The Oilers’ Nail Yakupov, the top pick in last year’s NHL draft, scored a dramatic game-tying goal against the Kings last night. The Oilers were literally five seconds from defeat when Yakupov snuck one past Jonathan Quick, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. (The Oilers eventually won in overtime.) This would be a highlight goal for any player, but a 19-year-old rookie trying desperately to prove he’s worth the huge investment his franchise has made in him? It’s especially big. So as you might imagine, Yakupov was excited… so excited that he did this:
And some people had a problem with it. Such people are spectacularly wrong. Why? let us count the ways: for one, as we said, Yakupov is a 19-year-old rookie. Yeah, there’s something to be said for acting like you’ve been there before when you make a big play, but that argument holds a lot less water considering Yakupov actually has not been there before. This was his third NHL regular-season game. This was his first goal in a big situation. If he’d scored in, say, the middle of the first period, he wouldn’t have celebrated like that. What makes us so sure? Well, his first goal did come in the middle of the first period on Tuesday, and indeed he did not celebrate like that. This won’t be a regular thing.
Something else to keep in mind: this wasn’t just any team – it was the Kings, the defending champs. Yeah, they’re winless through three games this year, but they just got done raising their championship banner the other night, and here this kid is, snatching a chance at victory from the jaws of defeat against them. And another thing – this was at home. That slide across the ice wasn’t rubbing it in the face of anyone – it was helping an already-joyous arena to new heights of ecstasy. And while such things can’t be empirically proven, here’s guessing it fired up his teammates as well (the Oilers scored the winning goal three minutes into the overtime period).
I wondered a bit if the defense of Yakupov’s celebration hadn’t gone a little overboard. Media reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive – what exactly are we all defending him from? But there were people who ripped him (and some of those people told him to go back to Russia while they were at it, which is even worse), and those people need to be told by as many others as possible how wrong they were. If you hated that celebration, you hated on not only the concept of fun in general, but the person who said this:
“The fans were crazy. It was probably my greatest feeling. We showed our heart. It was the best night in the world. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Yeah, screw that guy.