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Big events, venues made up 2014 hockey

by Dan Rosen

Outdoor games and the Olympic Games made 2014 the year of the big event in the NHL.

Before the hockey world turns its full attention toward Washington, D.C. for the next big event, the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day, a trip down memory lane of the year that is soon to be takes us to The Big House, Chavez Ravine, the Bronx, a resort city on the coast of the Black Sea, Vancity, and a venerable football stadium along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Beyond the big events, the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs featured historic comebacks, emotional lifts, and overtime heroics. A modernized approach to evaluation became popular. Legends were lost, and others retired or moved on. Coaches and general managers were hired and fired.

Here is an overview of what 2014 was to the NHL:

Signature moments, marquee events

The hockey world rang in 2014 with a historic afternoon at Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. The Big House, on the campus of University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Amidst a wintry mix of snow, sleet, and wind making up a gametime temperature of 13 degrees Fahrenheit, the 2014 NHL Winter Classic featured Toronto Maple Leafs winning 3-2 in a shootout against the Detroit Red Wings in front of an NHL record 105,491 spectators.

The 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium highlighted an NHL schedule that included six outdoor games. (Getty Images)

"It was the best experience I probably ever had playing hockey," Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said.

The League traded in the snow, sleet, and wind for palm trees and hockey under the Southern California stars in front of Hollywood stars on Jan. 25 with the first of four 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games.

Dodger Stadium was the host venue as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks played the first NHL outdoor game in a warm climate. The temperature at gametime was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. The teams entered side by side through the center field wall and were flanked by palm trees with a makeshift beach volleyball court off in the distance.

The Ducks won 3-0 in front of 54,099, but the balmy night will be remembered more for the atmosphere and the entertainment, featuring KISS, an opening ceremony with legendary L.A. broadcasters Bob Miller and Vin Scully, and a ceremonial opening faceoff with Wayne Gretzky dropping the puck between Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Brown.

"It was a real special experience," Ducks starting goalie Jonas Hiller said after making 36 saves.

As Los Angeles was experiencing its hangover on Jan. 26, the Big Apple was waking up to a big show at the big ballpark in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium was packed to capacity for the first of two NHL Stadium Series games featuring the three Tri-State area teams.

The New York Rangers defeated the New Jersey Devils 7-3 as the snow fell on top of them. The gametime temperature was 24.9 degrees Fahrenheit. The announced attendance was 50,105.

Three nights later the Rangers did it again, defeating the New York Islanders 2-1 at Yankee Stadium on a cold night that didn't seem to bother the 50,027 people who walked through the turnstiles to see hockey under the lights in the Bronx.

"It was another amazing night," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said after making 30 saves.

Two weeks later, the biggest tournament in hockey started with two games in Sochi, Russia. With due respect to the outdoor games, the men's hockey tournament at the 2014 Sochi Olympics was the most anticipated event on the calendar.

For the fifth time the NHL shut its doors for two weeks to allow its players to participate in the Olympics. The tournament started ran from Feb. 12 through Feb. 23.

Canada, the defending gold medalists from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, were the favorites. The United States, silver medalists in 2010, thought gold was attainable for the first time since 1980. Russia, the host country, faced the most pressure.

Russia bowed out in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 loss to Finland.

After overcoming a scare from Latvia in the quarterfinals, Canada ended the United States' dreams of winning gold with a 1-0 win against the Americans in the semifinals.

The U.S. left Sochi without a medal after losing 5-0 to Finland in the bronze-medal game.

Canada won its second-consecutive gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (Getty Images)

Canada's stifling defense brought it the gold medal for the second consecutive Olympics. The Canadians beat Sweden 3-0 in the gold-medal game. Canada allowed three goals in six games. That it scored less than three goals per game (17 goals in six games) didn't matter, and even prompted Babcock, Canada's coach, to do his version of a dropped-mic exit to end his press conference after the gold-medal game.

"Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care?" Babcock, Canada's coach, said after winning gold. "Does anybody know who won the gold medal? See ya."

The NHL went back outdoors less than a week after returning from the Olympic break. Canadian Olympians Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby led their respective NHL teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, on the ice at Soldier Field for the fourth and final 2014 NHL Stadium Series game on March 1.

A little snow, swirling wind, and a gametime temperature of 17.4 degrees didn't stop the Blackhawks from rolling over the Penguins 5-1 in front of 62,921, the fourth largest crowd to witness an NHL game.

"It honestly did feel like we were playing shinny hockey in the backyard," Toews said.

The final stop on the NHL's big-event tour was Vancouver on March 2 for the 2014 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at BC Place. Although it was technically indoors, this was not even remotely close to a regular regular-season game.

The Ottawa Senators beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 in front of 54,194 spectators, bringing the total attendance figure for the six combined Winter Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series games from Jan. 1 - March 2 to 376,837, an average of 62,806 per game.

"Our teams and our players displayed the very best qualities of our sport to over 375,000 fans in-person and an international viewing audience of millions more," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said after the Heritage Classic. "We look forward to an exciting run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs."

Ah yes, the playoffs. Big events weren't the only big thing to happen in the NHL in 2014.

A postseason like no other

Kings defenseman Alec Martinez wrote his name into the record books, becoming the first player in NHL history to score the series-clinching goals in overtime in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final.

Martinez capped a classic Western Conference Final series between the Blackhawks and Kings with the overtime winner in Game 7. His overtime winner in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers brought the Kings its second championship in three years.

"I blacked out," Martinez joked on the ice not long after he scored his Cup-winner.

The Kings' path to the championship was rocky and historic.

Alec Martinez beat Henrik Lundqivst in double-overtime to give the Los Angeles Kings their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. (Getty Images)

Los Angeles became the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games, and the first team in NHL history to reach the Stanley Cup Final by winning three Game 7s.

The San Jose Sharks outscored the Kings 17-8 in the first three games of the Western Conference First Round; the Kings won the next four games by outscoring the Sharks 18-5.

The Kings rollercoaster continued against Anaheim in the Second Round, when they won Games 1 and 2, lost the next three, before winning Games 6 and 7 to reach the Western Conference Final.

The classic series against Chicago featured the Kings going ahead 3-1 before losing Game 5 in double overtime. They lost Game 6 by one goal. Game 7 looked booked for Chicago until Marian Gaborik tied it at 12:43 of the third period. Martinez won it at 5:47 of overtime.

Before losing three games in overtime in the Cup Final, the Rangers had a surprising and emotional run through the playoffs.

New York beat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the Eastern Conference First Round before rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Penguins in the Second Round.

Rangers forward Martin St. Louis unexpectedly lost his mother, France, on the offday between Games 4 and 5 of the series against Pittsburgh. St. Louis didn't miss a game, providing inspiration to his teammates as he played while grieving.

He scored a goal in Game 6 and had an assist on the series-clinching goal in Game 7. As fate would have it, the Rangers were playing the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. Montreal is across the river from St. Louis' hometown of Laval, QC.

The entire Rangers team attended the funeral for France St. Louis on May 18, in between Games 1 and 2 of the Conference Final.

"The New York Rangers family has been touched by a little Quebec family in a deep, profound way," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the funeral.

New York won the series in six games, but was aided by the fact that Montreal goalie Carey Price didn't play after Game 1, when he was injured in a collision with Rangers forward Chris Kreider.

The year of analytics

Traditional statistics such as goals, assists, points, goals-against average, save percentage and plus-minus were met by new "fancy stats" such as Corsi, Fenwick and PDO in a big way in 2014.

The analytics community has been talking about these possession- and shot-based statistics for several years, but they were ushered into the mainstream this year as a number of teams either hired or developed their own analytics department.

