Nothing wrong with Yakupov’s celebration

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

Nail Yakupov’s game-tying goal with under five seconds remaining against the Los Angeles Kings last night was dramatic, but some feel his celebration was inappropriate, sliding across nearly the entire surface of the ice like Theo Fleury did back in back in 1991. This apparently caused such a stir, TSN had to ask its readers this morning if the celebration went too far.

For those who didn’t see it, here is the play in question:

Sean Gentille of The Sporting News is among those who believed it was fine and in fact he came up with nine reasons the celebration ruled. The very last one is that the slide brought out the “fun police,” those who believe any emotion added to the game is a cause for concern. They also mentioned that fact Yakupov is Russian may have something to do with the backlash, something Sean Fitz-Gerald of The National Post found evidence of via posts on Twitter. Kings center Jarret Stoll was one of those outspoken against the celebration. From TSN:

But the visiting Kings didn’t take kindly to Yakupov’s post-goal antics. “I won’t even say anything about that, it wasn’t something that was looked on in a positive light in our dressing room, but so be it,” forward Jarret Stoll said after the game.

Maybe we should listen to Stoll, after all he’s never done anything remotely unsportsmanlike in his career. Oh, wait…

The only reason Stoll would be upset is because the goal went against his team. If Anze Kopitar tied the game in such dramatic fashion, with almost no time left and just a minute after another goal was disallowed, and did the same thing he would have been fine with it. If you don’t want him to celebrate, don’t let him score, it’s as simple as that.

He wasn’t rubbing in an empty-net goal or going crazy after increasing a five-goal lead, he gave the Oilers a chance at a win just seconds before they were to be tagged with a loss. That drama, coupled with the roof-shaking roar of the Edmonton crowd, would be enough to give anyone that kind of adrenaline rush. Of course it was a positive light on the night, a highlight that even trumped Patrick Kane’s amazing behind-the-back pass to Marian Hossa in overtime, just not to the 25 players and coaches in the visiting locker room.

So is that it? Are we not allowed to celebrate because someone’s feelings might get hurt? Should we give a half-sized Stanley Cup to the losing team in the final and call up every player one-by-one at the awards show to give them a participation trophy?

Yakupov's sliding celebration should be commended, not criticized. (Steve Potter/Wikimedia Commons)

Yakupov’s sliding celebration should be commended, not criticized. (Steve Potter/Wikimedia Commons)

The truth is, we need more enthusiasm like Yakupov showed last night. Hockey has gained popularity over the past few years, but is still a long way behind baseball, football and basketball in terms of fanfare in the United States. Players like Jeremy Roenick and Brett Hull who were always having fun on and off the ice never hurt anyone and gave fans plenty of reasons to be excited. Both went on to successful careers; Roenick is one of the best American-born players ever and Hull won two Stanley Cup and is third all-time in goals. Enthusiasm doesn’t hurt and, if anything, it gives teammates a boost. To not celebrate a big goal is to not care and that is just not acceptable. That’s the type of player other want to play with. From Roenick’s book “J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey,” pages 279-280:

Nothing infuriates me more than players who act as if they don’t give a s**t. When you play for a team, it’s more than a f***ing job. The vast majority of NHL players put their heart into winning.

Going back to the Russian argument, it’s great to see a European player act like that. Roenick went on to say how some players such as Roman Cechmanek and Robert Reichel didn’t have that kind of heart for the game and since that stereotype remains to this day, it’s refreshing to see Yakupov’s actions and how much he cares about the Oilers and whether or not they have a chance to win.

Other athletes, especially in basketball and football, are always celebrating lavishly after seemingly every play and sure, there’s the occasional over-the-top moment, but it gives fans an additional reason to cheer and makes the cost of the ticket worth it. Nobody want to go to a game just to see robots play out there. Emotion is a big part of sports and if we take that away it all becomes meaningless. The worse play would have been to fist bump his teamates and head back to the bench with a solemn look on his face as if nothing remotely important just happend.

Before anyone makes it to the big leagues, before revenue sharing and contract holdouts take over, they start playing the game as a kid simply as a way to enjoy themselves. Yakupov showed the spirit of every single youngster who, in their mind, scored the overtime, Stanley Cup-winning goal in their driveway or on a frozen pond. That kind of spirit will drive this game forward and get more people interested.

Keep it up Nail, never reel in your enthusiasm and never stop sliding (unless you make it 8-0, then, come on, knock it off).

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