You may not have realized it if you don’t follow the NHL that closely (or if your team is no fun), but there’s a really awesome trend sweeping the league these days: player of the game trophies.
I’m not talking about official awards handed out by media or the league. I’m talking about handmade and/or found items that the players themselves designates as their POTG trophies, which are then handed out to the most deserving players after victories.
It’s hard to tell exactly who started this tradition, or when. However, the earliest ones we know about are from the 2008-09 season. Today a number of teams hand out goofy awards in the locker room, and in my humble (almost always correct) opinion, this just makes a sport already rich with character and tradition that much better.
Want to see the kinds of trophies I’m talking about? Perfect. Because that’s what we’re about to take do. Click the arrows to get started.
The Edmonton Oilers started this tradition just this season: the guy deemed their "player of the game" gets to wear a Canadian Armed Forces jacket. However, it's not just any Canadian Armed Forces jacket. This jacket belonged to a solider who was killed in Afghanistan and was sent to head coach Dallas Eakins by a friend. Eakins then decided to make it the team's POTG award to honor the values of discipline, courage, and teamwork.
Classy stuff. Of course, it's hardly an original idea (as we'll soon see), and you have to wonder what will happen to this precious jacket if the Oilers (who are just 5-15-2) don't turn things around and Eakins loses his job.
14. The Oilers' Fallen Soldier Jacket
I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Oilers copied the Bruins 2012-13 POTG trophy. The guy who introduced the Bruins trophy, Andrew Ference, is now the Oilers' captain.
That said, the Bruins' Army Rangers jacket doesn't have quite the backstory that the Oilers' jacket does. Ference brought it back with him after visiting the army base at Fort Benning, Georgia, but apparently it didn't belong to a fallen soldier. The team implemented it during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
13. The Bruins' Army Ranger Jacket
If you watched HBO's 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic back in 2011, then you're probably familiar with this one. Introduced in 2009, this shovel is given to the player that worked the hardest during a win. (Get it? Shovel = manual labor, which is hard work?) It's not as fun as a jacket because you can't wear it, and it's probably difficult to get through TSA checkpoints at the airport, but it's still pretty cool.
12. The Penguins' Victory Shovel
In 2012, the Phoenix Coyotes started handing out a sweet John Cena "spinner" WWE championship belt to the guy they voted was player of the game. That tradition was started by goalie Jason LaBarbera and d-man Keith Yandle. Last year, however, the desert dogs decided it was time to upgrade to something a bit more appropriate, so they ordered a custom Coyotes championship belt.
Obviously, it's pretty amazing. The only reason it doesn't rank higher on this list is that it's a blatant copycat of another NHL team's POTG trophy. (And yes, we'll be getting to that shortly.)
11. The Coyotes' Championship Belt
The Calgary Flames' POTG trophy is proof that hockey players aren't really deep thinkers.
You see, after their wins, the Flames give the game's hardest worker a Calgary Fire Department helmet that was presented to the team by CFD Chief Bruce Burrell. It's nice and all, and the team has decorated it with flames and logos and whatnot, but at the end of the day the FLAMES are honoring the POTG with the hat of a guy who EXTINGUISHES flamesfor a living.
See what I'm saying? Firefighters and flames are kind of natural enemies. So it's a little strange. It would be like Sharks giving out a fishing rod, or the Maple Leafs giving out a leaf blower.
10. The Flames' Firefighter
The Washington Capitals' hard hat, along with the Penguins shovel, is one of the first POTG awards to become famous. In 2008, then-team captain Chris Clark decided to award a hard hat to the guy deemed the teams best player in a victory. The tradition stuck, they started adding the numbers of the winners to the hat, and in 2011 it was immortalized in HBO's 24/7.
Incidentally, Clark explained at the time that he and his teammates on the Calgary Flames did something similar during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. Unfortunately, it seems nobody started documenting these things until the 24/7 show, because I cannot drub up any more info.
