For the first six days of 2013, there was no NHL hockey to speak of as the lockout robbed us of the joy it can bring. The following 359 days were full of action and tremendous moments that reminded us why we love this game so much.
So here, in the final days of 2013, we take a look back at the Top 10 moments from the year that was in hockey.
10. Hertl Power
Coming into the season the Calder Trophy prognostications were pretty widespread but the most common name to appear was that of No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon or top defenseman Seth Jones. Tomas Hertl was on some people's radars but still he came into the 2013-14 season with little fanfare.
That all changed when Hertl had the game of his life in only the third game of his NHL career. With the San Jose Sharks hosting the Rangers at the Tank, the Czech rookie had his coming out party, one that drew national attention for the right reasons. The Sharks were slicing and dicing through the Rangers defense all game long and the speedy Hertl, playing on the Sharks' top line to start the year, was a major beneficiary. He racked up a hat trick as the rout was on.
But it was what Hertl did near the end of the game that took the great story over the top. Once again Hertl found himself on a breakaway and when he was bearing down on goalie Martin Biron and then made the move to score the goal heard 'round the world by going between his legs on the fly and finishing top shelf.
Just like that, the sports world was introduced to the fresh-faced rookie. Making it all the better was his postgame interview where his sparse knowledge of English was endearing and the shots of his mother and girlfriend in the crowd heartwarming.
9. USA wins World Juniors
Still within the stranglehold of the lockout, the IIHF World Junior Championships did more than enough to satisfy the hockey fan's hankering for a little hockey action and the kids provided it.
With a tremendously talented group of players all around, something only enhanced by the lockout as some prospects that otherwise wouldn't have been released were free to play, the tournament was entertaining and a perfect escape from escrow and salary cap talk. Seeing the Americans performing so well was only a bonus (for the USA Hockey fans, of course).
The Americans squeezed into the knockout round and then the surprise came in the semifinals when the Americans matched up with the Canadians, stacked as they always are at the Juniors, and not only won the game, but won it convincingly. The USA lineup that featured Alex Galchenyuk, Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba, J.T. Miller and many other highly rated prospects including Johnny Gaudreau carved up the Canadians for a 5-1 win thanks to John Gibson in net. The Americans then made sure the win stood up by defeating the Swedes in the final to bring home USA's second gold at the junior level in four years.
Yes, we'll count this as an NHL moment this year given the lack of NHL hockey at the time and the amount of NHL talent that was playing.
8. Home sweet homecomings
Within the last year we have seen two franchise icons switch teams (Jarome Iginla leaving Calgary via trade, Daniel Alfredsson stunning Ottawa by signing with Detroit) and another (Teemu Selanne) announce that he's going to hang up the skates after one more season. With the new NHL schedule this season guaranteeing every team plays in every building at least once, the stage was set for some memorable returns.
First came Selanne, who has been a Duck for what feels like forever now but began his career with the Jets and remains as beloved as any player in Winnipeg for his record-setting rookie season that will likely never be equalized. When the Ducks made their lone visit to Winnipeg this season, the fans were readyto give Teemu a proper send-off, which included saying goodbye the night before the game at the team's hotel.
Then there were the first games back for Iginla and Alfredsson, two guys who spent their entire NHL careers in the same city until this season and came so close but never quite led their teams to the Cup. Beloved for all they did not only on the ice but off, their returns were stirring and tremendous tributes to players well worth the admiration.
7. Ovi still has Hart
It's difficult to boil one of the biggest stories of the calendar year down to just one moment but Alex Ovechkin winning his third Hart Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in hockey does it pretty well. Ovechkin dismissed all the narratives about his best days being behind him and those about his stale game having been figured out in emphatic fashion in 2013. It took him a few games under new coach Adam Oates and a new position on the right wing but Ovechkin has returned to form and never looked back.
Behind Ovechkin's amazing final half of the schedule when he scored 23 goals in the final 23 games that the Capitals cruised by their Southeast foes and into the playoffs. The scorching hot finish was enough to earn Ovechkin the Hart for the third time, rewarding him for quite the turnaround and a return to the game's most feared shooter.
It's not like Ovi stopped there, though. He has continued to be absolutely red hot this season as he leads the NHL with 30 goals in just 35 games, giving up a whopping 53 goals in the last 58 games, an absurd pace but one that he might be able to keep up given the amount of shots he takes per game.
6. Patrick Roy debuts with a spark
After another playoff-less season in Denver, the third in four years, the Avalanche decided it was time to make some changes and they fired head coach Joe Sacco. In the process they also reorganized their front office structure and brought Joe Sakic back to serve as the team's president of hockey operations, more or less taking over the general manager duties from Greg Sherman.
Sakic's first duty was to hire a new head coach and so he turned to his old buddy and former Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy to steer the ship. When he was a player Roy had a reputation as a fiery competitor and that didn't change while he coached in the Quebec Junior Hockey League after retiring. It didn't appear to change when he came to the NHL either.
In a scene that seemed like it had to come straight out of a movie, in his very first game behind an NHL bench, Roy showed off some of that trademark flare. With the Avalanche just seconds away from giving Roy a win in impressive style, tensions heated between the Avs and Ducks right in front of the benches and that emotion spilled over to Roy, who had some words with Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. Roy then gave two might shoves and nearly sent the stanchion separating between the benches tumbling.
Welcome back to the NHL, Patty.
5. Coyotes finally sold
After almost four years, four incredibly long years, the Phoenix Coyotes were finally taken off the NHL's hands and sold to a new ownership group. Not only did the NHL find an amicable deal for the franchise, but the new ownership group's interest was in keeping the team in the desert, a win-win as far as the league was concerned.
