The 12 Biggest Tear-Jerking Moments in NHL History

Dan Kelley@@dxkelleyCorrespondent IIJanuary 23, 2013

The 12 Biggest Tear-Jerking Moments in NHL History

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    Hockey is a man's sport. 

    Players are expected to play through injury. Skaters must throw big checks as well as take them. The men on the ice are expected to handle the most pressure-filled of situations. 

    And yet, in this man's game, we all look forward to the moments that make us cry like little girls. 

    Hockey is about sportsmanship, ruing the loss of the Stanley Cup dream and still swallowing your pride and shaking hands with the victor. It is about dealing with demons and struggles off the ice by putting everything you have into the game at hand. 

    Over the years, hockey has produced some of the true golden moments in sports history. These are the 12 NHL moments that bring tears to our eyes, no matter how many times we read about them and watch the videos. 

Honorable Mention: The Lokomotiv Crash

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    The plane crash that wiped out an entire hockey team did not directly relate to the NHL, so it doesn't technically qualify for this list. 

    However, the tragedy in the KHL involved eight former NHL players including Pavol Demitra, as well as former NHL player and coach Brad McCrimmon, who had gone to Russia to coach the team. 

    The team was preparing to fly to its first game of the 2011-12 season when the aircraft malfunctioned, crashing shortly after takeoff and killing 44 of the 45 people on board.

    The disaster sent shock waves through the hockey community, tragically putting into perspective the meaningless nature of the game in the grand scheme of the world.

12. Bruins Fans Give "O Canada" a Standing O

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    The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins have one of the most bitter rivalries in sports, and the hatred came to a head when the two teams faced off in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. 

    Before Game 3 of the series in Montreal, the traditional singing of the Star-Spangled Banner was met with boos from much of the crowd, a blatantly disrespectful gesture no matter what your feelings on the war in Iraq may have been at the time. 

    Luckily, the Boston Bruins fans were on the scene in Game 5 to show how truly classy most hockey fans are. Not only did the fans largely avoid retaliatory boos the next time the teams met, but the vast majority gave an ovation to the anthem of their neighbors to the north. 

    In the world of sports, it is easy for one passionate fanbase to get into a sort of shouting match with another. The Boston faithful went above and beyond to show their class in this emotional pregame moment.

11. The 2004-05 Season Gets the Axe

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    For those of us who remember it, there were few hockey moments that made you want to cry more than the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. 

    The blow of the press conference itself was likely soften by the fact that, by the time Bettman made his decision official in February, most of us had lost all hope anyway. Still, our beloved game became the first major league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute, and the aftermath saw the league relegated from ESPN to the Outdoor Life Network.

    Some fans felt like a repeat of the heartbreak was ensured for the 2012-13 campaign, but, perhaps thanks to the lessons learned in 2004-05, the players and owners got a deal, and we have hockey today.

10. Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore Shake Hands

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    This golden moment in sportsmanship takes us all the way back to the 1933-34 season, when Toronto's Ace Bailey put a big hit on Red Horner of the Boston Bruins. Taking exception to the hit, Boston's Eddie Shore took exception to the hit and sent Bailey to the ice with a cheap shot of his own.

    Unfortunately, playing tough hockey on the grounds of defending one's teammate can mean a scary injury for the opponent, and that's exactly what happened when Shore went at Bailey. 

    Bailey's head hit the ice, fracturing his skull. The Leafs' star would be taken to the hospital and there was speculation that the injury could take his life. 

    Thankfully, Bailey survived, but he would never play hockey again. 

    Two months later, an All-Star game was held at Maple Leaf Gardens to raise money for Bailey, and Shore attended. The two players embraced and shook hands at center ice, as an iconic player forgave his attacker, a tribute to the spirit of competition.

9. The Death of Brittanie Cecil

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    Hockey is a dangerous game on the ice, but no one ever expects tragedy to strike in the stands.

    13 year-old Brittanie Cecil was attending a Columbus Blue Jackets game as an early celebration of her 14th birthday when Calgary's Derek Morris deflected an Espen Knutsen shot into the stands, where the puck violently struck Brittanie. 

    The shot fractured her skull, leaving a nasty gash, and she was taken to a local hospital. Stunningly, her CT-scan failed to identify a brain bleed as a result of a torn artery. Brittanie was discharged, and at home she developed a severe fever and lost consciousness. 

    Two days after being struck, Brittanie died, the only fan in NHL history to die as a result of attending a game. 

    Since then, nets have been put above the glass behind each net to prevent a repeat of the horrifying incident.

8. Hockey Loses One of Its Own

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    Brittanie Cecil is the only fan to ever die during a game, but hockey has lost far too many players in the middle of their careers.

    Perhaps no death was more tragic than that of Pelle Lindbergh, the 26 year-old goaltending phenom for the Philadelphia Flyers whose decision to drink and gun his Porsche through the streets of southern New Jersey ultimately took his life. 

    The Flyers franchise was high on Lindbergh's potential, and he was very well-liked by his teammates. The death was quick and stunning, another lesson in mortality in a sport that has seen too many figures meet an early, untimely end.

7. Super Mario Comes Back to His Sport

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    Let's step away from tragedy and find some positive tears.

