Is showboating breaking the unwritten code?

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (#8) in front of the Philadelphia Flyers net during their NHL ice hockey game at Verizon Center. (Photo from Flickr.)
Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (#8) in front of the Philadelphia Flyers net during their NHL ice hockey game at Verizon Center. (Photo from Flickr.)

Hockey fans everywhere have been talking about San Jose Sharks’ rookie sensation Tomas Hertl and his spectacular goal last Tuesday, when the young Czech scored a fancy, between-the-legs goal on a breakaway against New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron.

It was the eighth goal of the game for San Jose, and the fourth for Hertl in what would be an eventual 9-2 win for the Sharks.

The goal has received mixed reactions from around the hockey world. Although many people have applauded the display of raw talent, others feel that it was showboating and breaking an unwritten code of hockey ethics.

Washington Capitals coach and Hall of Famer Adam Oates was one of the first to come out and say that he disapproved of the goal.

“I’m upset. I was just talking to [Capitals General Manager] George [McPhee] and he said all the kids do that nowadays, which I understand,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “But would he have done it on his first goal? [If] he [hadn’t] scored yet [that night] and he gets a breakaway, is he going to do that on his breakaway? We’ll see.”

“[…] This league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp,” Oates continued. “Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”

Don Cherry, known for his hostile feelings towards European players and their flashy style of hockey, also gave his reaction to the goal on the Saturday, Oct. 12 edition of the CBC’s Coach’s Corner. Although he thinks the goal was hot-dogging, he feels that it was done unintentionally by a young kid who didn’t know any better.

“If the score had been 1-1, we would have said ‘hey, what a goal’. […] I’m going to say something about the kid. He didn’t know he did anything wrong. He played in the Czech Republic last year. This is what they do.”

Last season saw young rookie sensation Nail Yakupov slide across the ice in celebration of a goal, and even this was too extravagant for some people. The celebration received a similar reaction to Hertl’s goal. Like Yakupov, Hertl has now made his name known to the hockey world, for better or worse.

San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan did admit that his budding star’s celebration may have been a little over the top, but the celebration was understandable, given the situation.

“The one thing he’ll have to learn a little bit is the celebration, but he’s four goals into a game, his emotion is running high, his mom’s at the game, the celebration was maybe a little over the top. I don’t even know how I tell him that, because he’s not going to understand it,” according to

On the other hand, there are other members of the hockey world that have no problem with the goal, and think displays of talent should be applauded and encouraged.

“Honestly, I think it’s pretty sad that a kid scores four goals and you guys are talking about the move he made,” said Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo, according to Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun. “What did he do wrong? He made a play, and he scored. If he scored on me, I wouldn’t be pissed if he scored that way. There is no rule against it, so I don’t understand why people would get upset about it.”

Luongo’s teammate Henrik Sedin also felt that the goal being seen as controversial is ridiculous.

“What should he have done? Come in and shoot at [goalie Martin Biron’s) pads? I don’t get it,” said Sedin, according to the “If he comes in and does, like, a one-handed Forsberg move … what would have been acceptable? I’m amazed we’re standing here today talking about it.”

Concordia Stingers defenceman Adam Nugent-Hopkins is on the fence about the goal.

“I don’t really have a problem with the goal. It wasn’t so much showboating as it was cocky.There is an unwritten code of ethics in hockey, and you try to stay humble about these things. But it also puts a lot of pressure on Hertl. It’s going to draw attention to him, and it’s not going to make things any easier for him.”

Nugent-Hopkins, however, shared Sedin’s views, saying it’s not Hertl’s fault that he had the chance to score.

“He wants to score, that’s why he’s out there. Too bad for New York if you can’t stop him. They’re being paid millions of dollars to stop him.”

Criticizing a young player for scoring is also very hypocritical, said McLellan.

“If you refer back to 2005, the lockout year, our league, our players, our management were looking for ways to find goal-scoring. Our fans want it,” McLellan said, according to

“We’ve changed rules, we’ve changed the size of the net, we’ve reduced goaltenders’ pads, we’ve put trapezoids in, we’re taken red lines out, we’ve done just about everything we can to increase scoring,” he continued.

“And now, a 19-year-old comes into the league and he scores four goals, can’t speak the language, doesn’t really understand where he is right now, and we’re going to criticize him for that? Not me.”

Although the goal may have been flashy, that is not necessarily a bad thing. For a league that is desperately trying to fill seats in some arenas, displays of skill is what is going to sell the game.

Kevin Figsby, coach of the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team, suggested that Hertl’s goal is exactly what the NHL wants.

“I think Hertl’s goal was a thing of skill. I don’t think he would have used the same move if the score was 2-2, but I think the NHL is looking for those type of skilled moves, to sell the game,” he said.

“In fact, I think that type of move would be welcomed at the All-Star Skills competition, rather than watching guys wear costumes etc. [or] during the shootout competition.”

Hertl’s goal was seen on every highlight reel around the continent, even in places where hockey receives low levels of exposure. His celebration may have been a little over the top given the circumstances, but that is part of maturing as a hockey player. He is not the first player to go too far with a celebration, and he definitely won’t be the last. The play may have been cocky, but perhaps having more flashy goals and more outrageous celebrations in the league is what the NHL needs to sell the game.


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