Few expect Yakupov to sterilize his ‘contagious’ passion
Spotlight-stealing slide by Edmonton Oilers rookie after scoring tying goal in nail-biter remains centre of attention
File photo of Nail Yakupov meeting the Edmonton media at Rexall Place June 2012.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
CALGARY - If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, enter Darcy Hordichuk.
The Edmonton Oilers veteran enforcer scored a goal in the team’s shootout drill, then channelled his inner Nail Yakupov with his celebration.
Yes, the most talked about goal celebration in recent NHL history was still the centre of attention the day after the Oilers rookie sensation scored the tying goal in a penalty-marred, adrenaline-charged 2-1 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“It was a move I had never seen before or knew about until yesterday. You never know, if I score one, I might be pulling that move out,” said Hordichuk, who obviously had no problems with Yakupov’s end-to-end slide that came on the heels of his second NHL goal.
“I love it. The fans sure loved it,” Hordichuk said. “I just don’t know if he can get away with it in some other team’s barn.”
Few expect Yakupov to go to the same extreme with every goal he scores, but no one expects the 19-year-old to be able to temper his passion, which has even shown up on the practice ice.
His teammates also pointed to the circumstances. There were mere seconds left on the clock, the team just had a goal disallowed, and they were desperately trying to erase their 6-3 stinker against the San Jose Sharks from two nights earlier.
“He just loves to score goals,” Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff said. “Obviously, as he gets older, I’m sure he’ll realize it’s more tiring to skate up the ice like that and dive, than it is to celebrate with your teammates.
“But it was a big win for us, (and) given the circumstances, battling back to score was huge. We were jumping on the bench, too. Maybe not quite like Yak, maybe half, but we’re OK with it.
“You never want to take away that passion a player has for the game. It’s him. It’s not like he’s trying to show the other team up. He just has a passion for the game and it just pours out of him.”
As for Yakupov, he said his intent was not to taunt the Kings and he didn’t seem too concerned with all the questions about whether or not it was appropriate. He countered with the response that he was just excited that he’d been able to score such a key goal.
“I don’t think it’s really bad,” Yakupov said before talking about how crazy it was later with all the phone calls and texts he received from family, friends and Russian national team members. Among the messages was one from Alex Galchenyuk, his former Sarnia Sting (Ontario Hockey League) teammate now playing with the Montreal Canadiens, who said, “nice celly.”
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said if Yakupov scores 25 key goals this season, he’d be OK with 25 more celebrations. He has also spent enough time in Europe to grasp that the old-school rules don’t always apply, particularly for players like Yakupov, who have watched a lot of soccer.
“It was a by-product of what had transpired with the goal being disallowed, and the way the building was cooking and bubbling,” said Krueger. “I thought the celebration was in line with the situation.”
Veteran Eric Belanger admitted he is more old school and that celebrations like Yakupov’s or Alexei Ovechkin’s before him, weren’t always a part of the game. He was also certain Yakupov’s spotlight-stealing slide wasn’t going to be on display after every goal.
Horcoff just wasn’t willing to guarantee that some sort of celebration wouldn’t follow, say, a first-period goal.
“He does it in practice,” said Horcoff. “I’ve seen him on a three-on-one, get an assist and touch the ice. He just likes making plays. The first couple of times I saw it, I thought, ‘Hmmm, interesting’. Now it’s become pretty comical. I get a kick out of it.
“Sure it is a little bit different, but it is what it is. He brings a passion to the game that can be contagious for all of us. When you see a kid that enjoys the game so much, it’s fun to be around him. As he gets older and more experienced, I’m sure he’ll realize there’s a respect factor for the other team and the game itself.
“I’m not saying that wasn’t respectful, but when he gets older he might make different decisions. But right now, he’s 19-years-old and just played his first game four days ago.”
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