As 2014 draws to a close, many of us will take time to reflect on what has taken place over the past twelve months. For some, it might have been the best year of their lives - everything fell into place. For others, it might have been a bit rougher - but the hope of a better 2015 spurs us on.
On the hockey front, it's been quite an interesting year, to say the least. We've witnessed incredible on-ice artistry and similarly brilliant off-ice moments that have captured us and will remain engraved in our mind's eye forever.
It seems like only yesterday that we were sitting down on the first day of 2014 - almost a year ago to the day - to enjoy some old-fashioned outdoor hockey between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, live from The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Fast forward to the present, and we're looking ahead to a wild end to a 2014-2015 season that has gotten off to a raucous start, from major moves to big surprises from players and teams we expected nothing from.
The next calendar year projects to be just as wild as this past one, what with the prospect of another wild Stanley Cup Finals, the flurry of activity that will change the face of organizations across the league during the trade deadline and at the Entry Draft - a draft which will most likely produce the sport's next three superstars in Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin.
But before sinking our teeth into a whole new year of hockey, let's take one final trip down memory lane and reminisce on 2014's best moments.
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20 Roberto Kardashian?
Roberto Luongo seems like the kind of guy who has no insecurities whatsoever - laid back, cool, collected, and downright hilarious. Luongo is Twitter famous in his own right as @strombone (a Twitter handle with no apparent meaning behind it, as of yet), and he took his social media game to a new level when Kim Kardashian's nude photos were released last month. Luongo essentially broke Twitter with a photoshopped image of his face over Kardashian's with a goalie stick stuck "right where the sun don't shine."
19 Hall of Fame Class 2014 - The GOAT?
Each year the Hall of Fame is forced to deliberate over which former stars deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame. This year, though, it didn't seem to difficult for the voting committee to put together a class. The group included players Mike Modano, Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, deceased head coach Pat Burns and former referee Bill McCreary. There isn't much of a need to get into why this class is so great - the names speak for themselves, and they might just be the greatest Hall of Fame class ever assembled.
18 NHL Stadium Series - Ducks vs. Kings
Several years ago, when the initial idea of a Winter Classic was starting to gain traction, there were no doubt detractors who thought "professional hockey outdoors? Preposterous." Alas, the NHL got it done, but it's always been in cold, winter climates - until last season. Outdoor hockey in Los Angeles? Outdoor hockey in California?! Pure blasphemy!
Yet again, the NHL pulled it off, putting on a remarkable show between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks - the Ducks ended up shutting out the home team 3-0 in the perhaps the "weirdest" setting an NHL game has ever been played in.
17 Rasmus Ristolainen and the Feisty Finns
Hockey fans worldwide are treated to top-level hockey every year from September to June, but during the holidays, a sliver of hockey fan's attention is directed towards the future stars of their beloved game. The World Juniors have become a holiday staple, and last year's final was memorable not only because of the rivalry between Scandinavian powerhouses Finland and Sweden, but also because Finland actually pulled off the massive upset. The Finns swiped the gold medal right out from under the noses of the hosting Swedes, thanks to (current Buffalo Sabre) Rasmus Ristolainen, who scored a fantastic goal to win the gold medal game in overtime.
16 Winter Classic - Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings
Unlike the aforementioned Stadium Series game that took place in Chavez Ravine, the 2014 Winter Classic was held in chilly Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Michigan Stadium (otherwise known as "The Big House"). A recorded 105,491 people packed into the massive stadium to take in the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings - two Original Six franchises, giving the game a true old-time feel. The Leafs ended up taking the contest 3-2 in a shootout (which kind of ruins the old-time feel, but alas, we can forgive it for one day).
15 Biznasty Ice Bucket Challenge
When the ALS Ice Bucket challenge went viral during the summer, you knew that there were at least a few NHLers who would up the ante and put together something ridiculous to really take the concept to a whole new level. Paul "Biznasty" Bissonnette did just that (not surprisingly) - Biznasty's video included himself in what can be best described as a "flashy" speedo, while standing on a glacier - yes, you read that right - and capped off by having the icy water (also from the glacier) dumped on him from a hovering helicopter.
No one came even close to topping Biznasty's video - and it must have sucked to be one of the people he challenged.
14 "Gino! Gino! Gino!"
While this year had many good memorable moments, it also had several sad ones. One of those moments was the news that Gino Odjick had been diagnosed with a terminal illness that had his days numbered.
The sad moments can often produce something remarkably uplifting, though.
In a letter to his fans, Odjick wrote: "Your 'Gino, Gino' cheers were my favourite. I wish I could hear them again." So Canucks fans came through - they set up outside his hospital in Vancouver and chanted his name, ultimately leading to a heartwarming scene when Odjick was wheeled outside to take in the scene. The chants continued across Canada, showing the kind of impact the former enforcer had on fan bases across the NHL.
13 Pittsburgh Sings "Oh Canada"
The events that took place within a span of days in Canada rocked not only a nation, but the entire continent. The deaths of soldiers Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo in Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu, Quebec and Ottawa, Ontario, respectively, were violent and shocking showings of the lengths terrorists will go to to make a point, but also poignant reminders of how nations can bond together after tragedy. This bond was highlighted by the classy gesture made during a game between the Flyers and Penguins in Pittsburgh shortly after the incidents - both anthems were sung, even though the game featured two American teams.
