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On Jake Walman, Mr. Baseball, and how hockey is a game, and games are supposed to be fun
Yes, somehow I will try to connect all of these things.
DETROIT — When I was in middle school, somewhere around 2001 or 2002, my parents got a DVD player.
It was magical, you no longer had to rewind the movie when you finished it. When going to the movie store, we no longer had to worry about clunky VHS tapes.
For whatever reason, one of the first DVDs we owned was the Mr. Baseball, the 1992 film starring Tom Selleck as a baseball player that gets traded from the New York Yankees to the Chunichi Dragons.
There’s also line from that movie that’s always stuck with me, which Selleck delivers after lighting a teammate’s sock on fire.
“Baseball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.”
I’ve taken that quote and turned into a hockey ideology, often when watching from a press box, I’ve muttered to myself “hockey is a game, and games are supposed to be fun” either as a positive commentary on something that just happened or a reminder to not take a game too seriously.
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And lately this approach has made me think more and more about Jake Walman.
Because Jake Walman gets it.
The Detroit Red Wings defenseman was already a focus this week after he became one of the few NHL players to actually use a neck guard in a game on Saturday night against the Boston Bruins.
Walman, like the rest of us, got a wake-up call after the tragic death of Adam Johnson.
Walman first used a neck guard in practice on Thursday and then spoke passionately about his decision with media members in the locker room.
“This is just a game that we’re playing, we are hockey players but we are all human and we all have people that care about us and we care about other people,” Walman said. “I’m sure for a lot of players in the league it’ll be a choice a lot more guys will make. But, yeah, I think there’s a lot more important things than a game and just thinking about everybody when making that decision.”
The written version of the quote doesn’t do it justice. I’ve done thousands (maybe millions?) of interviews in my career, many times you can tell by a player’s eyes whether they are going off an internal scrip or actually speaking from the heart and Walman was speaking from the heart on this matter.
And Walman has always been refreshingly honest. Before he signed his contract extension with Detroit he spoke with me last season about having some “respect put on his name.”
If you ask a dumb question, Walman will call you out for it constructively. When someone re-asks a question that was asked earlier in a scrum by another reporter, he’ll point it out.
And on the ice Walman embraces hockey like it’s a game, and a game that is supposed to be fun.
Walman’s 89 mile per hour blast in the second period that tied the game at 2-2 was followed by a dance, a little shimmy that I’m sure had some hockey purists rolling their eyes.
But, hey, if you can shoot a puck close to 100 miles per hour, and just scored in the best league of the world — and popped the water bottle in the process — shouldn’t you have some fun with it?
It helped spark a 5-4 victory, it was the first time this season anyone had beaten the Bruins in regulation. After laying an egg last Saturday in Boston, this was a win for Detroit that is well worth celebrating.
And this is where emotion and analysis come together, because for the Red Wings, this game was a testament to their ability to adjust and dig themselves out a trench they were slowly falling into after a complacent 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
Detroit’s how power play had cooled, so instead of hoping for better results, they re-racked and switched Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider on the first and second power play units.
The move freed up Raymond in more of a downhill role on the first unit, while it moved Walman into more of a shooting position on the flank on the second unit — which is directly how his goal was scored from Seider.
And in the spirit of adjustment, the Red Wings from the mid-point of the game, adjusted and outplayed the NHL’s best regular season team. Detroit scored thrice in the third period and finished with 40-31 edge in shots and a 2.58-1.98 edge in expected goals according to Natural Stat Trick.
And you know what, I definitely pulled in expected goals at the end of this story, so I could pull in another Mr. Baseball quote which was apparently ahead of its time for analytics back in 1992.