It is a simple enough vessel. It sits calmly atop the net so goalies don’t have to skate to the bench for a drink (some have been known to lose 10 pounds of water weight during a game so the real estate is key).
On the bench itself, water bottles are lined up harmlessly. But used in the wrong way, a water bottle can get a coach suspended, cost a player thousands of dollars in fines for misuse, and turn the tide of a series – not to mention raise the ire of its victim.
Perhaps it’s because hockey has perfected the role of the "shift disturber," a player whose sole purpose on the ice — or off it, as it may be — is to irritate players on the other team and get them off their game.
The current round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has seen its share of water bottle abuse. On Saturday in Game 5 vs. Boston, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who has been the best player in the series, said he was sprayed in the face with a water bottle twice in the final minutes as he skated past the Boston bench with his team desperately trying to tie the game.
Video evidence showed the cackling culprit of one of the alleged sprays was none other than Shawn Thornton, the same player who earlier this year was suspended for 15 games for sucker-punching Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik. Thornton was fined the maximum allowed under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, $2,820.52.
"I’m sorry that this silly incident kind of overshadowed how my teammates played and the great win and how good this series has been," Thornton said, according to the Boston Globe. "I think that there’s definitely more important things that we could be focusing on. I got caught up in the moment, probably shouldn’t have done that."
Subban told reporters that "I couldn’t even see for a minute and a half. I was pretty upset about that, but that is part of the game."
Part of the game? Really?
They say the NHL is a copycat league but clearly incidents of water bottle spraying are contagious. One day after the Thornton-Subban incident, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist partook in Game 6 of his series with Pittsburgh. As the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby was engaged in a scrum after the whistle, Lundqvist took advantage of the moment to perform a drive-by squirt on Crosby. As a result, the New York netminder was fined $5,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Anaheim’s Corey Perry might have inspired the hijinks when in Game 1 of the Ducks’ series with Los Angeles, he shot some water inside of the glove of the Kings’ Jeff Carter. Carter, standing near Perry, had removed his gloves and placed them on top of the boards during a timeout when Perry took advantage. Anything to get under the opponent’s skin. Or, in this case, glove.
So far in terms of their impact, these incidents have had little effect on the games or the series themselves. However, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was hopeful his team could use the act for added drive.
"A lack of respect can sometimes serve as motivation," Therrien told reporters on Monday.
That is exactly what happened in the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinals when Montreal, the eighth seed, faced the Washington Capitals, which had won the Presidents’ Trophy that year for the NHL’s top regular season record. Washington built a 3-1 series lead and at one point the arm of Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak appeared to quiver as he took a drink from a water bottle.
Capitals star Alex Ovechkin openly mocked Halak, infuriating the goalie.
"I watched the replay when (Eric Fehr) scored the goal and his arm was shaking when he (drank) water," Alex Ovechkin was quoted as saying in The Washington Post after Game 2. "So he’s nervous. He knows the pressure on him and it’s a good sign for us."
Montreal had allowed 17 goals in Games 2, 3 and 4 but Halak slammed the door, yielding one goal apiece in the final three games as the Canadiens scored the upset against the regular season’s highest-scoring team.
"You know what? He can say what he wants," Halak said after winning Game 5. "Maybe it shows on a video but I think if you squeeze the bottle, your hand’s going shake. That’s what I think. So I don’t think I was nervous, even tonight. Same thing I did tonight, I was squeezing the bottle the same way."
The year before, Washington was on the receiving end of the positive water bottle mojo. Then-New York Rangers coach John Tortorella got in a confrontation with a fan and his infamous temper got the best of him. He threw a water bottle into the stands before one of his assistants restrained him. He was suspended for Game 6 and the Rangers lost. They also lost Game 7.
"It’s a bad mistake by me," said Tortorella in what has seemingly become a refrain for him (he was suspended for 15 days this season as Vancouver’s coach after he tried to confront Calgary coach Bob Hartley in the tunnel as their teams walked to the locker rooms at intermission — he has since been fired). "I regret it. I put the New York Rangers organization in an embarrassing situation. I’m embarrassed by it. I am an intense person, which is a positive, but it also turns into a negative sometimes."
Apparently, NHLers aren’t the only ones who can’t resist the impulse to goof around with water bottles. In March, Nashville Predators’ prospect Brendan Leipsic, playing for the Portland Winterhawks, earned a two-minute penalty for furtively taking a sip from the opposing goalie’s water bottle. A video of the act went viral.
On Monday night, Montreal defeated Boston 4-1 to force a Game 7. If Subban and the Habs complete the comeback at TD Garden, could Thornton’s antics in Game 5 be pointed to as a turning point in the series?
The midpoint of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has yet to arrive. More incidents could be on the way. For whatever reason, those water bottles are simply too tempting.
But players use them for mischief at their own risk.