    At age 27, Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux was poised to be Wayne Gretzky's only true competition as the greatest player in the game. Lemieux was big and had all the tools of a hockey player who could dominate in any era, even the Gretzky era.

    However, Lemieux would have to leave hockey twice in his career. This video is from his first return to Pittsburgh, after missing more than two months to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. 

    The disease was poised to strike down one of the game's best players, and the hockey world held its collective breath as Mario underwent radiation treatments.

    The sport let out a collective cheer when No. 66 returned to the ice in Pittsburgh on March 9th, 1993.

6. Bill Barilko's Disappearance

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    The Bill Barilko story is one of hockey's most unbelievable, and also one of its most tragic. 

    In Game 5 of the 1951 Stanley Cup Final, the Toronto Maple Leafs held a 3-1 series lead against the hated Montreal Canadiens as the match went to overtime. Opportunistically, Barilko pinched in from the point and scored a diving goal on Gerry McNeil to win the Stanley Cup.

    Barilko's finest hockey moment was also his last. The defenseman disappeared that summer after leaving on a fishing trip with a friend. Their plane would not be found for 11 years, and in that span, the Maple Leafs failed to win a Stanley Cup. 

    Barilko's death is a tear-jerking moment, but the reflection on the whole story, going back to his moment of ultimate glory...that's what truly brings a tear to the eye.

5. "The Waiting Is Over!"

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    In 1940, the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup and chose to burn the deed to Madison Square Garden in the bowl of Lord Stanley's prize.

    They wouldn't get to touch the trophy again for 54 years. 

    The struggles of the team were well-documented, and it took the acquisition of hockey's greatest leader to finally break the curse.

    Mark Messier led the Rangers through the playoffs, guaranteeing victory when down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals and leading the team through the Devils and the Canucks.

    The moment culminated with a puck drop and the iconic call from Sam Rosen in the Garden.

4. Saku Koivu Returns a Hero

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    Saku Koivu was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a brutal form of cancer, just weeks before the start of the 2001-02 season.

    Koivu would not fit the prototype of a typical tough player in the NHL, but the mild-mannered Canadien captain proved himself to be perhaps the gutsiest player in all of hockey.

    Battling back the harsh illness, which threatened his life in every way that it threatened his career, Koivu ultimately won the fight, and with three games to go in the season, Koivu was given the okay to return to the Canadiens, who were fighting for their playoff lives.

    The scene that followed cannot be put into words. It can only be watched, teary-eyed and with reverence, in the video. 

    A team with 24 Stanley Cups to its name, the Montreal Canadiens perhaps never heard their fans louder than they did April 9th, 2002.

3. Even the Great One Can Be Traded

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    Sometimes our favorite team makes a trade that causes us to question what the General Manager was thinking, or what direction the team is going.

    On August 9th, 1988, the Edmonton Oilers made a trade that made people have a moment of questioning their own mortality: The Great One was traded.

    If Wayne Gretzky could be traded, then what in the world could be certain? The greatest hockey player of all-time, with over 1,600 points to his name, was expendable to someone.

    Gretzky, who loved the Oilers and loved playing in Canada, held an emotional press conference where he expressed his feelings on the trade. The moment will forever go down as one of hockey's truly earth-shattering, tear-jerking scenes.

2. Raymond Bourque!

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    For the better part of 21 stellar seasons, Ray Bourque 's mission was to lead the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup. 

    For those 21 seasons, Bourque was unable to do so, and with the Bruins in a rebuilding phase as Bourque's career wound down, it seemed unlikely that one of hockey's great defensemen would ever kiss Lord Stanley's Cup.

    Late in the 1999-2000 season, Bourque was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche, Boston's attempt to give its captain a last shot at the title. 

    The next year, Bourque and the Avalanche made an emotional playoff run, culminating in a showdown with the New Jersey Devils. The series went seven games, and as the clock counted down to an Avalanche victory, Bourque began to cry on the bench. 

    A brief speech from Gary Bettman and a formal handing over of the Cup to captain Joe Sakic later, Bourque's career could finally come to a close. 

    Raymond Bourque lifted the Stanley Cup.

1. Konstantinov's Second Cup

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    Hockey is not made great by its goals. It is not made great by saves or checks, or speeches or even Stanley Cup celebrations. 

    Hockey is made great by the men who play it, and the finest moment for the humanity of the sport came in June of 1998.

    A year prior, the Detroit Red Wings had swept the Philadelphia Flyers en route to a decisive Stanley Cup victory. The Red Wings were less than a week removed from being presented with the Cup, when defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, a staple of the Red Wings' blue line, was paralyzed in a limousine accident. 

    The crash rattled the entire franchise. The dominant d-man would never play the game again. 

    Detroit would find themselves on the verge of another Stanley Cup sweep in 1998, winning the Cup without Konstantinov on the ice, though he was firmly settled in their hearts.

    In the most heartwarming scene in NHL history, the Wings wheeled Konstantinov onto the ice and Steve Yzerman presented him with the Stanley Cup.

    There, Konstantinov would take his second-ever lap with the Stanley Cup, forever cementing his place in one of hockey's truly great moments.