Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Danton and the NHL lockout help cast a pall over the hockey world in 2004. But the Flames, Lightning, Team Canada, Team Finland and America's world junior champions proved that great hockey trumps all. Here are the top hockey stories of 2004.
1. Darkness Falls: Lockout Kills the NHL Season
The NHL's cold war turns hot when the league locks out the players on September 15
. Commissioner Gary Bettman announces there will be no NHL games until a new collective bargaining agreement is signed. The year closes with the two sides entrenched in what looks to be a long and bitter stand-off
. The NHL will be the first North American pro sports league to sacrifice an entire season to a labor dispute.
2. Todd Bertuzzi Delights the Media Bloodhounds
The Vancouver Canucks' forward gets what he deserves when his brutal attack on an opponent earns an indefinite suspension
from the NHL. But that won't satisfy the ambulance-chasers and hypocrites of the media. Much of the reaction to Bertuzzi's attack
comes from commentators who wouldn't know a puck from a poke check. Declaring their disgust with the moral depravity of hockey, they revel in the sensationalism of the incident and gleefully run the replay over and over again.
3. A New Generation Takes Over the Stanley Cup Playoffs
When it's all over, the first man to lift Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup
is the team's greybeard captain, Dave Andreychuk. But as the Lightning and Calgary Flames drive to the climax of a thrilling Stanley Cup tournament
, games are dominated by new stars with names like Richards, St. Louis, Iginla, Kubina, Kiprusoff, Lecavalier, Regher and Khabibulin.
4. Canada Completes the Sweep
Reigning Olympic champs and winners of the 2003 and 2004 IIHF world titles, Canada dominates the 2004 World Cup
. Despite losing a pair of top defensemen to injury, the Canadians go undefeated, never trail a game, get scoring from almost everyone and win a thrilling semifinal
without Martin Brodeur in net. Leading the way is overtime hero, tournament MVP and Stanley Cup champ Vincent Lecavalier, enjoying his long-awaited breakout year. One of the great Canadian teams of all time.
5. Finland Ascendant
The 2004 World Cup
is hailed as the greatest achievement in Finnish hockey history. The Finns open the tournament by trashing the powerful Czech Republic, play their hated rivals from Sweden to an entertaining draw, and peak with a come-from-behind win over Team USA
in the semifinals. With a huge audience watching at home, Finlands fall just short in the World Cup Final against Canada.
6. The Little Big Man Prevails
Surely there is no place in the game for a guy like Martin St. Louis. At 5'-9" and barely 180 pounds, he would disappear among the oak tree defensemen who rule NHL rinks. That's why he wasn't drafted and that's why he was cut by Calgary back in 2000. But Marty moved to Tampa Bay and sent conventional wisdom packing. All he does in 2004 is rule the hockey world
(and make a few of those oak trees look foolish), winning the NHL scoring title, Stanley Cup, World Cup and Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
7. Dawn of a New Hockey Era?
When NHL players finally get back to work, they could be playing a new version of hockey. A panel of NHL general managers
meets in February, a think tank of players and experts
meets in December, and both suggest changes to speed up the game and increase scoring. For 2004-05, the American Hockey League is test-driving several new rules
for the NHL, including a penalty shootout to decide tie games. A notoriously conservative league, the NHL is finally opening up to innovation.
8. A Troubled Athlete and His Creepy Agent
Hockey's underbelly is exposed in April, when St. Louis forward Mike Danton is charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors say the intended target was David Frost, Danton's agent and old youth hockey coach. Incredibly, Frost remains Danton's adviser, arranging his return to Canada to serve a 7 1/2 year prison sentence
. Meanwhile, Danton's estranged parents label Frost a dangerous influence, saying the agent took control of a troubled boy years ago and turned him against his family.
9. America's Teenagers Skate to Glory
Trailing 3-1 after the second period, Team USA appears headed for another near-miss at the World Junior Hockey Championship. But the boys of winter storm back against the seemingly unbeatable Canadians, scoring three goals in the final 20 minutes to win America's first ever world junior title
. Scoring star Patrick O'Sullivan, goalie Al Montoya and tournament MVP Zach Parise lead the way. O'Sullivan and Montoya are back for more as Team USA defends its title in 2005
10. NHL Players Remain Blind to Tragedy
Red Wings' star Steve Yzerman provides the latest cautionary tale
. He requires four hours of surgery to repair a scratched cornea and broken orbital bone after taking a puck in the eye during Detroit's playoff series against Calgary. Yzerman, who tried and discarded a face shield earlier in his career, says he will never again take to the ice without one. Still, less than half the players in the NHL wear shields, prefering to risk their careers by going with the more macho bare-faced look.