TAMPA — There’s quite the uproar coming out of San Jose these days thanks to a teenage sensation.
His name is Tomas Hertl and the 19-year-old entered the weekend leading the league with six goals. The 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft had a two-goal performance in his second career game Oct. 5 against Phoenix.
In his next game the 6-foot-2, 210-pound center from the Czech Republic went off the charts, recording four goals in a 9-2 rout of the New York Rangers. In doing so he became the fourth-youngest player in NHL history to record a four-goal game, and the youngest since Jimmy Carson on March 30, 1988, while with the Los Angeles Kings. Hertl did so while logging just 11 minutes, 12 seconds of ice time.
But in this overly sensitive society we have become, a lot of the talk surrounding Hertl didn’t come as a result of his outstanding night, but rather the manner in which he scored his fourth goal.
Already with a hat trick under his belt, Hertl got behind the Rangers defense along the left wing boards and cut to the middle of the ice near the top of the crease. As he made his way in front of goaltender Martin Biron, Hertl dropped the puck through his legs before putting his stick between his legs and flipping the puck past Biron at 12:05 of the third period for a highlight-reel goal that made many a top 10 list for the night.
It was the eighth goal of the night for San Jose in what ended up as a 9-2 rout for the Sharks.
So instead of celebrating the achievement accomplished by the teenager and enjoying the creativity to try that move in a game, the line of questioning started to steer toward whether Hertl was showboating and showing up the Rangers.
Are you kidding me?
When I saw the goal, and knowing the game was already a rout, that thought that Hertl was trying to be a hot dog never entered my mind. It was a crafty and highly skilled play done at a high rate of speed pulled off by somebody who was feeling good about his game. He didn’t exaggerate his celebration when he scored the goal, he skated to the blue line, turned around with his arms open waiting to share in the moment with his teammates on the ice.
And it’s not like we haven’t seen that type of move before.
Vinny Lecavalier did the between-the-legs shot in the dying seconds during Game 3 of the 2004 Eastern Conference semifinal against Montreal, a game won by the Lightning in overtime.
Steven Stamkos was celebrated for using that same move during a 2008 All-Star game shootout competition that became a YouTube sensation.
Defenseman Marek Malik did the same move for the Rangers during a shootout against Washington in 2005. And just three nights ago, Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek put his stick between his legs to redirect a shot for a goal against Columbus.
Were any of these moves considered showboating or trying to show up the opposition?
Yes, all those mentioned were under different circumstances.
But here’s my take: If you don’t like it, don’t let Hertl have that much room to work with to even think about pulling off that move.
I remember a line by former baseball manager Whitey Herzog, who used to get criticism when his fleet-footed St. Louis Cardinals teams would steal bases late with big leads. In a nutshell, Herzog would consider if the opposing team was going to keep trying to come back and win the game, assume the answer was always yes, and told his players to keep playing to win.
So stop being so sensitive and let Hertl enjoy all the night brought — he earned and deserved all the right kind of attention.