20 Craziest Facts You Didn’t Know About The NHL
With more than a century’s worth of storied history that’s persevered through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, disease, the ‘70s, mergers, numerous work stoppages and arguably one of the most polarizing commissioners in all of professional sports, the NHL is chock full of some crazy, mysterious and downright startling facts that have been hidden in time or simply forgotten altogether.
Funny, sad, incredible, unpredictable – the world’s best hockey league is like a million-mile odyssey with curious little Easter eggs uncovered along the way that add curious intrigue and layer upon layer that make it ever more interesting each time you re-read it.
There’s no possible way to document all the tales from the road, obscure rulebook footnotes and statistical anomalies that make the NHL the institution that it is today, so by no means should you consider this a comprehensive list. Instead, this article includes some of the more far-out things that make you go “huh” and might actually help you out in a future trivia night at your local pub.
So let’s dive right in. Here are 20 of the craziest facts you had no idea about the NHL.
- THE SAN JOSE SHARKS WERE ALMOST NAMED THE “RUBBER PUCKIES”
When San Jose was awarded an expansion team to begin play in the 1991-92 season, the team owners, Gordon and George Gund, held a name-the-team contest that rendered more than 2,000 entries with suggestions that ranged from creative to ridiculous and everything in between. The finalists included “Screaming Squids,” “Salty Dogs,” “Blades” and yes, “Rubber Puckies.”
Technically “Blades” won the most votes, but the Gunds vetoed it for fear it might draw uninvited ties to violence and gang activity, so they ended up going with “Sharks,” since there were several of the species living off California’s Bay Area coast and since it would inspire a graphic logo while appealing to potential future fans of all ages. Now, if only the British government had learned this valuable lesson before “Boaty McBoatface” became a thing.
- THE MAPLE LEAFS ONCE THREW THE STANLEY CUP INTO A FIRE
We’ve all been there. We’re happy, we’re celebrating, the booze is flowing, our inhibitions have been thrown to the wind, and our ability to make good, rational decisions is reduced down to basically nothing. Well, imagine you had just won the Stanley Cup and we’re in that exact situation.
Despite its sacred status within the NHL and the hockey community as a whole, the Toronto Maple Leafs, after winning the 1962 Stanley Cup championship by knocking off the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, let their revelry get the better of them, and somehow Lord Stanley’s precious chalice ended up in a bonfire. As you can imagine, it was damaged pretty badly, so the Leafs had to come up with the cash to make the repairs and then probably get a stern talking-to from the league.
- PITTSBURGH USED TO HAVE A REAL-LIFE PENGUIN MASCOT
Whether you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan or not, you’ve got to admit that a penguin is a pretty cool mascot for a hockey team. After all, their natural habitat, for the most part, is the frigid climates of the southern hemisphere, and they spend the majority of their lives sliding around on snow and ice. You can’t say the same about, say, a panther or a shark.
The Pens first introduced the live bird, named Pete, in 1968, prior to a game in February against the Philadelphia Flyers. Pete was an Ecuadorian-born penguin on loan from the Pittsburgh Aquazoo and was a ninth birthday present to young Doug McGregor, son of Penguins then-president Jack McGregor. The bird made several live appearances throughout the season and even had his own pair of skates.
- GARY BETTMAN IS THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF THE NHL
Love the guy or hate him, but Gary Bettman is the polarizing head of the NHL, and is, believe it or not, the very first commissioner of the league. No, he hasn’t been around since 1917 when the league evolved into what it is today. He’s actually the first one because before him, the league designated its top executive as “president.”
When Bettman took over for his predecessor, Gil Stein, on Feb. 1, 1993, the owners stipulated his hiring on the mandate that he lead the way in selling the game in major U.S. markets, cure the ongoing labor disputes, grow the league through expansion and help the “old guard” within the ownership ranks come around to a more modern way of conducting business within the league.
Through both controversy and strife, Bettman has accomplished some of that charge, though he’s fallen far short many other areas.
- THE FIRST OUTDOOR NHL GAME HAPPENED IN A DESERT
The NHL’s Winter Classic and Heritage Classic games are outdoor contests typically held in cold-weather locales that pay tribute to the early beginnings of the game and our fond memories of strapping on the pads and skating around on a frozen pond or lake.
So you’d think the NHL’s first-ever official outdoor game might have been held in Detroit, Buffalo, Edmonton or Calgary. You know, northern cities, where ice was a naturally occurring phenomenon and where hockey fans abounded everywhere you turned.
Well, surprise. In 1991, the Los Angeles Kings hosted the New York Rangers in a preseason contest outside Caesar’s Palace in sunny, hot Las Vegas, Nevada. As you can imagine, there were several issues with maintaining an outdoor rink in the 100-degree temperatures of the desert, but the game was eventually played in front of a sellout crowd.