Post-game celebrations in the NHL have become perfunctory. Players win a game. Players skate out to the logo at center ice. Players raise their sticks to salute the crowd, perhaps adding a glove clap or two, and then head to the dressing room to pump their victory song of choice from the speakers.
“Listen, they’re all good shows of respect to the people that come and watch. But sometimes they get a little bit stagnant, like you have to do it. It starts feeling less and less, when it should feel more and more,” said Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams.
“We thought of something we could do after the game to have a little bit more fun.”
What the Hurricanes did was a far cry from the usual stick raise after their 8-5 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday, having rallied with four goals in the third period. All the players lined up on the blue line. The raised their arms in the air and did a slow clap, at times looking like they were transitioning from the ‘Y’ to the ‘M’ in the ‘YMCA’ dance. Williams then broke from formation and skated down the ice, waving his glove for his teammates to join him. One by one, they followed, smiling broadly.
Justin Williams leads the slow clap and gets all the Hurricanes to jump into the glass after beating the Rangers pic.twitter.com/CPGdf4XbPR
– Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 8, 2018
Upon reaching the end boards, Williams leapt into them like a rookie celebrating his first goal — actually, it very much resembled the celebration Hurricanes star rookie Andrei Svechnikov had in scoring his first NHL tally earlier that night.
It was hilarious, it was instantly the talk of the NHL and it was unique. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said he hadn’t seen anything like it in the NHL before, which is notable coming from a former player with 1,484 games and 20 seasons to his credit.
“We want to have fun when we win. The game should be fun. We want the players to enjoy winning and the fans to enjoy being here. Our owner has been pushing that all the way. Why wouldn’t you try something different?” he said, speaking of Tom Dundon, who purchased the franchise earlier this year.
Williams said the idea sprung from discussions with management to do something that would be distinct while reinforcing the fun factor in Carolina this season. It was decided that a distinct post-game victory celebration could accomplish that. “When people think about leaving with five minutes left in the game, maybe they’ll want to stick around for the celebration,” said Williams.
The celebration itself was, like the Hurricanes, a work in progress. It may not always resemble what we saw on Sunday. “We’ll get it a little cleaned up. It was off the cuff. We’ll tighten it up with a song or something,” said Williams.
So perhaps next time the captain won’t have to wave to his troops to start skating down the ice?
“That’s what I mean by off the cuff,” he said, with a laugh.
After the game, Williams was keenly aware that the Hurricanes might have breached hockey culture protocol. It’s a culture that de-emphasizes that level of enthusiasm in an ‘act like you’ve been there’ way, and one that can demonize emphatic celebrations. Witness last week’s incident when Brad Marchand reacted to Lars Eller‘s post-goal merriment by repeatedly punching him in the face.
What Williams discovered, however, was an outpouring of love for the Hurricanes’ jubilation. “The response we got from everyone after the game — on Twitter, phone calls and text — about 98 percent of the people enjoyed it. But you can’t please everybody,” he said. “I just think that if we can have fun doing what we love, we’re going to be better for it. Hockey’s a tough game. There are good days and bad days. But if you can enjoy yourself by working hard, we’re going to be a lot more cohesive on the ice. Become not just guys on the ice, but brothers on the ice.”
And, in the process, help change the perceptions of the Carolina Hurricanes, a frequently maligned franchise that hasn’t made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009.
“We’re trying to rebrand the Carolina Hurricanes into being relevant, I guess,” said Williams. “This is one small thing. This is just a celebration after the game. But it means something to us because there hasn’t been a lot of success here, and we’re trying to show people that we won’t stand for it.”