By Micah Akuezue, UCLA
I remember where I was when Steve Yzerman scored the game-winning goal in double overtime of game seven over the St. Louis Blues, advancing the Detroit Red Wings to the Western Conference Finals back in 1996. It was a Thursday night, on May 16, when I should very well have been in bed (I was seven at the time). The Wings posted a franchise-best 62-13-7 season record a year after being swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the New Jersey Devils, with questions being called about Yzerman’s leadership (amid rumors he’d be traded to the Ottawa Senators, no less!) Back then, at that tender age, I didn’t yet know what history was, but I was pretty sure that Yzerman’s slap shot over John Casey’s shoulder had just reached what one might call legendary status. Herodotus would have dedicated a book to it.
The NHL decided to immortalize this and other similar playoff moments last year in the “History Will Be Made” series of commercials, stretching all the way back to the ’40s. Famous moments by famous players are celebrated, including Yzerman, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier, to name a famous few.
I was excited, like many, to hear that the award-winning commercial series was returning for the 2011 playoff series, and it didn’t disappoint, with memorable clips, including Brad May (“MAY DAY! MAY DAY!”), and even the remarkable series comeback the Philadelphia Flyers mounted last year against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And in a nice touch, a recent commercial featured Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks scoring last year’s Cup-clinching overtime winner against the Flyers. Considering that the ‘Hawks hadn’t won a Cup since 1961, the historical significance wasn’t anything short of obvious. History indeed had been made.
“Wonderful,” I thought to myself. “These are moments I’ll remember years from now.” Then the league’s marketing team reared his ugly head, and we’ve started to get commercials almost every other day, highlighting seemingly mundane moments. Will anyone remember Roberto Luongo’s performance in the Cup Final? Yeah, sure, as he’s had to fight off doubts about whether or not he could perform under pressure. But is it on the level of, say, 1994’s San Jose Sharks defeating the Wings to advance to the second round for the firs time in their history? Consider Tyler Seguin for the Boston Bruins this year. He’s an awesome success story, and if it wasn’t for an injury and other roster shuffles, he wouldn’t even be playing right now; however, is his playing as memorable a “moment” as 1987’s Easter Epic? I’d venture an answer to both question with a “no.”
While the “History Will Be Made” series was initially all about historical moments being born out of small, minute points in time, lately it seems that these moments are more manufactured than anything else. Can a true hockey fan, one of those cliche over-fifty-years-old fans who say they’ve been watching hockey since God-knows-when, appreciate some of these moments commemorated by the commercials as much as he or she would the others?
There are two problems with the commercial series as it stands now: the commercials are coming early and often; and the sheer volume of “great moments” being commemorated waters down the value of the those truly great moments, when something was actually on the line. The Pittsburgh Penguins scoring an overtime winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning is memorable only in a small, narrow consideration of context; e.g., a Penguins fan might remember it for another year or two. But most still remember the Miracle on Manchester, almost 29 years after it happened. Simply put, the only thing worse than the idea to extend the commercial series to this magnitude was that God-awful idea to get Stan Lee to draw comic book characters for all 30 NHL teams. And yes, there was a meeting to green light that project.
Perhaps there is a return to the great hockey tradition in the works, with Winnipeg recently getting an NHL team back (read: division realignments are imminent!) While I am excited, I’m not holding my breath for anything completely amazing; in fact, I’m holding my breath for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to completely fuck it up… like move the Wings to the Eastern Conference. Until then, I will watch look back in time again, thinking to myself, in comfort, that there are those initial times when history is born, and legends are made.