Best of 2012: looks back at the Year in Hockey Staff

12/24/2012 10:22:04 AM

As 2012 winds to a close, looks back at the stories that made the year memorable.'s writing staff reflects on the best hockey moments from the past 12 months including Minnesota's huge summer, a year to forget for top netminders, the Battle of Pennsylvania, an early summer for Canada and the night Sam Gagner broke loose.

Pat Lovgren on Minny's Wild Summer

Impact-wise it wasn't quite on the scale of LeBron James and Chris Bosh taking their talents to South beach, but in many ways it was just as surprising and unexpected.

Landing the two biggest prizes in 2012 NHL free agent class, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Minnesota Wild did something almost no one in the hockey world had foreseen.

Coming off four straight non-playoff seasons and having not won a post-season series since 2003, Minnesota as a destination point for the two stars was almost an afterthought. Especially with NHL power-houses like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia thought to also be in the running, not to mention the pair's Stanley Cup-contending former teams in New Jersey and Nashville, Minny looked like a financial longshot to land both.

But looking back at the pair's decision to sign identical 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Wild, there were a number of clues that pointed in Minnesota's direction.

Both had ties to the state with Parise being born in Minneapolis and growing up there, while his Dad, J.P. played and coached with the North Stars. Meanwhile, Suter was born in nearby Madison, Wisconsin and his wife was born in Minnesota.

The pair also had built a close relationship off the ice, playing internationally with one another, including, most recently, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

In a revealing interview with NHL Network radio's Josh Rimer the day before he signed, Parise admitted the prospect of playing with a top NHL defenceman would be a tremendous opportunity and although he didn't like the comparisons with a Miami Heat free agent-type scheme, he indicated the two had indeed talked throughout the free agent process.

It would become reality the next day, as the duo put their names on contracts, making the Wild the unquestioned story of the NHL off-season.

Barry Riz on Canada's Long Summer

There's no question that many fans in all of Canada's NHL cities are suffering during the league's labour stoppage.

But a quick refresher of last season's final standings shows that even when those teams were playing, their fans were still suffering.

Five of the Canada's seven NHL entries missed the playoffs last spring, and even the surprising Ottawa Senators barely qualified in the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.

So that means fans of the Oilers, Flames, Jets, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens were left on the outside looking in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For Montreal, it was the first time the club finished last in the conference since the format began in the 1974-75 season.

All that failure left the Vancouver Canucks as Canada's best hope as winners of the Western Conference. But once they were upset by the eight-seeded Los Angeles Kings in the first round and as the Senators came up short in a seven-game series against the Rangers, Canada's hopes for a Stanley Cup quickly faded to black.

But with the bad news came the good at June's NHL Draft, where three of the first five picks went to Canadian clubs. The Oilers selected Nail Yakupov first overall, while the Canadiens took Alex Galchenyuk third and the Maple Leafs grabbed Morgan Rielly fifth.

So there will be good things to look forward to in Canada when play finally resumes.

Whenever that might be.

Shane McNeil on The Battle of Pennsylvania

As if having two of the league's six best teams meeting in a first round series, it had to be the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins going toe-to-toe.

Just 10 days after the teams engaged in a line brawl that resulted in 52 minutes worth of penalties, the teams waged war in the playoffs.

The Battle of Pennsylvania did not disappoint. An overtime winner in Game 1, four unanswered goals in Game 2 and 20 goals scored in the first three games gave the Flyers a 3-0 series lead. Game 3 would get particularly chippy with Arron Asham, Craig Adams and James Neal all drawing suspensions.

The Pens, however, would answer with 10 goals in Game 4 and cut the deficit to 3-2 when the teams combined for only five goals(!) in Game 5.

The Flyers would take it in Game 6, but the outcome is irrelevant.

Sidney Crosby didn't "like any guy on their team," and The Philadelphia Daily News retaliated by photoshopping Crosby's head onto a cowardly lion. Say what you will about the violence, but the entertainment level both on and off the ice was tough to top.

Ben Fisher on a Year to Forget in Net

One day Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas will look back on their careers and recall how good they truly were as NHL netminders.

Luongo has won an Olympic gold medal, thrice been named an NHL All-Star, and despite not leading them to the top of the mountain, he backstopped the Canucks over an impressive five-year run.

Thomas capped a remarkable underdog journey with a Stanley Cup victory, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and a second Vezina.

When the two look back, they'll each likely want to forget what happened in 2012.

Luongo had long been a polarizing figure among Canucks fans. With a more-than-capable backup waiting his turn in Cory Schneider, the calls for change grew louder all year in Vancouver. The switch was finally made in the playoffs ultimately ending the Luongo era in Vancouver. Still, 2013 will likely bring a fresh start for Bobby Loo as trade rumours have persisted since the end of the 2011-12 campaign.

Thomas' rough year had more to do with issues off the ice than his on-ice performance. It all started with his notable absence from the Bruins visit to the White House in January. Political views aside, the no-show was an unwanted distraction from an otherwise happy day.

A couple Facebook posts by Thomas, aiming to articulate his thoughts on government, did little to dispel the questions and concerns surrounding Boston's 38-year-old goalie. The story ended – at least for now – with Thomas deciding to take the 2012-13 season off. When he returns to Boston, if at all, is yet to be seen.

McNeil on Gagner's Crazy Eight

Remember that night Sam Gagner just lost his mind against the Chicago Blackhawks?

Gagner, now 23, had almost become the forgotten man in Edmonton as he played in the ever-growing shadow of subsequent first round talents such as Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

But he reclaimed the spotlight for at least one night on Feb. 2.

After the Oilers were held off the score sheet in the first period, Gagner took over.

He sprung Hall in for the Oilers' first goal, scored on a wraparound to tie the game and then put the pedal down amassing an astounding eight points (four goals and four assists) over the final two periods.

Gagner became the first player in almost a quarter-century to have an eight-point night and tied an Oilers team record that had been shared by Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey since 1986.

The effort also took a lot of heat off Gagner, who in previous weeks had become a staple in the TradeCentre rumour mill. His eight-spot reminded fans in Edmonton and across Canada that although he may not have the prestige of a Hall or a Nugent-Hopkins, the 2007 first-rounder is still capable of stealing the show.