12 Vladimir Tarasenko vs. Vladimir Tarasenko
Usually the goal of the year race is one that remains fairly "open" throughout the entire season. This year, it would appear that the discussion is already over - sort of. We won't know which goal will be crowned goal of the year until season's end, but it's become fairly apparent that it'll be one of the two ridiculous goals Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues scored earlier in the year; the first a solo-effort to beat four Rangers before pulling a Peter Forsberg one-handed deke on helpless Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot (posted above), and the second another remarkable individual showing against the New Jersey Devils, where he beat three Devils players before pulling Cory Schneider out of position and depositing the back in the back of the net (posted below).
11 Teemu's Last Lap
Teemu Selanne didn't actually play his final National Hockey League game until the Ducks were eliminated in Game 7 of the second round during last year's playoffs, but he had his first emotional goodbye during his final regular season game against the Colorado Avalanche. He ended the night with a final lap around the rink with former Ducks teammate Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who also ended up retiring after the season. The moment was a microcosm of the class and grace the Finnish Flash brought to the rink throughout his Hall of Fame career.
10 The Coordinated National Anthem
As mentioned earlier, the tragic events that took the lives of Pascal Vincent and Nathan Cirillo stunned Canadians from coast-to-coast, and the NHL knew they would have to do something spectacular to honor the fallen soldiers. They did just that by coordinating a crowd-sung national anthem in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, with the "base" of the ceremony taking place in Ottawa and simulcasted to the other cities - a memorable, touching and inspiring moment, to say the least.
9 Alfie Comes Home
While Daniel Alfredsson and the Ottawa Senators didn't exactly part on the greatest of terms, it was clear that all would eventually be forgiven and forgotten once Alfredsson officially ended his remarkable career. Alfie came home for one final goodbye to his faithful Ottawa fans - an incredibly cool moment that involved Alfredsson taking warm-up with his former teammates and then skating out alone for one last lap as an Ottawa Senator.
8 Canadian Men Recapture Gold
The Canadian Men's Hockey Team was perhaps the most scrutinized hockey roster in the history of the sport - maybe in the history of sports in general. Each day leading up to the announcing of the roster was full of speculation, analysis, and rumors of who would and wouldn't earn a coveted roster spot. Ultimately, the decisions made were spot on, as the men's team cruised to a gold-medal win on the backs of a timely offence, rock-solid defense and a brick-wall in goal by the name of Carey Price.
7 Fist-Bumping Bruins Fan
Boston is one of those American cities that has been built on a foundation of toughness and resiliency - if you're from Boston, you're "Boston Strong" to the core. That mentality is captured beautifully by Liam Fitzgerald, a brave young Bruins fan who has been dealing with health issues his entire life. That hasn't stopped him from passionately cheering on his Bruins, and being there to give each of his heroes a pre-game fist-bump for good luck.
6 Women's Gold Medal Final
The gold medal game between the United States and Canada at Sochi 2014 will go down as one of the best games ever played in the history of the women's game. The Americans controlled the game through most of the game, carrying a 2-0 lead into the final few minutes of regulation, before Canadians Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin struck to tie it up. Poulin scored the game-winner on a powerplay in overtime to give Canada the gold in a remarkable and unforgettable (for varying reasons, depending on your allegiance) showdown between the two rivals.
5 "T.J. Sochi"
T.J. Oshie is a good hockey player in his own right - he's a key cog in the St. Louis Blues offence, and he was good enough to crack perhaps the most talented international roster the United States ever assembled. Oshie's star exploded in Sochi, though, after an individual performance for the ages. Oshie was leaned on in the shootout during the USA's round-robin game against Russia, scoring four times to lead the Americans to a huge win against the hosting Russian squad.
4 The "True Final"
The real Stanley Cup Final pitted the New York Rangers against the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings had a relatively easy time dispatching of their Eastern Conference foe, winning the Cup in 5 games. The "de facto" Final actually took place during the Western Conference Finals between the Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, pitting the widely accepted two best teams in the league in a series for the ages. The Kings ended up winning the series in a nail-biting seventh game thanks to three comebacks in Game 7 and a game-winning overtime goal by Alec Martinez to seal the deal on a series for the ages.
3 Habs Honor Jean Béliveau
The news of Jean Béliveau's death in December not only cut deep in the Montreal Canadiens community, but also across the hockey world. Béliveau was one of hockey's greatest ambassadors, a larger than life man who made everyone feel important, despite his stature (literally and figuratively). Béliveau was honored by the Canadiens in a moving tribute, which was capped off with his wife, Élise, sobbing while also blowing kisses to the loud and emotional crowd on hand to salute "Le Gros Bill" one final time - all while a spotlight illuminated his empty Bell Centre chair.
2 Sam Tageson Lives His Dream
The Make-A-Wish Foundation is one of the best children's charities out there, and they came through once again to make a young man live out his dream. The San Jose Sharks pulled out all the stops for 18-year-old Sam Tageson, who's been dealing with a life-threatening heart condition. That hasn't reeled in his passion for the Sharks, though, and the organization gave him the day of a lifetime when they signed him to a one-day contract, which included a media scrum, pre-game skate, and Tageson skating out onto the ice with the team right before puck-drop. Tageson was overcome with emotion when shown on the screen before the game, a touching moment that left no eye dry.
1 The Kings Are the Kings... Again!
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings cakewalked to their first ever Stanley Cup Championship. They caught everyone a bit off guard that year, as they were the eighth-seed - but still demolished everyone in their path. This past year was much more difficult - three seven-game series against three Western powerhouses (San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago) before winning it all in spectacular fashion on Alec Martinez's double overtime goal (his second consecutive series clinching overtime goal).
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