In 2006-07, Minnesotans have gone wild in the shootout. Mikko Koivu has emerged as the league's game ending leader, scoring a league high 6 goals on 10 shots so far. Teammate Petteri Nummelin has also emerged as an expert, scoring 4 times in as many opportunities. His goals tend to be of the artistic variety, pleasing many fans.
In the 2005-06 it was the Dallas Stars who mastered the shootout, led by defenseman Sergei Zubov and especially Jussi Jokinen, who at the time of this writing has gone 14 for 18 in shootout competition (plus a successful regulation penalty shot). If Nummelin scores artistic goals, Jokinen scores spectacular with a touch of flair. Watching Jussi Jokinen in the shootout has become an event as much as an Afinigenovian rush, an Ovechkin break or a Phaneuf hit..
Jokinen more than any other player has been tagged as hockey's first "shootout specialist." While the shootout is new to the NHL as of 2005, penalty shots certainly are not.
According to prolific hockey author Brian McFarlane, one of the earliest NHL penalty shot experts was Jean Pusie. However he certainly was not chosen for his scoring ability, but more for his unbelievable antics.
In his Original Six series book "The Bruins," McFarlane described the Pusie penalty shot.
"He made each shot an event. First, he would stand at center ice and comb his thick hair. Then he would take a lengthy windup, skate slowly in on the waiting goaltender, stop in front of the nervous chap, take off a glove, and shake his hand. It was if to say, 'My poor fren'. I am ver' sorry I must now make you look embarras' in front of all these people."While there is no record on just how many penalty shots Pusie took (in those days the coach could choose any player to take a penalty shot), it likely wasn't many, in the NHL at least. Pusie did take an unsuccessful shot against Toronto's George Hainsworth on November 19, 1935, but otherwise the 6'0" 210lb defenseman only played in 61 NHL games and scored only a single goal. While he did get his name on the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1931, Pusie was a well travelled veteran of the minor league circuit better known for his side-show eccentricities than his hockey ability.
Naturally, the crowd would be in an uproar. Hometown fans serenaded Pusie with a huge cheer, while in foreign rinks he'd hear deafening boos.
Another whirlwind windup would follow and this time Pusie would take his shot. If he missed and his detractors booed, he was known to circle the ice, find an opening, and leap in among the spectators, looking for those who dared to critique his penalty shot performance.
A sloppy skater who "clowned and brawled his way onto and off 17 teams, sometimes more than once, over the course of his 17-year pro career." He could barely carry the puck without keeping his eye one it, but for those who saw him he was simply unforgettable.
One story has a fan throwing an orange at him. Pusie responded by peeling the orange and eating it on the ice.
Another story has him scoring a goal on a shot that was so hard that the goalie's glove ended up discarded in the net. Pusie dove into the net and, with a showman's bow, presented the glove back to the rightful party.
The Pusie legend grew Christmas night, 1936. His unnamed opponent had enough and exited the ice, ran down the corridor, through the main lobby and out the front entrance and across North Main Street to the North Burial Ground. Pusie followed in hot pursuit, but was the only one to return.
Now if all of these antics sound a little too much like WWE than hockey, you're certainly not wrong. Pusie doubled as a professional wrestler. He was inducted into the Slam! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame. Despite his size and showmanship, Pusie never amounted to much inside the squared circle either. Slam! describes him as "never more than a journeyman wrestler, a curtain-jerker in Montreal and Toronto. About his biggest accomplishment in the ring was getting a cauliflower ear."
Besides professional wrestling, Pusie was also an occasional professional boxer, a semi-pro baseball player and a lacrosse player.
But mostly, he was a showman.