players. But in a January 2014 game, he crossed the line big time when the Calgary Flames made a hard hit on one of his players. The Flames were resting during the first intermission when, to their shock, Tortorella stormed right into their dressing room to scream at the Flames, trying to punch a few and had to be restrained by players and coaches from both sides.
12 The 1991 All-Star Game
There have been a lot of baffling choices in the history of the All-Star Game but the 1991 version stands as one of the more idiotic. Mike Milbury was given the grand opportunity to coach the Wales Conference in the game and had a wide range of the best players of his time. Rather than put in top notch guys like Kirk Muller and retiring legend Guy Lafleur, Milbury packed his squad with noted enforcers like Chris Nilan and Brian Skrudland. Fans were irate over this decision, more so when Nilan and Skrudland ended up injured and unable to compete.
11 Tie Domi vs. Fan
10 Aaron Downey vs. Brad Norton
9 Bruins Have Too Many Guys on Ice
It’s a simple thing: Five guys on the ice at the most, that’s how hockey works. But in the 1979 Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Bruins forgot that simple equation. A tight game came to the third period with the Bruins leading the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 with a chance to knock off the three-time defending champs. Talking to his team, coach Don Cherry quickly made some adjustments, urging guys out to shift the squad up. But in his frenzy, Cherry neglected to make sure guys were off the ice before he sent more on and at one point, eight Bruins shared the ice together.
8 John Scott’s All-Star Performance
A late entry but it sure is giving the NHL a red face now. When John Scott was elected captain of the All-Star Game by a fan vote, word soon came that the NHL would have preferred a more “marketable” face in the role. Scott was soon part of a sudden trade that moved him out of the Pacific Division and Scott would be open about the NHL putting not-so-subtle pressure for him to bow out.
In the end, the NHL decided to go ahead, maybe thinking Scott (hardly a fantastic player) would end up falling on his face. The result: Scott ended up scoring two goals to give the Pacific Division the win, named MVP and the fans going wild for him. Trying to keep out a guy who ends up being the biggest hero of the game? That’s something that’s going to sting the NHL for a while.
6 The Longest Goal
5 The Fog Game
4 Statue of Liberty
3 Steve Smith
What Roy Riegels is to football, Smith is to hockey. Celebrating his 23rd birthday in 1986, Smith was part of the Edmonton Oilers squad racing to get their hands on another Stanley Cup and facing off against arch-rivals Calgary Flames in the Smythe Division finals. With the score tied 2-2 in the 3rd period, Smith took the puck behind his net and attempted to fire it up the ice. Instead, the punk bounced back onto goaltender Grant Fuhr and into the net, meaning Smith scored on his own goal.
2 The Detroit Choke
1 John Spano “Buys” the Islanders
When you can devote an entire “30 for 30” episode to this, you know it’s a huge deal. Once a dynasty who won four straight Stanley Cups, the New York Islanders had hit bad times in the 1980s and ‘90s and were desperate for a change. Enter John Spano, a supposed multi-millionaire who agreed to purchase the Islanders for $165 million in 1997, talking a big deal about rebuilding the team to greatness and commissioner Gary Bettman was backing him up on plans to renovate or even replace the Nassau Coliseum. The first signs of trouble were when Spano failed to show up for the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting and then a $17 million check from him bounced. Newsday finally dug in and the entire web of lies came unraveled as it turned out Spano was nowhere near as wealthy as he’d claimed, his entire net worth only $15 million and much of his background totally made up.
To call this humiliating for the NHL was an understatement, especially when it came out they’d spent less than a thousand dollars vetting this guy. Spano would soon be in jail for fraud and the Islanders finding a real owner despite the legal issues of his technically still owning the team. Giving control of a major team to a guy who could have been uncovered as a con artist with a simple check remains one of the bigger black eyes in the NHL.
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