Staples: Yakupov’s ‘celly’ was right for him, but not for everybody
It’s going to take time to get used to the Cristiano Ronaldo of hockey
EDMONTON - I coach a minor hockey team of seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds. In a recent game, after one of our players scored, he celebrated wildly, whooping it up, skating about like he’d just won the Stanley Cup.
So, of course, on our bench, a coach or two harrumphed, and when the goal scorer sat down I gently reminded him of the following: “It’s OK to feel great when you score and celebrate a bit, but nothing too wild. We don’t want to rub it in with the other team and make them mad so they want to get even. When you score, you want to act like you’ve done it before.”
That’s the old Hugh Campbell line about getting the ball into the end zone for a touchdown: Act like you’ve been there before.
I have to say I also felt a bit like a kill-joy telling my player not to celebrate so grandly. And yet, I did it, and I’d do it again. It’s part of being a good sport not to rub in your victory.
It’s also part of the our national character to be restrained. Playwright Ken Brown described it best in “Life After Hockey,” his poetic one-man play and meditation about our national game and obsession.
In a soliloquy, Brown’s main character, Rink Rat, tells the audience: “Oh my country. O Canada. Stiff and unable to celebrate. A big shy kid from the sticks who can’t dance. Always looking into somebody’s else party, getting conned into painting Tom Sawyer’s fence. A woman getting drunk on rye whiskey at two in the afternoon, smoking Black Cat Number 7s and watching ‘The Love Boat.’ A roughneck getting his hand mangled on a drill rig, and being too embarrassed to tell anybody. A bunch of hard-handed young men all taking it out on each other on a skating rink.”
With all that in mind, it should come as no surprise that some of us are going to need time to get used to Nail Yakupov and his Cristiano Ronaldo-like celebrations after he scores.
I say this even as I know it’s an unpopular thought. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News summed up the general mood, when he tweeted out after Yakupov’s now famous “celly”:
“Fans who hate Nail Yakupov’s celebration should be tagged electronically and never allowed to cheer in an NHL arena again.”
Bruce Arthur of The National Post had a more measured take: “Nail Yakupov’s celebration last night ruled, and anybody criticizing it has forgotten about joy in hockey.”
And James Duthie of TSN said: “Best goal celebration in years.”
It did have that feel to it, like the 19-year-old player was overcome by both utter glee and a load of pressure off his shoulders. This was a spontaneous explosion of raw joy and relief. To get back to Hugh Campbell’s adage, while Yakupov has scored many goals before (and celebrated most of them much less), this was the first time he had scored such a big goal at such a big moment. So he had never been to this place before. Good time to let loose.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger also had a good point about Yakupov’s celebration: “He’s watched a lot of soccer games.”
In European soccer, players go bananas when they score, ripping off their shirts, running around like madmen. Yakupov’s celebration was right out of that playbook.
A few North American hockey players have also celebrated in flamboyant fashion: Theo Fleury, Tiger Williams, Eddie Shack. So it’s time now to just clear the track for Nail Yak and relax.
Part of me, the Oilers fans’ part, certainly loved to see Yakupov score, then streak down the ice, fall to his knees and spin, then bow down low as if he were giving thanks. But part of me also wondered why he wasn’t celebrating with his teammates. I’m old school. I like that basketball tradition where once you score a bucket, the first thing you do is point a finger at the guy who passed you the ball, acknowledging him.
In the end, however, I’m OK with Yakupov’s goal celebration. I’d love to see it 600 more times in coming seasons.
His celebratory antics are a European soccer thing. They are a showman’s thing. They are OK for Ronaldo, for Fleury, and also for Yakupov.
At the same time, I don’t want to see this kind of celebrating at minor hockey games I’m coaching. Got that, kids?!
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