The Maple Leafs made arguably the most notable move when they hired 28-year-old Kyle Dubas as the assistant general manager on July 22. Dubas, who was a general manager in the Ontario Hockey League, is widely considered an analytics guru, even though he hates the term.

The progressive move by the Maple Leafs, spurred on by president of hockey operations Brendan Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis, signaled a change in the analytics game. Toronto soon created an analytics department by hiring Darryl Metcalf, who ran the popular analytics site, and analytics bloggers Cam Charron and Rob Pettapiece.

The Devils, Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets are among several teams who hired people previously not associated with any NHL team to be their analytics gurus. Several other teams, including the Blackhawks and Kings, have been using their own form of analytics for several seasons.

"Analytics is a term everyone uses, but right now hockey is at such a primitive stage," Dubas told in September. "We're just beginning to know which metrics are meaningful, and which ones are noise. We're still in those beginning stages of it."

A legend passes

For decades, the regal presence of Jean Beliveau was omnipresent around the Montreal Canadiens, so it's no surprise that his funeral on Dec. 10 became a national event in Canada attended by the prime minister, Quebec premier, Montreal mayor, two former prime ministers, and a who's-who of executives and Hall of Fame members from the hockey world.

An estimated 1,500 people packed inside Mary Queen of the World Cathedral with countless more watching on video monitors outside eight days after Beliveau passed away at his home at the age of 83.

Beliveau's name is on the Stanley Cup a record 17 times, including 10 as a player. His No. 4 is retired by the Canadiens, and is now placed over his seat in Bell Centre, where he would watch his former team play alongside his wife Elise of 61 years.

"His presence didn't diminish others but made others better," former Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden said during his eulogy.

Beliveau's loss was preceded by the passing of Pat Quinn and Gilles Tremblay in November.

Moving in, moving on, staying put

This yearalso marked the end of some legendary runs and the dawn of new eras across the NHL:

* Teemu Selanne played his final game at the age of 43. He retired from after 21 seasons, 1,451 games, 684 goals, 1,457 points, and a Stanley Cup championship in 2007. He captained Finland to the bronze medal in Sochi, his fourth Olympic medal.

* Daniel Alfredsson played his final game at the age of 41. He retired following 18 seasons, including 17 with the Senators. Alfredsson, who played last season with the Red Wings, was brought back to Ottawa earlier this month so he could retire a Senator.

Martin Brodeur signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues after playing 1,259 games with the New Jersey Devils. (Getty Images)

* Martin Brodeur played his 1,259th and final game as a Devils goalie on April 13; he played his first NHL game not as a Devils goalie on Dec. 4, shortly after he signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues.

* St. Louis' run in Tampa Bay came to an end on March 5, when he was traded to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan and what turned into New York's first-round draft picks in 2014 and 2015.

* Roberto Luongo's ongoing saga in Vancouver finally came to an end on March 4, the day before the NHL Trade Deadline, when he was traded to the Florida Panthers.

* The Blackhawks ensured their fans that Toews and Kane aren't going anywhere by signing the superstars to identical eight-year, $84 million contract extensions.

* The Florida Panthers selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft on June 27 in Philadelphia. Ekblad is currently third among rookies, and first among rookie defenseman, with 19 points. He is averaging 22:05 of ice time per game.

* Shanahan left the NHL and his position as the head of the Department of Player Safety to run the Maple Leafs hockey operations department.

* After 17 years in Nashville, Barry Trotz's contract was not renewed by the Predators, who replaced him with Peter Laviolette. Trotz landed in Washington. He was hired by new general manager Brian MacLellan, who replaced longtime GM George McPhee.

* The coaching business overall remained as fluid and fickle as ever in 2014 as 10 teams changed coaches -- Jets, Canucks, Penguins, Predators, Capitals, Hurricanes, Panthers, Senators, Oilers and Devils.

* It wasn't any easier on general managers as the Sabres, Avalanche, Hurricanes, Flames, Flyers, Penguins, Canucks and Capitals changed general managers.


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