Introducing the March Madness of hockey.

tournament bracketThe All-Puck tournament is here again.

Whoa, wait … did we say “again”? Well, yes. It’s been ongoing since 1979, but we’ve never shared it with the public. It cannot hide anymore amid today’s social media age.

So here it is: Sixty-four skaters battling in a game of posts. One-on-one competition, no goalie, check-up at the blue line, whoever hits the most posts through three 10-minute periods is determined the winner. It’s the fairest way to judge a one-on-one competition.

But some of these guys won’t make it to the competition. Some may break rules and become disqualified. Take Patrick Kane for example, who once punched a cab driver on the way to the rink and was automatically expelled from the 2008-09 finals against Alexander Ovechkin.

When it happened, the tournament took a two-year hiatus. Now, we’ve decided, well … let’s continue. Bad publicity is good publicity. If Kane loses his cool, so be it. He will be disqualified, but the tournament will carry on.

So obey the law: Break a rule, and you’re done. Plain and simple. Every minute counts – on and off the ice.

Today is round one of the Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky brackets; Friday is round one of the Bobby Orr and Maurice “Rocket” Richard brackets. (A full tournament schedule is listed at the end of the story.)

Round 1

GORDIE HOWE BRACKET

No. 1 Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh vs. No. 16 Jiri Hudler, Detroit

Breakdown: The referee throws a puck into the corner to begin the tournament, and Hudler, who never enjoys contact and once relinquished a scoring opportunity in fear of being hit, decides to quit.

Hudler, who is 5-foot-9, wouldn’t dare take a chance against the 6-3 Malkin, who would surely flatten him just like Calgary’s Scott Hannan did in November.

Winner: Malkin

No. 8 Patrick Sharp, Chicago vs. No. 9 Anze Kopitar, L.A. Kings

Breakdown: Kopitar, who often presents the look of an insomniac with those dark circles underneath his eyes, is nowhere to be found in the opening period.

The good thing is, he finally caught some shut-eye in the comfy, All Puck Tourney hotel.

Bad thing is, he earned a tournament disqualification.

Winner: Sharp

No. 5 Zach Parise, New Jersey vs. No. 12 Patrick Marleau, San Jose

Breakdown: Parise mocks Marleau as “gutless” in the third period. It’s a reference to Jeremy Roenick’s assertion last May during NBC’s post-game coverage of Detroit-San Jose Game 5.

Marleau becomes clearly rattled by another “gutless” label. He loses his focus, and his lead, and allows Parise to score four times in the third for a 6-3 triumph.

Winner: Parise

No. 4 Henrik Sedin, Vancouver vs. No. 13 Milan Lucic, Boston

Breakdown: Not a shooter and strictly a passer, Sedin is virtually lost in a competition that prohibits passing. And he needs his brother, Daniel. They’ve seemingly spent each waking second together since draft day in 1999.

Throughout this first-round contest, Henrik Sedin circles the zone and looks toward the bench, wondering when Daniel is going to arrive.

Henrik’s shifty skills and talent allow him to possess the puck for nearly three periods against the lanky Lucic. But finally, Lucic distracts Henrik in the final minute by yelling “HEY, LOOK: DANIEL’S HERE!”

Lucic steals the puck and rings a shot off the crossbar to win, 1-0.

Winner: Lucic

No. 3 Marian Gaborik, N.Y. Rangers vs. No. 14 Jamie Benn, Dallas

Breakdown: Before taking the ice, Gaborik asks All Puck about the “winning prize.” The All Puck official jokingly responds, “Prize? There’s nothing. But if you get upset by a No. 14 seed, you’ll be traded back to the Minnesota Wild.”

Gaborik is furious.

Remember: He turned down a 10-year, $80 million deal from Minnesota in 2008. He clearly didn’t wanna be there.

The joke gets underneath his skin, as he slumps onto the ice, disgusted with supposed the lack of respect.

Sure enough, Benn pulls off the stunning upset with a 5-1 triumph.

Winner: Benn

No. 6 Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay vs. No. 11 Logan Couture, San Jose

Breakdown: To play this first-round matchup in Buffalo proved to be a detriment for Couture, who grew up as a Buffalo Sabres fan and loved goalie Dominik Hasek.
Couture becomes nostalgic in the opening period, and daydreams frequently, knowing he’s on the same end of the ice where Brett Hull’s controversial, Cup-winning goal was scored in 1999.

St. Louis takes advantage and jumps ahead 3-0, en route to a 7-3 victory.

Winner: St. Louis

No. 7 Jarome Iginla, Calgary vs. No. 10 Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit

Breakdown: Zetterberg turns heads when he arrives at the pre-game press conference in an Amish-style outfit, a striped swimsuit resembling a Pirates of the Caribbean prisoner. (It’s the same outfit he wore on his wedding day in Sweden.)

Iginla laughs hysterically and cannot keep his focus through the first period, falling behind 6-0. He mounts a tenacious comeback, but loses, 6-5.

Winner: Zetterberg

No. 2 Erik Karlsson, Ottawa vs. No. 15 David Desharnais, Montreal

Breakdown: Karlsson pinned Desharnais against the boards on Wednesday night in a regular-season game. It’s a highlight that’s fitting for Top 10 Bloopers of the Year.

