It also saw start of a new season that signaled a return to a new kind of normalcy in the world of sports as the pandemic remains a concern.
Through it all, hockey was played. And no matter what the conditions, there were still things that made us smile, made us laugh and even got us feeling a little emotional.
As we close out 2021, our Short Shifts team has compiled, in no particular order, the 10 best moments from this past year.
Merzlikins wears Kivlenieks’ number
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks died tragically while saving bystanders in a fireworks accident on July 4. But teammate Elvis Merzlikins made sure his jersey number was at the team’s opening game.
Merzlikins, who delivered a touching eulogy for Kivlenieks and would give his newborn son Knox the middle name Matiss, also took his teammate and Latvian countryman out to the ice with him, and not just on his mask.
The veteran goalie usually wears No. 90. But on Oct.14, he chose to wear 80. The Blue Jackets also raised a No. 80 banner to the rafters in honor of Kivlenieks.
“It was tough. It was really tough. It’s tough now,” Merzlikins said after the game. “Even my wife before I left the house said ‘dont (mess) it up… It was a big, big responsibility. I didn’t want to embarrass the number.”
Devils light up Internet with “Jersey” jersey
Sometimes you just never know what will take over social media on a given day. File the New Jersey Devils first-ever third jersey under that.
With the help of Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, the Devils unveiled some sharp new black threads with “Jersey” in script lettering across the front.
Fans ran with it. Label enthusiasts everywhere went wild for it.
At the start of 2021, the Seattle Kraken were still only a team in theory.
But they hadn’t played an NHL game or filled out a roster.
But after an eventful Expansion Draft that featured some of the city’s biggest sports stars, a giant octopus and flying fish (it is Seattle after all), the Kraken are now a card-carrying member of the League.
Jimmy Hayes remembered
To some, he was “Hayesy.” To others, he was “Broadway.” But to many NHL players, he is missed.
Jimmy Hayes died in August at age 31. He played seven seasons with four teams: the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. Hayes’ last season was 2017-18 with the Devils.
On Oct. 15, to honor the late forward, the Devils wore No. 10 jerseys with “Broadway,” Hayes’ nickname, written across the nameplate. They also wore special helmet decals. The Blackhawks, who were playing the Devils at Prudential Center, wore jerseys with Hayes’ No. 39, which he wore for his NHL debut and two seasons in Chicago, and “Hayesy” on the back.
Members of the Philadelphia Flyers, including Jimmy’s brother Kevin, honored Jimmy Hayes with writing on their skates. Players had skates with “JRH” and a shamrock printed on one skate and “Be Like Jimmy” with a heart on the other.
Win or lose, Jimmy is a part of these teams forever.
Canucks get special Diwali jerseys
The Vancouver Canucks have been celebrating Diwali for a few years but went even bigger and bolder this year with the addition of special themed warm-up jerseys for the occasion. The bright yellow jerseys and colorful logos were the work of local artist and activist Jag Nagra.
Once the designs began circling online, they were a huge hit, attracting the attention of actor Seth Rogen, who took to Twitter to ask for one of his own, and pop star Nick Jonas, who tweeted his love for the jerseys.
Backstrom, Ovechkins star in ad
It may be his 17th NHL season, but Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is still doing what he always does: scoring an absurd amount of goals and starring in very funny commercials.
Ovechkin’s latest spot, for MassMutual Insurance, surfaced in October. This time his co-stars are his wife, Nastya, and longtime teammate Nickals Backstrom.
If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s a guaranteed laugh.
Lightning feast like champions
The Stanley Cup has seen its fair share of special foods in its bowl, but theTampa Bay Lightning collectively threw calorie-counting to the wind and filled their post-postseason run with oneindulgent dish after another. Multiple varieties of poutine, goulash, Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, ketchup chips, caviar, maple taffy and lobsters were just some of the foods Lightning players ate out of the storied trophy.
But who could blame them? That culinary showcase was absolutely befitting a second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship.
Fleury receives heartwarming letter from daughter
Even after a loss, Marc-Andre Fleury is a winner in his family’s eyes.
On June 3, the Vegas Golden Knights lost to the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in overtime and fell behind 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Second Round Series. That night, Fleury, the then-Vegas Golden Knights goalie, came home to an encouraging message from his 5-year-old daughter Scarlett.
“Last nite you made me happy Dad,” Fleury’s middle child wrote. “You stop pucks and that made me proud Dad. I love you! Keep stoping ol the pucks. In my hart, you are the best goly.”
On the bottom of the paper, Scarlett drew her Fleury in the goal, and the photo shows nothing less than impeccable butterfly form.
Penguins bench assists on Crosby’s goal
You’ve undoubtedly seen many remarkable assists, but none quite like this with the reaction to match. In April, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby kicked it into high gear to join an offensive rush but he’d given his stick to teammate Brian Doumoulin during the shift.
Enter associate head equipment manager, Jon Taglianetti seamlessly providing a new stickfrom the bench to a streaking Crosby, who went onto score a few seconds later.
The players on the bench went crazy and Crosby had no choice to give credit where it was due. He had a big smile and point at Taglianetti for the big time assist.
Gretzky shoots on Barkley
You know the saying, “You miss 100% of the shots you try to save against Wayne Gretzky.”
If you don’t, Charles Barkley does.
The NBA on TNT analyst joined the NHL on TNT to go head-to-head with Wayne Gretzky on Oct. 13. Barkley bravely stepped in goal and Gretzky took five shots against him.
Barkley saved one (kind of), upping his all-time save percentage to .200.
It was greatness-against-greatness, but in a hockey matchup, the Great One prevailed.