Loved. Hated. Misunderstood. But always mindful of the stairs.
With Jiri Hudler returning tomorrow night to Joe Louis Arena for the first time as a member of the Calgary Flames, we look back on some of the treasures that his tenure in Detroit gave us. On any old day you could go to your local Internet and search "Jiri + Hudler", and boy, you would come across some crazy stuff. But today I have attempted to condense every great Hudler Internet thing into one post for us all to enjoy. So, enjoy! Except those of you who hated him. You can go pee on hospital children or whatever it is you do.
Jiri holds the distinction of being the first draft pick of the post-Scotty Bowman era, selected 58th overall in 2002. A year later, he set sail across the Atlantic to experience a much better and freedom-ier life in the USA. Our humble home was never the same.
Although he spent the majority of his first three years in the AHL, Jiri did manage some playing time here and there with the big club. On December 10th, 2003 in Buffalo, he scored his first career NHL goal. Sadly I could not locate any video of this great milestone, but if I had to guess, I'd assume that the reaction looked something like this:
Jiri went on to tear up the AHL as a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins. He still holds the Griffs' single-season record for assists (60), proving that he is a giver and a caring nurturer who <3 loves <3 you. During that 2005-06 season he also racked up 36 goals and a monster bar tab at Outback Steakhouse. It fueled his liver as well as the rest of the team to a 115 point season and an appearance in the conference finals -- a feat that the Griffs have not been able to duplicate since. Coincidence? I don't know I'm not a fucking detective, go away.
The 2006-07 NHL season was awesome because it was the first full big league season of Jiri Hudler's storied career. He was the Red Wings Rookie of the Year with 15 goals and 25 points despite limited ice time. His +16 rating and 4 game-winning goals still mark career highs for him. In the playoffs, however, he only played 6 games and failed to register a goal. I'm going by memory here, but I think it was during this time that fellow Czech Robert Lang (who had taken Jiri under his wing and even into his home ) tied him up and hid him in his basement behind the washing machine because Jiri had sex with Lang's wife. Now, I could be mistaken and even libelous with that statement so don't go telling your friends. I'm just trying to remember the details and some of them are a bit fuzzy. But Jiri definitely had sexual intercourse with Robert Lang's wife. That did happen.
By the time 2008 rolled around, Jiri was becoming somewhat of a cult hero among those of us who actually recognize and appreciate greatness. As blogs became more and more popular, Jiri was dubbed with many nicknames. "Oompa Loompa" ... "Scuttles" ... "Whoodler" ... "STD guy" ... "oh my god where did my daughter go" ... "Jerry" ... the list goes on, probably. 2008 was cool of course because the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and Hudler played a big role in a crucial Game 4 victory. This is still and will probably always be the biggest goal of his career:
The parade that followed the 2008 Stanley Cup triumph is one of my favorite Red Wings memories. A slightly inebriated Hudler stole the show when he took the stage with Dan Cleary, and his childlike glee could not be contained. He was one with the audience. You're supposed to have fun and be unbearably hot at parades and from the 0:33 mark of this clip, you can tell that Jiri had at least one of those down pat:
Jiri experienced his best year as a pro in 2008-09, tallying a career-high 57 points on a loaded Red Wings team. (This feels like it was 15 years ago, but it wasn't. No, I know.) He played in every single game that year between the regular season and playoffs as the Wings fell just short of back-to-back championships. This would mark the end of Jiri's first stint with the Red Wings, as he very understandably took roughly twice as much money to go play closer to home in the KHL. It was at this point that certain factions of the Wing-o-sphere took it upon their righteous selves to eviscerate poor Jiri and deem him a pariah that raped our pets and such. "Traitor!" they would yell from hilltops and meadows -- wherever good open space for yelling could occur, basically. "He doesn't back-check! He's slow! He doesn't try hard all of the time and that means he's lazy!!!" These are the common "haterbombs" (that's what I call them, I created that) attached to the Hudler legacy. You know what? Good for you. You believe that all hockey players should be a certain way and that is your absolute USA-given right. He's certainly a polarizing type of player.
So why do I like him so much? He's fun. He's fun as hell, man. You may like the idea of a team full of Darren Helms, but I'm just not that way. I need a Jiri or two mixed in there. I like the unexpected entertainment that it provides. Did it looked like Jiri worked his tail off every minute of every game? Of course not. But who am I to criticize him for that? I'm writing this while I'm supposed to be working for Christ's sake.
So I, more than most, was beyond ecstatic when Jiri came back to Detroit for the 2010-11 season. So ecstatic that I was compelled to make this thing:
Fast fact: I won an Academy Award for that film.
Perhaps the most indelible mark that Jiri left on us during his time in Detroit was his appearance in one particular commercial. Because of it, Johan Franzen (playing the role of "Buddy") will never forget to sweep the stairs again. And we will never forget you, Jiri.