It’s a little before 7 PM on Christmas Day in Toronto, and as such, I’m doing what any normal person would do. By that, I mean I’m reading random message boards and watching old hockey videos on YouTube. More specifically, I was scrolling through a Reddit thread about hockey players that are money on breakaways (which was part interesting, part people who don’t know the psychological difference between a breakaway and a shootout attempt, and part obnoxious people responding “WHAT ABOUT DATSYUK” to any other popular opinion), and within, someone linked to a video of Owen Nolan’s famous goal in the 1997 All-Star Game.
You all know the goal. Nolan, en route to his first 30 goal season with the San Jose Sharks, was looking to give his hometown fans a show in an All-Star Game that they were hosting for the first time. With two goals already in his pocket and two minutes remaining, Nolan pounced on a puck left behind by Mark Messier, streaked in on Dominik Hasek, pointed to the top left corner, and placed the puck there to get the Hat Trick.
The most confident move in All-Star History. The best local-hero moment in All-Star History. But this user posted Nolan’s extended highlights from that night, which made me find out something that I didn’t quite notice as a five-year-old when this game happened.
Nolan scores two goals in the final two minutes of the second period, setting him up for the tally. But it was far from an easy road for the then 25-year-old after that. Once Hasek stepped in goal to start the third period, that net became a lot smaller for the entire Western Conference roster, but especially the man who wanted his hat trick.
Twenty seconds into the third, Nolan gets a breakaway, and is stopped by Hasek. Eleven minutes later, Theoren Fleury and Tony Amonte lead a 3-on-1 rush towards Hasek that culminates in a high-danger chance for Nolan, which Hasek stops. Two minutes later, Darian Hatcher loses track of the puck, Nolan goes on a break that’s not dissimilar from the famous one, and Hasek stops him again with a pad stack. Less than a minute after that, Brett Hull finds Nolan just above the crease, but Hasek denies him again.
So, in the span of fifteen and a half minutes, there are no less than four high-danger, lethal scoring opportunities for Nolan in front of Hasek, none of which he was able to convert. Finally, two minutes after that fourth attempt, he gets the called shot attempt and buries it, making…
Next to no difference in the game, because the West are still down by four goals with two minutes to go. The goal has no impact on the game.
So here’s my thought: I’m not sure if Nolan truly calls this shot, or if Hasek gives it to him. At this point, the game is in the bag, the Dominator has had his moments of, well, dominance, and the Western Conference team is basically doing everything they can to get Nolan that goal, just for the sake of the crowd. Hasek has his glove up and ready until just before Nolan’s release, suddenly dropping it low when it’s been called high.
It’s a bit conspiratory, but when you remember the meaninglessness of the game, the massive gap in the scoreline, and especially once you discover that Nolan has had that moment on his stick four times in the eighteen minutes prior, you wonder if one of the best moments of a hockey generation was less a matter of confidence in the moment and more a matter of a legend deciding to be the parent who lets their kid score on them. I doubt we’d ever find out, and the highlights will always look baller as hell no matter what, but there’s a good hockey conspiracy here for anyone who wants to run with it.