Tomas Hertl: Todd McLellan’s Little Boy Lost

San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl’s four goal performance against the New York Rangers Tuesday night was quite a spectacle. His fourth goal was especially flashy- dropping it between his skates on a left to right breakaway and roofing it from behind.

Tomas Hertl Celebrates (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Tomas Hertl Celebrates (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

He made veterans Michael del Zotto and Martin Biron look like fools on that play. The Rangers were indeed awful all night, and Hertl made sure to illuminate the point with the kind of highly skilled goal only seen on rare occasion in Major Juniors, by star players like Nathan MacKinnon.

Of course, Hertl never would have had the opportunity to showcase those chops had he not been cherry picking when his team held a 7-2 lead.

Post-game, players like Joe Pavelski praised Hertl and said they had no problem with him humiliating the Rangers. Of course, no one involved in hockey for any length of time believes that Pavelski is actually OK with that. But in public you support your teammate and you scramble together a way to justify his hot-dogging because it’s what you do.

The post-game comments from coach Todd McLellan are particularly telling:

He’s a passionate young man and I’m not even sure if he realizes where he is. He’s innocent out there. He scores the fourth goal and when it’s 8-2 or 9-2 or whatever it was, it’s probably not a real good celebrating time. But he’s so innocent that he’s excited about doing it and sometimes that passion is a good thing to have in our game.

And again:

Our game needs a little bit of that. And again, it’s that innocence that he has. He doesn’t completely understand where he is and he’s playing free. 

So according to McLellan, the game of hockey is short on passion. Does he really think this?

Of course not. After all, twice the coach felt obligated to excuse Hertl with the amorphous claim that the young man doesn’t understand where he is. By this he means Hertl doesn’t understand that you don’t pad your stats and get flashy and humiliate your opponents late in the game when you’re already destroying them. Not in the NHL you don’t. And you don’t celebrate like you just won the Stanley Cup either, not on goal 8 of the game. This is one of those things that separates hockey from other sports. Hertl can take a page from teammate Justin Braun, whose subdued reaction to scoring goal 9 of the game was in line with hockey etiquette.

In hockey you don’t intentionally run up a score.  It’s unsportsmanlike. This isn’t college football, where every other week some conference powerhouse clobbers a liberal arts college 72-0, and the culture of the league says that this is somehow a meaningful sporting event.

Here is how McLellan really felt about Hertl’s fourth goal and subsequent celebration: after Hertl’s final goal, with about eight minutes left in the third period, Hertl didn’t take another shift despite playing on a line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. McClellan wasn’t punishing Hertl for his antics, he was sparing him from the ire of the Rangers. 

Too bad, since the young Czech has no clue where he is, and he could have used a friendly reminder.

Ross Bonander
Ross Bonander is a freelance health writer and quotations editor. He is the editor of 12 quotation collections, including Hockey Talk, a collection of memorable hockey quotes, as well as collections focusing on Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano. He also writes extensively about blood cancers and other health issues. His homepage is RossBonander.com.
Ross Bonander

16 Comments

  1. I agree with some of these comments up here, I’ve played hockey for over 20 years and have seen these kinds of attacks on young players trying to make a spot for themselves. If the Rangers can’t handle a 19 year old kid scoring nearly half the Sharks goals and a behind the leg finisher, hell they need a recheck on what the hell they were doing. Their game was atrocious and to top it all off, you say that the kid can’t “pad your stats and get flashy” but what great players didn’t do that? Gretzky? Jagr? Those guys killed it whenever they could and put all the stops every game, that’s how they got first line, and that’s how they brought their team greatness, simple as that. I won’t be reading this blog again, the fact that you consider a neutral zone pickup cherry picking tells me you obviously don’t know this game at all, you should probably go check out some bantam or midget leagues to refresh your knowledge on hockey.