If you happen to know of POTG trophies prior to 2008—maybe your cousin played in the NHL, or your cousin's friend, et cetera—by all means let us know.
9. The Capitals' Hard Hat
Some time during the 2010-11 season, then-Sabres coach Lindy Ruff decided that something fun should be awarded to the player that best exemplified the values of "performance, dedication, or determination." Then he came across this sweet Miami Vice blazer somewhere (his own closet?) and a tradition was born. The first guy awarded the white jacket of honor was Steve Montador. However, it's Drew Stafford pictured wearing the jacket here.
8. The Sabres' White Jacket
Brad Richards bought this black fedora somewhere in Europe. Eventually, somehow, during the 2011-12 season, the team started awarding it to the player who had the most outstanding performance. And, of course, that player had to wear the hat during postgame interviews.
Wisely, the Rangers organization has decided to keep an archive of all the Broadway Hat recipients. So if you want to see all the guy who have worn it, you can do so right here.
These days, obviously, the hat is looking a little worse for wear. But of course, that only makes it more awesome.
7. The Rangers' Broadway Hat
At #5 we have one of the coolest, most moving POTG trophies handed out by any team.
In 2011, after former Nashville Predator Wade Belak (by all accounts a terrific guy) was found dead in Toronto, his former Nashville teammates decided to honor his memory by awarding their POTG a firefighter helmet as a trophy. However, it wasn't just any firefighter helmet. It was the helmet that Belak himself used for two years as a volunteer firefighter in Williamson County, Tennessee.
Is that a great way to honor the legacy of a good man, or what?
6. The Predators' Wade Belak Helmet
The Bruin's Army Ranger jacket wasn't the first POTG award instituted by Andrew Ference. In 2010-11, during the Bruins' run to their Stanley Cup championship, Ference purchased a vintage Bruins starter jacket he came across online and started giving it to the top guy after every playoff win.
Pretty soon, the thing was on the Stanley Cup itself.
5. The Bruins' Starter Jacket
Of course, after the vintage Starter jacket was such a hit in 2011, Ference knew he had to do something good for 2012, too, and this time he came up with something a little more symbolic. You see, that chain, there, has twenty links—one for every guy on the team. And, as an added bonus, the guy who wears it looks awesome.
Unfortunately, this trinket did not take the Bruins back to the Cup Finals that year.
4. The Bruin's Chain Necklace
Waaaay back in 2008, when the Buffalo Sabres were actually good and not the total embarrassment they are today, netminder Patrick Lalime introduced one of the most ridiculous POTG awards the NHL had ever known. Somewhere he came across this beautiful stuffed pigeon, so he added a couple of Buffalo super slugs to the wings and started giving it to whoever happened to make the biggest impact each night.
(Here's another anecdote of previous POTG awards about which we have no other info: Lalime expalined in 2008 that, in 2007, the Blackheads gave out a tomahawk to the POTG, which is what inspired him to start the pigeon tradition.)
3. The Sabres' Pigeon of the Game
Remember when I said the Phoenix Coyotes' POTG belt was a blatant ripoff or another team's POTG tradition? Well, I was talking about the Blackhawks. During their 2009-10 championship season, Brent Seabrook picked up a replica WWE belt that the team started using as their POTG trophy. Then, after they won the Cup in 2010, they decided they had to upgrade, so they had a custom Blackhawks belt made.
The thing has been with the team ever since. And of course, it made a very special appearance with goalie Corey Crawford at the victory celebration for their 2013 Stanley Cup championship.
2. The Blackhawks' Championship Belt
In a nutshell, my criteria for judging the various NHL POTG trophies was this: the harder it made me laugh, the higher the ranking. I made a few exceptions, of course—most notably with the Predators' moving tribute to Wade Belak—but this was the basic rule of thumb I gave myself.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that the St. Louis Blues' "Weenie of the Game" hat, awarded during the 2011-12 season, was the runaway winner.
How can you not laugh at the sight of a grown man (in this case, St. Louis captain David Backes) wearing a hat shaped like a hot dog?