10 Stranger-Than-Fiction Moments in NHL History
There are plenty of reasons that a given moment can make this list. Sometimes the incident is just plain strange. Sometimes the odds of it happening are just astronomical. Other times, the story just doesn't fit into typical hockey lore or culture.
There are few ground rules for this list. First, the event has to be an NHL moment. If it happened in the WHA, the minors or in the Olympics it cannot qualify. Obviously, the incident also has to be true. If it's a made up story then it's not stranger than fiction; it is fiction.
There are many possible events that can be put on this list. Feel free to chime in with any you feel belong that I may have omitted. As always, mention why you feel your choice deserves a spot on this list.
10. Terry O'Reilly Attacks a Cheerleader
The Boston Bruins were known as one of the toughest teams in hockey in the 1970s. The "Big Bad Bruins" would take on all comers, both on and off the ice.
One of their toughest players was Terry O'Reilly, who earned the nickname "Taz" (short for the Tasmanian Devil) for his all-out hustle and nonstop aggression.
In 1975-76, the Bruins visited Oakland to play the California Golden Seals. During the game, Krazy George, the Seals' unofficial cheerleader, was leading the crowd in cheer and banging on his drum.
O'Reilly was escorted to the penalty box and apparently George banged his drum a bit too loud for O'Reilly's liking. He went after the cheerleader, trying to poke him with his stick (George describes the incident in the above clip) and chasing him back into the seats.
Terry O'Reilly's first trip into the stands was to chase a cheerleader—not an opposing player or even a fan (He wouldn't do that until 1979 at Madison Square Garden).
9. The Year of the Rat
Florida Panthers Forward Scott Mellanby is responsible for one of the most unusual goal celebrations in NHL history.
The Panthers were in their locker room shortly before their 1995-96 home opener when a large rat scurried across the floor. Mellanby took his stick and struck the rodent with a perfect one-timer, smashing it against the wall and killing it.
Once word got out about the incident, Panthers fans started celebrating goals by throwing plastic rats onto the ice.
Amazingly enough, the Panthers rode the strong goaltending of John Vanbiesbrouck and made an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final that season. As a result, NHL fans across North America got to see the rat celebration again and again.
The Panthers eventually lost to the Colorado Avalanche, but their amazing run in just their third season in the NHL was a memorable one. The Panthers ushered in the NHL's "Year of the Rat."
8. The Rangers Hawk Designer Jeans
Hockey has always been a tough game played by tough men. The image of toothless hockey players sitting on the bench spitting through the space between their missing teeth is a common one.
In the late '70s, the New York Rangers turned that image on its head. They skated around in several commercials for Sasson designer jeans, acting essentially as male models.
The ads proved to be very popular and even led to a sequel (which is shown above). Players that participated in the commercials included Phil Esposito, Dave Maloney, Anders Hedberg and Ron Duguay.
The players skated around in their jeans and sang "Ooh, la-la, Sasson," which became the slogan of the company.
The fact that the Rangers went on to reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1979 only added to the popularity of the commercials and the players who appeared in them. Suddenly, members of the Rangers were seen at many of the hottest clubs and restaurants around Manhattan (like Studio 54).
Today, the ads are a reminder of a long gone era. Hockey players hawking designer jeans—who would have guessed?
7. The Seals Don White Skates
When Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley bought the Oakland Seals in 1970, there were big changes in store for the franchise.
The most noticeable was a change in uniforms, which included a change in the skates the team wore. The Seals were outfitted in "Kelly green, California gold and polar bear white" uniforms to match Finley's baseball team. Since the A's wore white cleats, Finley wanted the Seals to wear white skates.
The players objected, since back in the early 1970s, the only white skates being produced were figure skates, not hockey skates.
Finley settled for green and gold colored skates in 1970-71, which looked very colorful but didn't go over well.
In 1971-72, Finley insisted and ended up getting his white hockey skates. Of course, the skates weren't actually white; they were painted white by the team's trainers.
Because skates hit pucks, sticks and the boards, the white paint would get scuffed and scraped up.
Finley insisted on having the skates look "perfect" and the trainers had to touch them up after every game. By the end of a 78-game schedule, the skates actually got heavier as more and more paint was applied.
The reaction of fans was hardly surprising. Seals defenseman Marshall Johnston recalled being yelled at by fans when the team was on the road: "Hey, Johnston, where's your purse." (See the book "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, Hockey's Most Colorful Team.")
The Seals wore the white skates in various forms until February of 1974, when Finley sold the team to the NHL. Finley sold them at a profit. One of the first things management did afterward was abandon the use of the white skates.
6. The Richard Riot
The tension between French-Canadians and English-speaking Canadians had existed for a long time beneath the surface. But the tensions boiled over and became an outright riot in March of 1955, when NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended the Montreal Canadiens' Rocket Richard for the rest of the NHL season.
The incident began on March 13, 1955, when a confrontation between Richard and Boston's Hal Laycoe got out of hand. While linesmen were trying to separate the two of them, Richard punched official Cliff Thompson twice in the face, knocking him out cold.
