NHL on TSN: Seeking the origins of the fly-by celebration

Matt Cade

11/6/2013 9:10:02 AM

The fly-by. Five guys skating by the bench for high fives after a goal. Ubiquitous in NHL arenas.

When did it begin?

I wanted to find out, so I called Darcy Tucker.

We'd heard that Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay has said he thinks the three-time Memorial Cup champion Kamloops Blazers – his former team – may have started the trend in the early 90's.

Tucker remembers doing the fly-by, but not starting it. Ryan Huska, a former Blazer teammate and current Kelowna Rockets head coach, said the same.

Drew Bannister played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the '92 Memorial Cup final against Kamloops. He says the Hounds were already doing the fly-by themselves, as were other OHL teams.

Square one. I turned to my colleagues.

Ray Ferraro figured it was a thing by 2000, but not a thing he warmly embraced.

"I hated it," he wrote in an email.

I watched old tapes. The fly-by was definitely happening by 2000. I found examples as early as the 95/96 season, like this one: Saku Koivu in his rookie year. Young players were more likely to do it than old, which is consistent with the widely held belief that junior hockey players were doing the fly-by before NHL'ers. It trickled up.

"It was totally a junior thing. I think it started close to my first year – 95," said Jeff O'Neill, who shares Ferraro's distaste for the fly-by. "I hate it."

But he did give me my first solid lead.

"I may be wrong, but I think the Peterborough Petes may have started it."

I called Jeff Twohey.

Twohey is the GM of the Oshawa Generals, but was with the Petes for 30 years. He started as a scout in 1980, and was general manager for 17 seasons.

"I think we were the first team to ever do it," says Twohey. "My gut was that we started it. We had such a tight-knit group back in the early 80's."

Definitely smoke. But fire? I asked around.

"It was not done when I was in junior from 81-84," wrote Dave Reid in an email. "Late 80's is probably close."

Andrew MacVicar played from 86-89 with the Petes. He remembers doing the fly-by, but only on big goals or in the playoffs.

"It was supposed to be something really special," says MacVicar.

MacVicar's specific memory that teammate Billy Huard began doing the fly-by more often and earlier in games as a way to get under the skin of Petes' opponents was a dead end, too. Huard has no recollection of doing it at all, let alone having a hand in its evolution.

MacVicar thought Jamie Hicks (86-90) would remember. He doesn't. He also thought Mark Freer (85-88) might remember. Freer does, vaguely, but he named Kris King as the possible creator of the fly-by, and King has no memory of it. King then suggested that Twohey might have something to say on the matter.

This is about the time I got dizzy.

I called Corey Foster, who played in Peterborough from 86-89. He says the Petes were definitely doing the fly-by in his final year with the team, when they went to the Memorial Cup. I went back to the tape library. No Petes games.

But we do have the final, and I found a fly-by. Scott Scissons, playing for the Saskatoon Blades. It's a beta version of the fly-by – instead of flying past the bench, the players sort of turn around and just stand there – but it counts. That's the earliest video evidence we have.

It seemed unlikely that the Scissons goal was the fly-by's big bang. I was getting nowhere, so we put the question to twitter. Curious theories poured in.

One suggestion had it that the fly-by grew out of Brian Propp's unique and unusual 'guffaw' goal celebration. Propp says no.

Others blamed Hollywood. I knew the 'Top Gun' hypothesis was a joke, but I watched all of 'D2: Mighty Ducks' and 'Slap Shot' before I realized those were probably tongue-in-cheek suggestions, and references to the Flying V and Steve Hanson. "Bring the kids. We got entertainment for the whole family."

Plenty of people figure the fly-by started at the World Juniors, but we can't find any examples of it before 1991.

In Red Deer in 1995, Team Canada was doing the fly-by in its current form: all five players skating by the bench. Before that, the video evidence is less compelling. There are solid signs of it at the 94 and 93 tournaments. In '92 and '91, we know that the goal-scorer on at least a few occasions did the fly-by, though in most cases we can't tell if his teammates joined in, and in some cases we know they did not. (As in this goal by Paul Kariya, for example).

Did it start with the Montreal Canadiens? For a brief time, the Habs bench would empty for every goal: everyone celebrating on the ice together. When a rule was implemented to end that practice, the theory goes, the team began the fly-by. Mark Napier, a Canadien from 1978-84, said no.

Did it start with the Edmonton Oilers in the mid-80's? Napier (84-86 with the Oilers) said no again. As did Paul Coffey, adamantly.

"Why do (the fly-by)? What's the point? Just celebrate with the guys on the ice, and go line up."

That sounds suspiciously like Jester talking to Maverick: "Get your butts above the hard deck and return to base immediately." Maybe I should revisit the 'Top Gun' theory.

At this point, I got a tip that the fly-by started in Moose Jaw in the mid-to-late 80's. Lorne Molleken – an assistant coach in his first season with Moose Jaw in '89 – remembers it. He thinks.

"What sticks out in my mind is moreso the players high-fiving the fans," said Molleken. The Moose Jaw Civic Centre – or the 'Crushed Can' – had unusually low glass beside the benches, says Molleken, and at some point players got the fans involved in goal celebrations.

"We came out of our end and there were piles of kids hanging over the glass," recalled Scott Reid, who played in Moose Jaw from 88-90. "No one else was doing it at the time that I can remember."

"We'd do our whole bench and fans from the bench to the hash mark," said Jerome Bechard, a Warrior from 85-90. "We probably skated 20 or 25 feet."

But not everyone shares that memory.

"I don't remember that," said Theo Fleury, who played four seasons in Moose Jaw. "You just didn't do that," said Fleury, laughing. "If you wanted to start a brawl, you did it."

Fleury's last season with the Warriors was 87/88, which means the earliest the fly-by was a thing in Moose Jaw is the following season, 88/89: the same time it was probably happening in Peterborough, and the same time it definitely sort-of happened by season's end in the Memorial Cup final.

Clear as mud.

Which brings us to the oddest and most intriguing theory of all: the fly-by was born on a French Canadian television drama about a fictional Quebec City hockey team.

'Lance et Compte' (which roughly translates as 'He shoots, he scores') aired from 1986 to 1989 in its first incarnation, and, sure enough, there's the fly-by in Season 1, Episode 5, albeit with just the one skater and not the full team.

"I remember that the director at the time wanted that shot because it was easy to shoot," says Rejean Tremblay, who wrote on the show. "One camera, five guys skating in front of the beach, you could make it in less than ten minutes."

Is it possible that the origin of the fly-by was the brainchild of a cost-conscious French Canadian director?

It seems unlikely, but really, it's about as likely as anything else.