Like any bright new idea to ratchet excitement value and propel sports fans out of their seats, this one came from baseball.
Ryan Nicholas, senior director of content and game entertainment for the Vancouver Canucks and self-confessed baseball nut, wished to incorporate the spirit of the batter’s individual walk-up song into the Canucks’ in-game presentation. So he lobbed the idea at his bosses, and they bit.
For the third consecutive season, Vancouver cues up personalized goal songs—tunes hand-picked by each player—when one of the good guys scores.
“Goal songs are always contentious. Half the people are always mad at you,” Nicholas says. “In general, the response has been more positive than negative.”
Hockey and music are my twin passions. I’m all for the personalized goal song, as it gives the rink a tiny peek into the player’s personality and splashes unscripted colour on what is too often a paint-by-numbers arena soundtrack.
“Lose Yourself,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “The Hockey Song” are all safe and fine, but we need a few more musical curve balls and a little less “Jump Around.” (Or give us the Pete Rock remix once in a while.)
The audacity of a single player requesting a tune for his own goal—the result of a collaborative effort between six men playing their part—flies against the grain of hockey’s name-on-the-front culture. Like any heat that has emerged from Quincey Jones’ or Kanye West’s kitchen, goals are the product of a team effort. Why should one guy scoop all the royalties?
“Chelsea Dagger” is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild’s recent decision to blare Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” is a perfect geographical tribute. And I’m gradually finding it easier to associate “Let Me Clear My Throat” with Jack Eichel’s Buffalo Sabres instead of a couple regrettable 1:54 a.m. dance-floor misadventures at my college local.
But many NHL teams change their goal song every couple years or so, and when you consider the great canon of potential jock jams at our disposal, there has been too much copycatting between teams (see: Glitter, Gary).
“You look at baseball when they have their walk-up song, even basketball where they have music playing throughout the game, it’s so much more fun,” says Michael Del Zotto. The Canucks defenceman is a part-time DJ on the side. He says he’d like to mash up his own mix for when he lights the lamp at Rogers Arena.
“It adds another element to the game, keeps fans happy and ups the entertainment factor. Keep them entertained. I think it’s cool, but I’m only one voice.”
Plenty of other voices are singing in chorus with Del Zotto, however, when it comes to the idea. We already know which songs we’d choose for Nazem Kadri, Nikita Kucherov, and Evander Kane. Auston Matthews is a no-brainer.
Jordan Subban: “That’d be dope. I had 16 goals last year. I’d have 16 different Drake songs.”
Brent Burns: “I love it. This is entertainment. I grew up watching hockey and loving it. It’s the best game on earth, so I think for fans, anything they can do to make it more accessible and more entertaining, why not? It should be fun. It’s a business, but we might as well have fun doing it. The guys have good personalities and like to have fun.”
Max Pacioretty: “That’s cool. I love it. Whenever you go to a baseball game, you’re like, ‘I like that guy because of his walk-up song.’ But, y’know, hockey is the old-man sport. It’s all team driven, which I agree with too. It’s changing. Younger guys coming in, feeling more comfortable. It’s changing, in a good way.”
The personalized goal song is not the easiest idea to execute, however.
When Nicholas brought the idea to the dressing room, suggesting they select a song high in energy and low in cuss words, most of the North Americans loved the concept. Many of the Europeans were indifferent, and a few skaters “didn’t give a crap,” leaving Nicholas to pick for them.
Loui Eriksson got saddled with “Louie, Louie,” which we must only assume is an inside joke. Chris Tanev originally chose Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” then upgraded to DMX’s “Party (Up in Here),” a couple party anthems that cracked Nicholas up because “he’s such a quiet, unassuming guy.”
“Country music makes people the most upset,” says Nicholas, dropping general life wisdom.
Specifically, he’s referring to Brandon Sutter’s goal song choice, Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” a fiddle fest that has served as the target of many a mean tweet:
Part of the joy for Vancouver fans is discovering which tune is matched to their favourite player. Spoiler alert: Brendan Gaunce’s song, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” has gone unplayed for two seasons now. “We’re dying to play it,” Nicholas says, “but he’s only scored on the road.”
A practical hurdle exists. Because of garbage goals and deflections, the Canucks game-ops crew ran the risk of celebrating to the wrong beat, so this fall they’ve developed a hybrid solution. They initially play a general team goal song, Locksley’s “The Whip,” then follow with the scorer’s theme.
Also, with so many call-ups and rookies, Nicholas says he’s often scrambling to nail down a track for new guys.
“They asked me, and I said, ‘I dunno. I’m just hoping to score a goal. I don’t really care,’ ” says Brock Boeser, humble as a hockey player.
Nicholas went with Prince, a nod to Boeser’s Minnesota roots, and it’s stuck.
The Canucks have a track for everybody, but they’re not the only club making noise with custom songs.
“After my first few games I had put a few in the net and it was just the goal horn. Then I started hearing this ‘Go, Johnny, Go‘ song. Pretty cool to hear that. I had no idea they were going to do that,” says Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau. “It’s a cool thing and it always puts a smile on my face. It’s unique.”
Tampa Bay’s game maestro John Franzone began playing Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” for Tyler Johnson’s snipes. The forward-thinking Lightning crew also personalized goals for Ryan Callahan (LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali“), Steven Stamkos (MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This“), and Martin St. Louis (“Louie, Louie,” pre-Eriksson).
“My first year here was Stammer’s first year here, and they all called the kid the Hammer. So the message from the locker room was, ‘You gotta play “Hammertime” when he scores.’ It just stuck. I guarantee you, that’ll never change,” Franzone says. “If we can come up with 18 different goal songs, that’ll be phenomenal. It’s fun because the players notice it, too.”
Divisional rivalries be damned, Pacioretty says, “I love how in Tampa you hear ‘Stammertime’ when he scores. I trained with Marty in the summer for many years, and he told me, ‘Every time when they played ‘Louie, Louie’ when I scored, it was just the coolest thing ever.”
Montreal’s captain admits he’s spent time talking about and thinking about his own celebratory soundtrack.
“It¹s cool to have something tied into your name like ‘Stammer/Hammertime’ and ‘Louie, Louie.’ If I could find me something like that, shoot me an email. I’ll tell the people at the Bell Centre.”
Maybe Clarence Carter’s “Patches“?
“It would be cool, but I think it’s a different market where teams do that. I think the Habs are more traditional.”
Uh, yeah. Probably just a little.
But teams like Tampa and Vancouver are winning us over with their sweet serenades, singular voices cutting through the conservative manner of presenting hockey games.
The Maple Leafs pressed play on Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” after one Ben Smith strike a couple winters back, and people still remember it.
So, yes, we’re all for the trend growing like a conga line at an ’80s wedding reception. (That’s a simile only; please don’t ask me to join an actual conga line.)
Even a purist like Crosby has his ears open.
“It’s fun. I know that some teams do it. I wouldn’t necessarily be against it,” Crosby says.
“As long as you hear the song a lot, that’s all that matters.”