April 8, 2022 | SPORTS | By Quinn Guevara | Illustration by Sierra Romero
The National Hockey League regular season has been a roller-coaster ride for all of its franchises this year. Dramatic changes to rosters have made waves across the NHL landscape, notably with the young guns. Rookies like Cole Caufield, Michael Bunting, Calder Trophy, and rookie of the year favorite, Moritz Seider, have all made huge impacts for their respective teams at young ages. No rookie, however, has been as sensational and as good for the future of the sport of hockey as Trevor Zegras.
Zegras, center for the Anaheim Ducks, has had a dreamlike rookie season in the NHL. He went gone viral for his incredible plays behind the net, including a “lacrosse” goal and assist, as well as an unbelievable blind-folded shot in the Breakaway Challenge during this years’ NHL All-Star weekend.
On Friday, April 1, Zegras hit yet another lacrosse goal, but this time he had to shoot around his teammate. As he approached the net, Zegras first tried a shot between the legs on the left side of Arizona Coyotes’ goalie Josef Korenar, which was blocked. Zegras then retrieved his own rebound and pushed down behind the net, where he then picked up the puck onto the blade of his stick.
He then began to skate to the right side of the net, where he found Korenar out of position, and maneuvered around teammate Sonny Milano, who was positioned on the right pipe of the net. Zegras then shot the puck off his stick and into the basically empty net. The terrific goal sent the NHL universe into a frenzy yet again.
Zegras’ on-ice highlight reel plays have been amazing at further popularizing the sport of hockey. However, some older personalities in the hockey universe have had more of a negative reaction to his play.
This past December, former NHL head coach and current ESPN analyst John Tortorella had some controversial opinions on Zegras’ playing style, as well as that of other younger players of the league. Live on air on ESPN, Tortorella said, “I’m not trying to be difficult about it. It’s fun to watch, it’s really cool but I just think our game has gone so far away from what the game should be. A hard game, an honest game. It’s almost gotten to showman.”
This quote waved through the NHL world. In a season where there are a lot of great young players with a ton of creativity, so much so that they are willing to attempt crazy plays such as a lacrosse goal, Tortorella’s words were taken with negativity. The controversy created a sort of rift between the hard, brutal old way of hockey and a more creative, fluid style.
In a statement a few days after the incident, Tortorella replied by saying, “I read the article and saw what this kid was going through with the questions being asked and my heart dropped.” He formally apologized to Zegras for the way he gave his opinion on the situation.
Later in the game against the Arizona Coyotes there was an incident in response to the Zegras’ lacrosse goal. As Zegras crashed the net in an attempt to slide the puck over the blue line, Arizona’s Jay Beagle cross-checked Zegras in the back. Anaheim’s Troy Terry came over to defend his teammate, and Beagle repeatedly punched him, even when he was defenseless.
Some older fans believed that Zegras should have retaliated after Beagle cross-checked him, as it was a way of physically ‘answering of the bell,’ or retaliating when you get hit in a dirty way. Younger fans and players, including Zegras, believe that it has no place in the sport.
In a press conference after the game, Zegras said, “I think it’s embarrassing, I think it’s a bad look for the league, and for the player that did it, I think it’s a bad look and he should be fucking punished.”
With a new wave of talented young players comes a new wave of hockey. Younger players want to steer the game away from the ‘answering of the bell’ and towards playing by the rules. The old fans, players, and coaches might not agree with this, but that is where younger players see the game headed.
This league is starting to turn the page from veteran players like Alex Ovechkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Zdeno Chara towards young players like Trevor Zegras, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews.