Most of the attention, however, focused on the fourth goal scored by the 19-year-old rookie, a backhander between his legs that went over the shoulder of goalie Martin Biron and just under the cross bar. What’s amazing about this move is that it didn’t take place in a shootout, but during actual game play. If you missed it, you can watch that goal on this page.
The criticism of Hertl revolves around that fourth goal. Many of the NHL’s “old guard” considers it bad form to show up the opponent by making a trick play like that during a game.
Washington Capitals coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Adam Oates was among the most vocal critics of Hertl. He told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post that the rookie shouldn’t “disrespect the league” and called Hertl’s decision to use that move during a game a “rookie mistake.”
Anybody who has followed Hertl this year knows no disrespect was intended. Hertl barely speaks English and was in awe of his accomplishment during postgame interviews with CSN Bay Area’s Brodie Brazil. His mother was so emotional at the game she was crying in the stands at her son’s stunning NHL success.
In the past, the NHL’s culture has discouraged shows of individualism and flashiness like Hertl’s move. This is probably a mistake. In actuality, it may be just what the NHL needs right now.
Look at the positive fallout from the Hertl goal. In October, one of the busiest sports months of the year, the media was enthusiastically showing an NHL highlight. Not just NBC Sports Network, but ESPN and other popular networks that don’t show live NHL games. Best of all, it wasn’t a cheap shot that resulted in a suspension or a bench-clearing brawl, but a stunning hockey play that left even non-hockey fans in awe.
The NFL and NBA are leagues that know how to market their stars. Shows of individual brilliance like Hertl’s are one of the tools those leagues use to convince fans that their games are must-see TV. It also helps give the stars of the league more of a personality and attracts the attention of fans.
Whether it’s Alex Ovechkin’s yellow skate laces or Tiger Williams’ goal celebrations, these incidents of individuality help give the game attention and create memorable moments and images for fans. They also help draw positive attention to the game for casual fans or potential new fans.
So quit criticizing Tomas Hertl for his “showboating” and maybe learn a thing or two from what he’s doing. It really wouldn’t be so bad for the game. Or better yet, if you don’t like seeing him score those fancy goals, go out and find a way to stop him.