Karlsson used his rare skills again in the third period of his All Puck first-round battle.

This time, he pinned Desharnais for the final seven minutes of regulation to prevail, 1-0.

Winner: Karlsson.

WAYNE GRETZKY BRACKET

No. 1 Phil Kessel,Toronto vs. No. 16 Steve Ott, Dallas

Breakdown: Ott never arrives for the opening puck toss. He watches Dodge Ball in the tournament hotel room and realizes that Alan Tudyk is his long-lost brother.

Ott frantically calls home, realizing he’s related to a movie star. He pleads his case with tournament officials, referencing a “family circumstance.” It falls on deaf ears and he’s granted a disqualification.

Winner: Kessel

No. 8 Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit vs. No. 9 Tyler Seguin, Boston

Breakdown: Seguin, a rising star, bites off more than he can chew in a battle against super-human Datsyuk, who owns the best hands in the NHL. He dangles Seguin into hypnosis and wins 9-0.

Seguin, who played his junior hockey in the Detroit area, believes he’s still in junior hockey after the contest: He answers reporters’ questions in an OHL Plymouth Whalers cap, asking when the “NHL Draft” is coming.

Winner: Datsyuk

No. 5 Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit

Breakdown: Crosby barely qualified for the tournament, meeting the 8-game required minimum.

In the opening period, Lidstrom shields Crosby from the puck, thus delivering an accidental elbow to the head of Sid the Kid, which ignites a war of words between the rivals, whose history dates back to Crosby’s series-ending handshake snub in the 2009 finals.

In the third period of the tourney’s opener, Lidstrom rings a shot off the crossbar to tie the score. He then buries the game winner with 7.2 seconds left.

Afterward, Lidstrom turns to shake Crosby’s hand, but sees Sid gliding toward the benches.

Winner: Lidstrom

No. 4 Joe Thornton, San Jose vs. No. 13 Michael Ryder, Dallas

Breakdown: Ryder’s unbelievable year continues – in unbelievable fashion. He doesn’t even take the ice after hearing he “won by forfeit.”

Hey, it’s kind of tough to play hockey behind bars, which is where Thornton spent Thursday morning, courtesy of a bar fight.

Nine years have passed since Thornton “allegedly” assaulted two policemen in St. Thomas, Ontario, and there he was late Wednesday night, back to his old habits.

Maybe it wasn’t fair that this first-round matchup was played in St. Thomas.

Winner: Ryder by forfeit

No. 6 Taylor Hall, Edmonton vs. No. 11 Drew Doughty, L.A. Kings

Breakdown: History repeats itself in the second period. That’s when Doughty lays a thundering hit on Hall, which jars the puck loose and leads to the eventual game-winning goal. Doughty 1, Hall 0.

Winner: Doughty.

No. 3 Marian Hossa, Chicago vs. No. 14 Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver

Breakdown: Bieksa, who poses a macho-bravado attitude on the ice, lost all respect from the association of tough guys during a CBC interview in May. That’s when he referenced the lyrics of a song called “Shots” by the group LMFAO. It was corny, childish, and downright embarrassing.

Karma struck in full-force during this opening round, as Hossa held Bieksa to zero shots on goal and won by a 7-0 rout.

Winner: Hossa

No. 7 Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia vs. No. 10 Alexandre Burrows, Vancouver

Breakdown: It’s the battle of the biters: Burrows was caught on camera biting Boston’s Patrice Bergeron during the 2011 Cup Finals; Hartnell’s alleged bite occurred underneath a pile against Kris Letang, who left the pile with a deformed finger.

Anyway, the Hartnell-Burrows contest remained scoreless through regulation, overtime and double overtime. Finally, after 50 minutes of exhaustion (Remember: There’s no line changes), Hartnell calls a timeout to shave his shaggy beard. (Amazingly, he finished shaving in the 120-second time allowance.)

With the hair loss, Hartnell becomes more aerodynamic, skating circles around Burrows, and eventually rings a shot off the post for a 1-0 victory in triple overtime.

Afterward, Burrows takes a bite out of his stick in disgust.

Winner: Hartnell

No. 2 Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey vs. No. 15 Alexander Ovechkin, Washington

Breakdown: Previous tournaments have featured lengthy runs for Ovechkin. He downed Crosby in an epic seven-overtime battle of the 2008 All Puck finals. He then won his second consecutive title in ’09, thanks to Kane’s cabbie hay-maker.

But Ovechkin has been a disaster this season, and it continued prior to the game: He drove an Austin-Powers-like cart into a wall, injured himself and could not compete.

Winner: Kovalchuk by injury default

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

ROUND OF 64:

Today: 32 players cut down to 16 players

Friday: 32 players cut down to 16 players

ROUND OF 32:

Saturday: 16 players cut down to 8 players

Sunday: 16 players cut down to 8 players

SWEET 16:

Thursday, Mar. 22: 8 players cut down to 4 players

Friday, Mar. 23: 8 players cut down to 4 players

ELITE 8:

Saturday, Mar. 24: 4 players cut down to 2 players

Sunday, Mar. 25: 4 players cut down to 2 players

FINAL FOUR:

Saturday, Mar. 31: 4 players cut down to 2 players

CHAMPIONSHIP:

Monday, April 2: The final two cut down to the winner!

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