In defense of Nail Yakupov

Cue the controversy: humility vs. enthusiastic individual passion.

On Thursday night, Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov scored a goal to send the game into overtime, where the Oilers eventually would beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The goal was nice, but it’s his celebration that’s getting the attention and mixed reviews. Watch for yourself.

Traditionalists think Yakupov should’ve just celebrated with his teammates, shining the spotlight on the team rather than himself.

But I’ll give Yakupov a pass, even though he celebrated as if he just scored a crucial goal in the Stanley Cup Finals when it was actually game three of the regular season. Here’s why:

  • The game-tying goal was scored with 4.7 seconds left in the third period, which is made even more significant by the fact that…
  • …about a minute earlier, Yakupov’s Oiler teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored an apparent game-tying goal. Without being able to consult the replay, the officials disallowed the goal due to goalie interference, causing the Oiler faithful to throw trash on the ice.
  • Yakupov’s goal was against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
  • And oh yeah, the Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season.
  • Yakupov is only 19, and it was his second career goal in only his third game.

Personally, I love his passion. After watching billionaires and millionaires harm the game during the lockout, it’s refreshing to see a guy who wears his love for the game on his sleeve.

I’m not an Edmonton Oilers fan; in fact, I’m a Minnesota Wild fan, so they’re divisional foes. Nevertheless, I can’t help but smile when I watch the video of Yakupov’s celebration. There’s a sheer, unbridled joy there that kids growing up playing hockey on the pond and at the rink feel. For a moment, he’s one of them again.

Now a word of caution: Let’s not make exuberant individual celebrations like this the norm. After all, hockey is a team game, and the logo/name on the front is far more important than the name on the back.

But let Yakupov have his fun in an exciting moment of his young, promising career. At any rate, there are bigger issues raised by the events of the final 1:05 of the game. For one, should Nugent-Hopkins’ non-goal have counted? And what about the clear prejudice (hate?) against Russian players that’s shown in all the tweets about the celebration saying that he’s just a stupid Russian?