All throughout the process the league said it didn't want to move the franchise but as the search drug on and a few prospective buyers came and went, the idea of relocating the team seemed to at least become palatable, the league's denials of such an idea weren't as forceful as before. With the pressure on from Seattle and other interested markets, one last push succeeded in working out a deal.
First came the necessary lease with the city of Glendale, something that led to one of the most watched sessions of a city council you'll see. Eventually, after some odd discussion, the city agreed to the lease, which called for Glendale to pay money annually to help run the arena. With that obstacle cleared, all that was left was the closing of the deal, something that eventually came.
Finally, the fans in Arizona got to hear what they had waited so long for: the team was staying. It took a lot longer than everybody wanted and was the soap opera that the NHL didn't need but in the end a deal was made to keep the team where it is.
4. Bruins come back, stun Maple Leafs
Some thought the Toronto Maple Leafs were happy just to be back in the playoffs for the first time since before the lockout cost the NHL an entire season. Certainly many of their fans seemed resigned to just that fate as they had to match up with the big, bad Bruins. All seemed to be going according to script with the Bruins up 3-1 in the series and on home ice.
But the Leafs had other ideas and took Game 5 and Game 6 to force a Game 7 back in Boston and were things ever looking good for the Leafs. Toronto ran out to a 4-1 lead after a Nazem Kadri scored, a lead that would remain that way with under 11 minutes to play. One Bruins goal later, things still seemed to be well in hand for the Leafs as they were up 4-2 with 1:30 to go. That's when the Leafs fan base was given a whole new level of torture to experience.
With the Bruins net empty, Zdeno Chara hammered a shot on net that was stopped by James Reimer but Milan Lucic was there for the put-back to make it a one-goal game and scare the ever-living daylights out of those in Toronto. A little more than 30 seconds later and the game was suddenly tied up, an unbelievable turn of events (the Bruins would later come to know the feeling). The Bruins comeback was complete when Brad Marchand put home the winner in overtime, sending Boston into bedlam and the Toronto into depression.
We thought this would be the game of the postseason. We were wrong.
3. Bruins fans sing anthem
Patriots' Day is always one of celebration in Boston, a day when the Red Sox play early while the storied Boston Marathon takes place throughout the city streets. In 2013 it was also a year that the Marathon was sabotaged by a pair of deadly explosions near the finish line of the race, resulting in a few deaths and numerous more injuries all the result of a terrorist act.
The city of Boston was in mourning and in no place to host a hockey game the next night, so the game was delayed. But a couple of days later the Bruins' schedule had to go on and they were home at TD Garden, the first Boston team to play a game since the attack on the city. The atmosphere was as emotionally charged as it gets and the scene in the pregame was simply unforgettable.
Longtime Bruins anthem singer Rene Rancourt knew how best to handle the situation and simply started the Star-Spangled Banner before backing off and letting the fans take it home. What an incredibly powerful scene, one that wasn't really about the hockey at all but the sport provided an outlet for the emotions felt across the city.
2. Let them play!
Fortunately the majority of the lockout played out in 2012 so for our purposes here we only get to look back on the good parts of the labor struggle: its conclusion. With pressure building as a non-stated deadline to cancel the entire 2012-13 season was rapidly approaching, Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and all of the principal parties in the negotiations worked well into the night and early morning to finally hammer out the details and get a deal done.
On Jan. 6 in the wee hours of the morning the announcement was made: Game on! Done were the talks of escrow, salary cap variance, contract term limits and the countless other issues that arose during the gridlock. It was frustrating for everybody involved, in particular the fans who were helpless in the whole thing and just had to sit back and wait while millionaires battled billionaires over money.
It wasn't fun sitting through about half of an entire season without updates from the board rooms and not the ice but a deal was reached in enough time to shoehorn a 48-game schedule into the calendar which was quite fun. The short schedule made the season a sprint instead of a marathon, one in which the Blackhawks dominated from start to finish. Thankfully the powers that be were able to get a deal done so we could enjoy what lied ahead.
1. 17 Seconds
The Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins was built up to be one of the best in an awful long time. It was a battle between two great American hockey markets, a matchup of two of the Original Six squads, something we hadn't seen in the Final in more than 30 years. It had the added intrigue of the Blackhawks' record-setting start to the season, earning at least one point in each of the first 24 games they played. It also featured the two teams believed by many to be the best in each conference.
In short it was a matchup for the ages and it didn't disappoint.
The series went back and forth, being set by the pace of Game 1, which needed triple overtime among its many ebbs and flows. The series would eventually play out with Chicago taking a 3-2 lead into Game 6 in Boston. The smart money had the Bruins holding home ice to set up Game 7, the sweetest scene possible in hockey. It looked like that was going to happen, too.
The Bruins were holding onto a 2-1 lead as the clock ticked below 1:30 to play and Corey Crawford made a mad dash to the bench for the extra attacker. Tuukka Rask was a wall all postseason long and beating him once more was tough to imagine. Then along came Bryan Bickell to tie the game.
At that point surely we're headed for another overtime game, right? Wrong. The Blackhawks forced a turnover in the neutral zone and then set up their attack and only 17 seconds after they had scored the equalizer, the Blackhawks went ahead on Dave Bolland's tap-in rebound. Boston was stunned but Chicago was delirious. One minute later, the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champions for the second time in four years, an amazing finish to what was a pretty amazing year in the NHL.