A running joke Tuesday was that Kaspars Daugavins was a leading candidate to become the new Pope.
After all, his name was everywhere you turned on the Internet. Hockey traditionalists were outraged at Daugavins, suggesting the Ottawa Senators left winger broke some type of Cardinal sin within the hockey world for his unique shootout attempt in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.
Seriously, some people really need to relax.
Daugavins didn’t defame NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He didn’t cross-check a rival player in the face. He didn’t leave his feet and raise his elbow to knock out someone wearing another team’s jersey. He wasn’t arrested for some unseemly incident away from the ice.
What Daugavins did do was turn his stick around, putting the tip of his blade on top of the puck at centre ice. With 20,000 fans wondering what he was doing, he sprinted towards Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, did a full spin outside the crease and attempted to slide the puck inside the post. Rask spoiled the show for Senators fans by kicking out his left pad, keeping the puck out with his skate. The Bruins’ David Krejci won the game on the next shot, but that’s simply background noise in the bigger story.
The move, which was successful in 2010 while Daugavins was playing for the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League, has been alternatively described as the Hot ‘Daug’avins, the Latvian Loop and the Riga Wraparound – in reference to his Riga, Latvia, birthplace – and it was on the tips of hockey tongues Tuesday.
Daugavins kept a huge media crowd guessing about whether he would ever try it again, alternatively saying “probably not” and “why not?” when pressed. Of course, he would first need the blessing of Senators coach Paul MacLean for another chance.
“Well, I probably think (MacLean) was mad that I didn’t score,” Daugavins said following Senators practice Tuesday and before the club boarded a late afternoon train for Wednesday’s game in Montreal against the Canadiens. “We were battling for one point and I don’t think the coach would be really happy with players that don’t score. I tried my best and came pretty close.”
Daugavins says he was “99 per cent sure it was going to work, but it was the one percent (that happened).” While he has attempted the move once before in game action, he says it has always been his money move in practice sessions with goaltenders who have never seen it before.
“One year in Binghamton, we had like, nine different goalies who came up and didn’t know it and worked every single time.”
NHL goalies be warned. Daugavins says there are wrinkles that he can work into the Riga Wraparound – maybe there’s no spin at all — depending on how a netminder reacts to him coming down the ice.
“It’s fun for people who come to our games and the other thing is, sometimes the goalie doesn’t know what you’re going to do, so it’s harder for him when he has no clue and sometimes you can surprise him,” he said.
There was some contempt, however. Krejci says he wouldn’t want to see a teammate attempt a similar move. One former NHL goalie says he would have speared Daugavins. Other commentators used it as an example of why the shootout should be shelved altogether.
Daugavins knew it would be controversial. “Nobody has done it before, so somebody will talk about it. Obviously, there’s going to be somebody that doesn’t like it. The way I came up with it was watching guys in Europe and guys spinning around. There was some talk about it being illegal, but spinerama’s are allowed and the puck is under my stick as I spin with it.”
His teammates had no issues.
“That’s part of the game, do something unexpected,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. “We all remember, at least the Swedish people, the (Peter) Forsberg moves in the Olympics in 1994.”
Alfredsson says “it was a great move” by Daugavins, as well as a fantastic save from Rask.
Winger Erik Condra, who saw it work while playing in Binghamton, says he has been waiting to see the trick on the big stage. “That’s Daugavins for you,” he said. “He’s got that confidence in himself and the skill to pull it off, but it didn’t work this time.”
MacLean scoffed at claims there’s no place for the move in hockey.
“Maybe it wasn’t the conventional way to do it and some people might say it’s against the rules, but well, there are no rules,” he said. “It’s a shootout. All you’re trying to do is score goals. The shootout is a skills competition, is it not? I heard some say you only do that in the All-Star Game and the purist doesn’t like it. Well, the purist probably doesn’t like the shootout. Maybe a hockey purist like me thinks a 2-2 tie like (Monday) is a good game, but we haven’t done that since the 1980′s, when we played for ties. So, Kaspars does this or Patrick Kane does something different. I don’t know how you can complain.”