Campbell suspended Richard, who was battling for the league scoring title, for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
On March 17, Campbell made a big error in judgment by attending the next Habs home game at the Forum in Montreal. The public in and around Montreal felt that Campbell was too harsh in his suspension of Richard; the fact that Richard was French-Canadian was a factor in that unfair treatment. Campbell was booed by the crowd and was eventually pelted by rotten eggs and vegetables.
He had to be escorted out of the building by police after a tear gas bomb went off inside the Forum.
The riots continued outside the Forum. By the time it was over, more than 30 people had been injured and more than 50 stores looted. The incident was forever known as "The Richard Riot."
In the end, the suspension was upheld. Richard lost the scoring title and the Canadiens failed to win the Stanley Cup that year, which was captured by the Red Wings.
5. A Bat Hits the Ice
Game 3 of the 1975 Stanley Cup Final was played at the old Aud in Buffalo. It was a strange game from start to finish.
The Philadelphia Flyers held a 2-0 series lead, having beaten the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 and 2-1 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Sabres were in a must-win situation if they hoped to make a series of it.
For most of the game, a live bat was flying around the arena and often flew dangerously close to the heads of the players on the ice (remember, few players wore helmets in those days).
Finally, Buffalo's Jim Lorentz took his stick and struck the bat as it flew past the faceoff circle. Philadelphia's Rick MacLeish then picked up the stunned animal with his bare hand and skated it to the bench for disposal.
A few minutes after that bizarre incident, fog rolled into the arena, making it tough for any of the players to see the puck. It was caused by the high humidity in the Aud. The action was stopped and the players were all asked to skate around the ice to break up the fog. The results were mixed at best.
The game went into overtime. In the end, Buffalo's Rene Robert scored to give Buffalo a 5-4 win and to give them their first ever win in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Flyers went on to win the series 4-2, but nobody will ever forget the night a bat was killed and the fog rolled into the Aud.
4. Sewing on Eddie Shore's Ear
The stories about Eddie Shore's toughness has become the stuff of legend. The man who came to symbolize "Old-Time Hockey" in the movie "Slap Shot" was really as tough as the legend says.
The most gruesome tale of Shore's toughness took place in 1925-26. Shore's Boston Bruins acquired Billy Coutu from the Montreal Canadians. Shore and Coutu had a longstanding rivalry. In Coutu's first practice with the Bruins, the two teammates came to blows.
Shore got the best of the fight; but Coutu managed to nearly rip the ear off of Shore's head. It was hanging on by a small piece of skin.
Shore was told there was no way to save the ear, but he spoke to several doctors before finding one who said he could sew it back on. Shore refused any painkillers and requested a mirror so he could watch the doctor reattach his ear.
There are plenty of great Eddie Shore stories, but this one is stranger than fiction.
3. How Stan Mikita Changed the Way He Played the Game
A future Hall of Fame hockey player had his career changed by his four-year-old daughter. It sounds like a melodramatic Hollywood movie but it really happened during the 1965-66 season.
The Chicago Blackhawks' Stan Mikita accumulated more than 100 penalty minutes four different times early in his NHL career. He was considered a bit of a dirty player by many despite the fact that he had obvious skills.
The change for Mikita came when his daughter Meg was watching a game on TV and asked her mother why daddy always had to sit in the penalty box away from everybody else.
When Mikita's wife related the story to the star center, he vowed to change his ways to set a good example for his children.
The change was successful. Mikita won four Art Ross Trophies as the league's leading scorer and won a pair of Lady Byng Trophies for gentlemanly play. All this because his daughter wanted to know why daddy was sitting all by himself all the time.
2. Mario Lemieux Gets a Warm Ovation in Philadelphia
Philadelphia sports fans are known as being tough to please and have a reputation for being tougher on opposing players. Heck, in 1968, they even booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game.
But on March 2, 1993, the hostility between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins was put aside at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Flyers fans cheered the return of Pittsburgh's best-ever player.
Mario Lemieux had been out of the Pittsburgh lineup since January 12 to undergo radiation treatments for cancer. His last treatment came on March 2nd and he rejoined the team that very night in Philadelphia. When Lemieux skated onto the ice, the fans gave him a very warm ovation.
Penguins' announcer Mike Lange told NHL.com's Corey Masisak that it was "a moving moment in the world of hockey...They were happy to welcome him back after what he had gone through...That's never happened before and it probably will never happen again."
Lemieux didn't disappoint, and he got another ovation when he scored a goal.
Lange said there was a unique feeling in the building that night. "On this particular day, I was so moved by the people of Philadelphia, seriously by their warmth and humanity that we can all have," he said. "I think that deep down, what we go through outside the game of hockey, the experiences and hardships -- it was a moving thing."
So moving that the fans of Philadelphia cheered for the enemy's best player. And that's just how it should be.
1. Bill Barilko's Disappearance and Discovery
The story of Bill Barilko was sad, tragic and stranger than fiction.
In 1951, Barilko scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of their series with the Montreal Canadiens. Barilko beat Habs goalie Gerry McNeil to clinch the Cup.
Later that summer, Barilko disappeared while flying up to Seal River, Quebec to go fishing. He was presumed dead.
It took 11 years for the wreckage of Barilko's plane to be discovered. His remains were found with them. The Maple Leafs did not win any titles during the 11 years between Barilko's death and the discovery of his plane. They did win the Cup in 1962—the year Barilko's body was found.