Lars Eller, showing his ass.
I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other night with a good buddy who is a Winnipeg Jets fan. It was the day after this spin-o-rama penalty shot goal by Lars Eller on Chris Mason that had the Montreal fans on their feet and Winnipeg fans up in arms:
My initial reaction on seeing it was "damn, nice." And then I stopped to think about it for a second - was it necessary? The Habs were already taking it to the Jets 6-2, and Eller already had three goals an an assist on the night. At that point, this game is the pinnacle of his career hands down. To get a penalty shot and a chance to make it four goals is exciting - you probably don't care that it's adding insult to injury to the other team. By no means do you slack off out of pity - you go for that goal. You don't need to rub salt in the wound, though.
My friend mentioned that what Eller did was unnecessary and classless, and he's right. Goofing in practice, sure. In a shootout when it's part of strategy, uh, ok. But on a penalty shot against a team that's losing terribly and a goalie that's not known for excellence in one-on-one situations? Probably more than a bit show-boaty.
I'm not trashing Eller or calling him classless - he's a good kid and I'm happy for both his production and the chance he's gotten on the Canadiens. But it certainly wasn't humble. Kids make decisions that aren't rational, and Eller's only 22. To him, what he did wasn't classless; he was just having fun. That lack of differentiation is the problem.
Look at how the Czech team behaved against the United States this past World Juniors series. The US was terrible, so it wasn't like the Czech team was climbing a mountain by beating them. When Petr Holik (no relation to Bobby) scored what would be the winning goal - with time left in regulation, mind you - the team jumped on each other at center ice like they'd won the Stanley Cup let alone a game. Goalie Petr Mrazek left his crease to fling himself on the pile.
In what world is that considered appropriate?
Why are kids acting like this? Because they're built up from youth to think that they're the center of importance. They're treated like superstars at age 15 and 16, so how is it a surprise when they get onto a large stage that they behave like they do? Jake Ciely of Xlog raises this point with the rediculous attention placed on football players during college recruiters. Never mind that they're being plastered on ESPN at age 17 or 18 trying to tell everyone what college they've chosen to go to. Their games are broadcast on ESPN or local sports networks. There are publications dedicated to high school sports. They're covered in the local newspapers more than some professional teams are.
When the focus of the Canadian press gets fixated on youth hockey like it does the World Juniors, it treats it like the NHL. A good chunk of that goes to the fact that Canada loves hockey like a meth addict needs some meth. But you have to step back and realize that they're kids, and you're - whether it's intentional or not - are feeding into very young egos and encouraging some very classless behavior.
Pictured: probably a bad idea.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's response to Artem Anisimov's machine gun goal celebration was the right one. If they would have tolerated it, he never would have known that flashy celebrations are inappropriate in a team sport, and disrespectful to the competition. When you start disrespecting your teammates and the opposition in order to bring attention on yourself, you undermine the ideal of sportsmanship and you undermine the legitimacy of your sport.
I'm pretty sure Lars Eller didn't have that intent, and I'm sure the Czechs didn't either. But ignorance is no excuse. The media and the parents need to show these kids that they themselves are not the center of the world, and that the outcome of the game for the team, as well as how they and the team are perceived, is more important than showing off.