  2. It was also totally classless of Ryan McDonagh to intentionally aim a bank shot off the boards at Quick’s blocker, knowing he would be humiliated. This is probably the stupidest blog I ever wasted my time reading. You sound like Michel Therrien…what a lack of respeck

    • If you mean respect, and that I showed a lack of respect, I don’t know who to. The obvious answer is Tomas Hertl but only because he’s the subject of the entry, otherwise I don’t know who I allegedly disrespected or how I did it.

  3. Martin Freund says:

    Two questions: First, if he was Canadian, would your article be in the same manner? Second, if you were in his skin (come on, his third game and scores four goals) would you act differently? I just sense little bitterness here, that’s all..

    • Thanks for reading and responding. I can see how this might seem bitter but what you see as bitterness is me taking offense. His nationality is immaterial. I’m only holding him to NHL standards which are de facto Canadian standards of playing the game. And were I him would I act the same way? I can’t say. I’d like to think I would have been thrilled with three goals and understood that showing off late in a game is in poor taste and something that would universally be regarded as an act of disrespect. But that’s a tall order for a 19 year old whose mom and girlfriend and 18000 fans are already juiced up by what he’d accomplished up to that point.

  4. Ross-
    This article is a crock. The kids 19, playing out his dream. If you weren’t complaining about others all day on a computer, you may understand that. If top players are going to let a 19 in the zone alone like that and allow him to put on a clinic, they should get their noses rubbed in it. They should have thrown more hats.

    One and only time I’ll ever read any of this garbage you can journalism

  5. Yeah okay bitter Rangers fan

  6. Agree with the above comment. Cut the kid some slack. You say that running up the scoreboard is unsportsmanlike? What had happened if Hertl had gone back on the ice after the fourth goal, and “drew the ire” of a few Rangers players, and those Rangers players took liberties on Hertl would that not be unsportsmanlike? Now I understand the Rangers had played the night before, but to let a game get that carried away? I say good on the Sharks for making them look like fools because maybe the Rangers will have some shame in themselves and work harder for their next game.

    You also have to remember this kid is fighting for a roster spot. He is going to do everything in his power and pull out everything in his bag of tricks to avoid getting sent down to the minors.

    I also remember a certain Ranger by the name of Marek Malik pulling the same shot off on Olaf Kolzig. Granted that was a shootout but just embarrassing, for Kolzig and the Caps back then, as it was for Biron and the Rangers last night.

    As far as your “cherry picking” comment? I hardly consider accepting a neutral zone pass in stride and skating into the zone cherry picking.

    Not to come off as disrespectful but you just sound like an upset Rangers fan.

    • Thanks for reading and responding. I’m not a Rangers fan. And while I do think Hertl deserved a little tune-up from one of the Rangers players, I wouldn’t see that as unsportsmanlike because in such a context it has never been seen as unsportsmanlike.

      As for running up the score, in the broadcast, Drew Remenda is slobbering all over himself after that goal, which leads me to believe Drew’s memory is fading. When he was an assistant coach with the Sharks, they lost to Pittsburgh at home 9-1 and a month later, they lost in Colorado by a staggering 12-2. I was at the Pens game and while Wade Flaherty and Arturs Irbe were collectively awful there was a clear sense that the Pens were scoring at will and the fans around me were outraged … at both teams. Can you envision Drew behind the bench at either game and thinking ‘well this is embarrassing and we suck but boy that 11th goal by Forsberg was highlight material, what a superstar in the making’?

      Regarding his roster spot, I think his status, whatever it is, would be no different had he scored the hat trick. The juvenile trick shot didn’t hurt him but I doubt it helped him.

      Finally, you’re probably more right than me on the cherry picking. He took the pass with just a step or two on del Zotto. The only reason I saw it as cherry picking was because of the context– he’s looking for a home-run pass with a five goal lead. Was it straight up cherry picking? I agree with you it really wasn’t.

  7. I wondered if he saw the ice after 4 goals too. Figured the Rangers would be out to get him. He’s just a kid, from Europe, and he’ll learn. Good that it was against an East Coast team, and not a divisional opponent.

