Tomorrow is the 2017 NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas. During the show, the Vegas Golden Knights will also reveal who they selected in the expansion draft. If you haven’t already thought about that, do so now; a show that will heap praise upon the NHL’s best players will also highlight those not good enough to stay on their current teams.
The NHL Awards have been cringe-worthy in its attempts to be funny for as long as we care to remember– with B-list comics making D-list jokes — while also seemingly trying to pander to non-hockey fans. Adding in expansion draft “revelations” can only make this year’s award show even worse.
This got me thinking about the 1997 NHL Awards Show, which conveniently took place 20 years ago (people love anniversaries, as do I). The NHL Awards in 1997 tried to be funny, but in a sweet way, and succeeded where current NHL Awards shows do not. The 1997 show was hosted by Ron MacLean, who is serious but has a sense of humor. The 1997 NHL Awards Show had a good mix of celebrities who actually liked hockey as award presenters, jokes that aren’t bad and some humorous segments that introduced the awards nominees. Future rap sensation Drake even made a cameo as a 10-year old boy.
But the best were these comedy sketches that served as “bumpers” before and after commercial breaks. I dare the NHL to once again at least attempt something as funny as “The Wig Helmet.” Read on, and you’ll soon understand what I mean. Here is a rundown, with images and video clips, on why the 1997 NHL Awards Show was the best NHL Awards Show — ever!
Things Start with a Laugh
Just like Saturday Night Live, the show starts with a “cold open” before the credits. Here, Ron MacLean is explaining to Phil Esposito that he is no longer the fourth-all time goal scorer in NHL history.
“You’re three behind Doug Houda…but hey, look, Phil…you’re still ahead of your brother Tony.” Twenty years later, I still laugh pretty hard at this.
The Comedy Sketches are Amazing
When the 1997 NHL Awards show went to commercial, or came back from one, they would lighten the mood with these funny comedy sketches.
The Wig Helmet
Keith Primeau wishes that he could play without the mandatory head protection so he can show off his hair. His brother Wayne offers a solution.
Next up is a parody of that Nike hockey skate commercial where an out-of-work goalie is driving a taxi cab. Here, the goalie-turned-cabbie is played by Kelly Hrudey, who coincidentally went onto a successful career in front of the camera as a broadcaster.
Brodeur-Hextall Table Hockey
Another fake commercial. This one is for a table hockey game that has only the goaltenders. Ron Hextall and Martin Brodeur were the first two goalies to fire the puck down the ice into an empty net in an NHL game. (Sharp-eyed collectors will recognize the goalie figures as being from the Wayne Gretzky Overtime table hockey game.)
I put this video up on YouTube almost 10 years ago, but it has gotten a ton of views lately because it was pointed out that this comedy sketch stars a 10-year old Aubrey Drake Graham — a.k.a. rap star Drake — four years before acting in Degrassi: The Next Generation and almost a decade before he became a singer.
Here’s a still of the “Better pull your goalie kid” from the Awards show:
And here’s a photo of Drake from his pre-teen years:
The hair, glasses and teeth are the same. It’s gotta be Drake. He was born in Toronto, and the 1997 NHL Awards took place in Toronto. Unfortunately, there are no end credits or any mention of the actors in the comedy sketches, but this hip hop blog says that it’s Drake, so that’s good enough for me.
The Referee Chat Line
For lonely referees who have no calls to make during the game they are officiating, they can call and talk to each other. A quick lesson for the young folk: before the internet, “chat lines,” where people could call in and talk to strangers, were a somewhat-popular and very expensive way to pass the time, sometimes costing $3 per minute. That’s a lot in 1990’s dollars.
Campbell’s New NHL Soups
The last comedy bit is probably the best, but also might need a little bit of explaining. Back in the late 1990s, Wayne Gretzky endorsed Campbell’s Soup, and appeared on some soup labels. This video hilariously expands on that idea.
I got your Bourque and Beans RIGHT HERE!!!
Silly Award Presentations in Good Fun
All awards shows list out the nominees and their merits, but the 1997 NHL Awards show got creative and used it as a way to include more humorous segments. For example, Toronto street cops — really just actors — tell us why the Lady Byng nominees are the good guys. Wouldn’t you rather ask the cops about the most-penalized players?
Later, the Selke nominees are presented like the opening of TV show Law & Order, complete with Chung! Chung! sound effect.
Twenty years later, Fox and Farrell are still practicing law, while Ballantyne (above) is a lawyer by day and a musician by night.
With all the police and lawyer references in the 1997 NHL Awards, its like the league was trying to play up its stereotypically-violent image.
Nonetheless, that’s (allegedly) two people who appeared in this Awards show who went onto careers as musicians.
A (Mostly) All-Star Lineup of Presenters
The presenters for the 1997 NHL Awards Show were Cameron Bancroft, Rachel Blanchard, Michael Burgess, Bob Cole, David James Elliott, Paul Henderson, Kirk Muller, Cam Neely, Tim Robbins, Kathleen Robinson, John Saunders, D.B. Sweeney and Bryan Trottier. I wouldn’t profess that I know all of those actors and actresses, but they were all more or less well-known back in 1997. The hockey people, though, are golden: Cole, Henderson, Muller, Neely, Saunders and Trottier. Heck, we could count Sweeney as a hockey person too, since he starred in The Cutting Edge.
Of course, there is some cheesy humor. Paul Henderson jokingly takes credit for his goal at the 1972 Summit Series as causing the Soviet Union to fall.
Former Beverly Hills 90210 star Cameron Bancroft spastically jerks his head around, telling co-presenter (and fomer 90210 colleague) Kathleen Robinson that he’s practicing his moves to be a goalie. Clueless star Rachel Blanchard enthusiastically informs the crowd that the Lady Byng goes to “the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team for winning the World Championships! You guys rock!” Three painful seconds later, the audience laughs at her joke before Blanchard states that Paul Karyiya actually won. Still, neither of these comic miscues are nearly as bad as the Zemgus Girgensons/Caitlyn Jenner joke from the 2015 NHL Awards show.
Super Mario Tribute
Mario Lemieux retired for the first time at the close of the 1996-97 season. Since he was one of the greatest hockey players of all-time, the NHL featured a nice video tribute to Le Magnifique.
Finally, a Somber Tone
Throughout the show, everyone expressed their concern for Detroit Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov. Both were seriously injured in a limousine crash after the Red Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup Championship. Twenty years later, sadly, both men are still crippled from the accident. It was touching to see so many players give their well-wishes for the two during the awards, which shows how tightly-knit a community hockey is.
Overall, the 1997 NHL Awards Show was a winning combination of funny comedy sketches, dumb-but-harmless hockey humor, celebrities who liked hockey, former NHL greats and the honoring of a retiring all-time great. It was a creative way to celebrate the game’s best players in a manner that didn’t take itself too seriously. If you got 45 minutes to spare and want a healthy dose of 1990s nostalgia, you can check out the 1997 NHL Awards Show in its entirety on Youtube. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.