From overcoming adversity to being triumphant in glory, there’s plenty of feel good hockey moments to go around. It is what makes the sport special. Whether its players overcoming a health issue to return to the ice, a player finally getting a taste of the Stanley Cup after several years, an entire country rooting for a bunch of college kids, or a city rallying behind a team after a tragic event, it was difficult to pick just 10 moments for this list.
That said, here is the latest Throwback Thursday top 10 featuring the top feel good hockey moments.
10. Chicago becomes a hockey town again
As one of the Original Six franchises in the National Hockey League, Chicagoans have deep Blackhawks pride running in their veins. That was tested, however, as stars like Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios and Tony Amonte left the “Windy City” in the mid and late 90’s.
Once the 2000’s came, the decade didn’t bring much promise. Former owner Bill Wirtz, who lived up to his “Dollar Bill” reputation by not spending enough money to field a quality team, watched as attendance and television ratings dropped to new lows.
Bill Wirtz passed away in 2007. Blackhawks fans followed by booing the late owner during an on-ice ceremony before their opening night contest that year. After that, the worst was behind them.
The elder Writz’s son, Rocky, took over as majority owner. Since then, the Blackhawks have stocked up on talent and in 2010 they broke their 49-year Stanley Cup drought after Patrick Kane’s overtime winner in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Three years later, Chicago won its second title in four years.
9. Tim Thomas’ journey
Prior to the start of his professional hockey career, Tim Thomas was a standout goalie at the University of Vermont. For a guy who led his team to a Frozen Four in 1996, one would think that Thomas would’ve gotten a good look from scouts during his college days.
Instead, Thomas was snubbed by several teams and began his career in the ECHL and IHL during the 1997-98 season. A year later, he would make his first of two stops in Finland. After that, Thomas would spend time in the IHL, Sweden, and AHL (as well as his second tour in Finland) before being called up full time during the 2005-06 season.
It goes to show you that perseverance and hard work can pay off, because Thomas wouldn’t look back. The Flint, Michigan native captured two Vezina Trophies as the leagues top goalie (2009 and 2011) and was influential in the Bruins’ first Stanley Cup win in 39 years just a few years ago.
8. Fleury, Richer, reveal struggles with mental illness
In full disclosure, for those who might not know, I have struggled with mental illness for most of my life. It was certainly inspiring for me when former players Theo Fleury and Stephane Richer revealed their struggles with depression, and in general it fits as a feel-good story.
Richer first revealed his story on TSN’s Off The Record with Michael Landsberg (who also openly suffers from depression) in 2009. Around this time, Fleury released his autobiography Playing with Fire where he revealed his struggles with mental illness, substance abuse and his traumatic experience being sexually harassed by Graham James (who later pleaded guilty).
Since revealing their struggles, Richer and Fleury have discussed their details extensively through speaking tours and other forms of media. Fleury’s second book, Confessions with a Rattlesnake (co-written by Kim Barthel) will be released later this month. Their fight and courage continues to be appreciated throughout the hockey world.
7. Ace Bailey benefit – NHL’s first All-Star game
The inspiration of the first All-Star game came in February of 1934 after Ace Bailey suffered a career-ending injury from Eddie Shore’s hit from behind.
Two months after the tragic accident, the NHL held a benefit game for Bailey. The night was highlighted by Bailey’s number being lifted up the rafters in a retirement ceremony – the first to be retired by any team in league history. But the headlines were made prior to that when Bailey forgave Shore and shook his hand while giving him his all-star jersey.
6. Mario Lemieux returns from cancer (and later, saves the Penguins)
Lemieux’s first return from Hodgkin’s disease came in the 1992-93 season and he picked up right where he left off, by setting the world on fire as an elite scorer. In just 60 games that season, the Penguins’ great tallied 160 points (69 goals, 61 assists) in 60 games.
Lemieux seemingly retired for good in 1996=97 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in November, 1997. Two years later, he became Pittsburgh’s majority owner. But he was itching to get back into the game, and returned, again, two months into the 2000-01 season.
Arguably, Lemieux helped the team in rough financial times. The Penguins paid off their debt in the mid-2000s. In 2010, they moved from the outdated Mellon Arena (better known as “The Igloo”) to the state of the art Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
5. Ray Bourque finally wins the Cup
For 22 years, Ray Bourque had been chasing his dream of capturing the Stanley Cup. He had fallen short twice with the Bruins in 1988 and 1990. Ten years later, the Boston mainstay was dealt to Colorado so he could continue his chase for Lord’s Stanley Cup.
Just 15 months after landing in Colorado, Bourque finally got to kiss the Cup and retired as a champion. No one could have scripted a better ending.
4. Saku Koivu returns from cancer
Saku Koivu was admired for his hard work and effort he gave Canadiens fans on a nightly basis. But he would face a bigger battle after being diagnosed with cancer prior to the start of the 2001-02 season.
After months of treatment, Koivu returned to the Habs to provide an emotional lift. Montreal finished the year as the eighth seed in the East and knocked off the heavily favored Bruins in the first round of the 2002 playoffs. But it was Koivu’s reception in his first game back at the Bell Molson Centre that still brings chills around the city to this day.
3. Lokomotiv triumphs over tragedy
Tragedy struck the Russian hockey community in September, 2011, when a plane carrying the entire Lokomotiv yAROSLAVL hockey team (KHL) crashed into the sky. All passengers aboard the plane, including former NHLers Pavol Demetria and Ruslan Salei, were killed in the tragic accident.
A year later, Lokomotiv returned with a brand new team. Former NHLers Viktor Kozlov, Niklas Hagman and Curtis Sanford (just to name a few) were added by the team, who finished the 2012-13 season in fourth place in the Western Conference. A year later, Lokomotiv made a surprising run as the West’s eighth seed all the way to the Conference Finals.
As tough as the crash still is, this Lokomotiv team is helping their supporters heal through tough times.
2. Bruins help Boston overcome Marathon bombings
Just two days after the Boston Marathon Bombings, the Boston Bruins took to the ice to face the Buffalo Sabres. It was the first event since the tragic day in Boston.
For two and a half hours, the Bruins provided Bostonians with a perfect distraction in helping the city unite. They used that later as an emotional lift to give the city something to cheer for by reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
1. 1980 US Olympic team shocks the Soviets
During a time of chaos in the United States – from the oil crisis that led to a recession to the Iranian Hostage Crisis – the United States was in need of some feel good stories. Enter the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team.
Comprised of young collegiate’s led by Mike Eurizone, Jim Craig and coach Herb Brooks, the team went into their medal round matchup with little chance against the powerful Soviet Union guided by Vladislav Tretiak, Boris Mikhaliov and Valeri Kharlamov. Those college kids, however, put together a performance of the ages that had Al Michaels saying one of his famous quotes: “Do you believe in Miracles?”
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