The NHL has been around for just over 100 years now, and over that century (and change) the league has seen a lot. Warriors battling through major injuries to score monumental playoff goals, the Stanley Cup being thrown into a lake, a fire, or left on the side of the road, Gritty...
With so much history, we’re worried the following facts may have slipped by you. The following list of six facts focuses on some of the most bizarre things to happen in and around the National Hockey League.
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers almost traded arenas in 1980.
There have been a lot of bizarre trades to happen in the NHL, but this one would have taken the cake had it gone through.
Peter Pocklington – the former Edmonton Oilers owner – is no stranger to league-changing trades. In 1988, Pocklington infamously dealt Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. Defending his move, Pocklington wrote a book titled “I’d Trade Him Again.”
In the book, Pocklington describes another deal that certainly would have raised some eyebrows. Pocklington claims to have been approached by former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard about potentially switching arenas.
Ballard was in the midst of financial problems, so he essentially offered up the historic Maple Leaf Gardens in return for the Oilers home arena in Edmonton and $50 million in cash. The Leafs would play in Edmonton, and the Oilers would play in Toronto.
Pocklington was excited by the idea of a market change, believing that he would make a fortune in Toronto. Then, for a reason unbeknownst to Pocklington, Ballard backed out of the deal.
“He was a crazy old bugger,” Pocklington colourfully described.
2. The First Hockey Pucks Were Apparently Made Out of Frozen Cow Dung
Modern hockey pucks are 1” thick and 3” in diameter, and they’re frozen ahead of use to prevent bouncing. While it seems simple enough, apparently it wasn’t always so… clean.
According the NHL.com, legend has it that the first hockey pucks were actually crafted out of frozen cow dung. The cow dung pucks went through a series of evolutions before becoming the rubber slab we use today, including bits of wood, stones, old pieces of glued tired, and cut up lacrosse balls.
We’ve all imagined how much it would hurt to struck in the face by a hockey puck as a goalie. Now imagine that hockey puck was made out of dung. Sheesh.
3. Roger Neilson is Responsible For Not One, Not Two, but THREE Hilarious Rule Changes.
Roger Neilson spent two and half decades behind NHL benches in various coaching capacities, and during that time he was involved in more antics than any other coach. A student of the NHL rule book, Neilson was always looking for ways to exploit the written set of rules to his advantage. Neilson forced the league to make multiple rule changes to accommodate Neilson’s pesky ability to find loopholes.
- Putting a defenceman in net for penalty shots, rather than a goaltender. While you may think of goaltenders as the professional puck stoppers, Neilson liked the versatility of a defenceman in a one-on-one situation. Noticing that the rule book does not specify what type of player is chosen to defend a penalty shot, Neilson elected to send a blueliner in. This had to be addressed by the league.
- Pulling the goalie, but having the goaltender leave his stick behind to guard the net. When a Neilson-led team was down late in the game, Neilson would follow convention and pull his goaltender. Unconventionally, however, he would have the goaltender leave his stick behind to hinder sliding pucks heading towards the yawning cage. This was quickly remedied by the league, and goalies are no longer allowed to leave equipment behind intentionally.
- Taking concurrent Too Many Men penalties to waste time. Another clever ploy from Neilson was to waste time at the end of the 3rd period by consistently sending too many men on the ice. Faceoff after faceoff, with another Neilson-coached player heading to the box, it made it nearly impossible for the opposition to set anything up in hopes of tying the game.
Neilson was possibly the craftiest coach to ever have a job in the NHL, and whether you see his antics as “cheap” or not, you have to respect the creativity.
4. Penguins Had a Live Mascot Name Penguin Pete
Unfortunately, this is a pretty sad story.
Back in the late 60s, Penguins owner Jack McGregor had an idea to use a live mascot during games. “Pete” came on loan from the Pittsburgh Zoo, and McGregor wanted to see if the Ecuadorian Penguin could actually learn how to skate. They ordered custom skates from CCM to accommodate a penguin's unique leg/foot structures.
It didn’t work out, and Pete ended up coming down with pneumonia. He was returned to the Pittsburgh Zoo, and died soon after.
(H/T Ottawa Citizen)
5. The San Jose Sharks Name Considerations Included the “Rubber Puckies” and the “Screaming Squids”.
Naming a professional sports franchise is a lot of pressure. You want to be clever, you want to be unique, you want to be city-appropriate.
When San Jose was awarded an NHL franchise at the beginning of the 1990s, they went through a committee process in trying to decide a name. According to KQED, early Sharks employee Matt Levine stated there was a criteria of six points to meet.
- Had to have a regional connection
- Had to be a unique name in all of sports
- Had to be emotionally charged and exciting
- Had to lend itself to "imaginative graphic interpretation"
- Had to suggest qualities you'd want in a hockey player and team
- Could not be shortened in a headline
As described by The Score, “Rubber Puckies” and “Screaming Squids” were both on the list of considerations, along with other names such as “Salty Dogs” and, the most popular response, “Blades.”
You can’t say they weren’t unique. Despite “Blades” winning the name-the-team contest, San Jose elected to go with “Sharks” instead due to possible gang implications.
6. The Buffalo Sabres Once Made Up a Player
During the 1974 NHL Draft, Buffalo Sabres owner Punch Imlach became fed up with the league’s deliberately slow draft process. Conducted via telephone, the NHL was working hard to keep draft picks a secret from the then-rival WHA, and it opened a window for Imlach to pull one of the funniest pranks hockey has seen.
Using an 11th Round Draft Pick, Imlach and the Sabres announced they would be drafting Taro Tsujimoto, a supposed Japanese prodigy playing for the Tokyo Katanas. The league didn’t know any better, and they went ahead and made the pick official.
Weeks later, the league realized that Tsujimoto wasn’t actually a hockey player, and in fact didn’t exist at all. Not only that, the Tokyo Katanas were also fictitious, and the Sabres pick was eventually changed to “invalid” in the official records.
The prank was so funny, Elite Prospects even has a page set up for the made up man. The picture features Dustin Brown accidentally squirting a water bottle the wrong direction, and the bio gives a description of Tsujimoto’s story.