Jake Walman, The Griddy, and how it actually connects the NHL to the rest of the world
This is something the hockey world needs more.
If there’s a lasting lesson from the Super Bowl this week, it’s that all sports need more cultural touch points.
Whether you like or dislike Taylor Swift’s music, the fact more people watched the NFL was good thing this season for football. According to Front Office Sports, Swift already drove more than $330 million in revenue for the NFL and Kansas City Chiefs before the Super Bowl.
On a much, much, much, much smaller scale that brings me to Jake Walman and the Detroit Red Wings.
After scoring a game-winning goal, on a penalty shot in overtime on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, Walman struck what has become his signature celebration and did The Griddy before being mobbed by teammates.
The Griddy isn’t a hockey thing.
It started as a football thing, the dance was created by a high school football player named Allen Davis. Davis played with Ja’Marr Chase, who played at LSU with Justin Jefferson and in 2019 Jefferson celebrated touchdowns at LSU with that signature dance.
From there it took off on social media and eventually made its way to the gaming world, since 2020, you can celebrate victories in Fortnite by digitally hitting The Griddy.
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I was talking to a colleague about this on Monday, and he told me a story about his son, who doesn’t care much about sports, has never really cared nor paid much attention to the Red Wings. But seeing Walman celebrate a game-winning goal, by doing the dance he knew because of a video game, was a wider cultural touch point that hockey typically misses.
I brought this up to Walman after the Red Wings practiced on Monday.
“It’s pretty crazy, honestly the types of messages that I like received from doing something like that,” Walman said. “I’d say 80, 90 percent are positive, like, ‘this is awesome.’ And then I guess I kind of want to address the 10 percent.”
“What most people don’t understand is yeah I’m 27 years old doing a dance on the ice, but the amount of messages I get from like parents that are like there kids wanna score now just so they can celebrate. Kids want to participate in something with a team where they can all celebrate with and relate to. That’s pretty awesome to me. You’re like a sore loser if you can’t understand the real reason behind this type of stuff. I’m not doing it to show offy or anything like. To interact with people to reach people, it’s just a game.
“So those sore losers out there that don’t like it, maybe they can start to realize that this is bigger than just a little dance on the ice. This is like for kids, this is like for kids who want to score and grow up wanting to be a hockey player and I think that’s pretty cool.”
It should be noted, that each of Walman’s Griddy celebrations — which he plans to use to create merch to profit the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit — have come after overtime, skate-off game winners.
This came since on the same day he hit The Griddy, Ridly Greig started a firestorm in all of Ontario when he took a slapshot into an empty net and Morgan Rielly attacked him for it.
Walman laughed at the fact both happened on the same day, but also quickly pointed out, his dancing has always been part of his personality.
“I’m always dancing off the ice too, I’m always relating to kids one way or the other,” Walman said. “Like I said, I’m doing it for a purpose, for a reason. That’s connecting with the bigger picture. (Some) people don’t understand that …. it’s all about connecting with an audience.”
Throughout this season during intermission youth hockey shootouts, players have celebrated goals on the LCA ice doing The Griddy. While Walman is in the locker room during those sequences, he’s seen and noticed it, usually watching the arena feed on the TV in the trainer’s room between periods.
“I’ve had people come up to me at the airport, on the street and their kids are doing it,” Walman said. “Like I’ve said to those people who hate on it, or send me those messages, grow up.”
Walman has also been forward thinking in this. He said he’d be doing “everybody a disservice,” if he didn’t do something more with, like what he’s currently working on for merch sales to benefit The Boys & Girls Club.
“I’m not doing it for fame or clout or cockiness,” Walman said. “It’s for the bigger picture.”
And, frankly speaking, hockey is often too far outside the bigger picture. Playing a game, having fun, should better connect with a wider audience. Walman at least gets that.