    • I agree, he’ll learn. They all do. Theo Fleury learned not to be a complete ass when you score, and I don’t think Nail Yakupov will make a habit out of it either. And naturally I’m going to agree with you that it’s good this wasn’t divisional and that they don’t see the Rangers again until I think March.

      That said, nobody forgets getting blown out, and while I don’t think in the Spring the Rangers are going to be headhunting Hertl, I do think they will respond, and who knows how that outcome might affect the playoff picture at that time of year. In another response here I mentioned the Sharks losing to the Penguins 9-1 at home back in the 95-96 season.

      What I didn’t mention was the Sharks’ awesome response: two months later they played in Pittsburgh and beat the Penguins 10-8, lighting up Tom Barrasso at home for 9 goals.

  8. You are out to lunch. When a player has an opportunity to score, they should take it every single tim an opportunity presents itself. This is the highest level of sport for hockey and goals never come easy. Celebrating when its 9-2, yes that is a little uncalled for. Except for when you score a goal that will be on highlight reels for the next 10 years, then you better dam well show some emotion!

    • Thanks for reading and responding. I totally agree with you– when a player has an opportunity to score they should take it. My point was that when you’re up by five goals late in the third period, maybe you don’t go around deliberately ‘creating’ more opportunities to score, and that’s what Hertl did by slipping behind del Zotto. He was looking for the breakaway pass.

      Take Braun’s goal. The Rangers took a penalty. If you’re going to put a team on the power play late during a blow out that’s your problem, now you’re creating opportunities for the opposition. Braun made a smart play by going to the net and getting the feed from the D (I don’t know who it was).

      In both cases it would have been unsportsmanlike if either Hertl — once on the breakaway — or Braun had deliberately missed the net. As you said, you should score when you can. Hertl had a choice though on the play, he didn’t have to go looking for more goals.

      Consider this: if the Rangers were playing such a terrible game- which they were- why wasn’t the entire Sharks lineup victimizing them until the horn sounded? Why wasn’t Joe Thornton on the ice looking to add to his stats or do something highlight-reel worthy? One reason is because he didn’t take another shift after Hertl’s fourth. The other reason is because as a veteran he knows it’s something you don’t do in this league. Hertl is being given space for not knowing this; I think it’s a cop-out. I hope he knows better now.

      • You say you don’t intentionally run up the score. So why did Braun shoot at all? Up 8-2 late int he game, based on what you’re telling me, he was disrespectful by shooting the puck in the first place. So wy didn’t they just play catch at the blueline? Or is Braun too a star-struck kid who doesn’t know where he’s at?

        • Thanks for reading and commenting Frank. And that’s not what I said. Why did Braun shoot– because the Rangers took a penalty and put SJ on the power play. Now, a team is obligated to try and score. The Rangers asked for that one. On the other hand, on Hertl’s fourth goal, 99 percent of the time the defenseman wouldn’t be looking for Hertl and Hertl wouldn’t be looking for a home-run pass. Rather, the D would gain the blue line and dump it in. Boring, yes. But at that point the game is over. Even by AHL standards, where almost no lead is safe, that game was over. The faster it can end, the better. So the idea is, don’t go creating scoring chances. If the opposition takes a penalty, then it’s unsportsmanlike NOT to try and score. Playing catch at the blue line would have been a huge slap in the face to the Rangers, and by your tone I think you agree. Braun HAD to shoot because the Rangers were dumb enough to take a penalty. You could argue that the Rangers were terrible the entire game, but that hardly means that they should be destroyed and humiliated. As I said above, the Sharks have a history of being been blown out- the Flames once beat them 13-3. If you’re a Sharks fan, would you be happy to see goal 10 or 11 scored by a Flames player in a manner that made your team look even stupider? Of course not. It’s a matter of mutual respect, that’s all.

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