Like any good hockey fan, I have unhealthy rooting interests in players beyond my own team. The majority of the time these players are not superstars, or even stars at all. George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks has a devoted legion on fans due to having one of the greatest mustaches of all time, and he scored on a break away last week! How can you not root for the guy? Or what about Daniel Tjarnqvist, who’s last name sounded like it was pronounced “Shark Fist” in NHL 2K7. If he was still playing, I’d cheer him on for sure. Prior to tonights game against the Oilers, I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite players to root for 80 games out of the year.
Fernando Pisani is your classic hometown hero makes the big time story, as he grew up in Edmonton and was drafted in the 8th round (195th overall) of the 1996 Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He entered the league in ’02-’03 and has been with the Oilers since. Up until the Oilers magical playoff run of ’05-’06, I had no idea who Fernando Pisani was. At the beginning of the playoffs Gabe and I made brackets like any self-respecting hockey junkies and I picked the Oilers to upset the Detroit Red Wings, and what do you know? It happened. At this point a lot of things I love converged: first round upsets, the Red Wings looking like fools, and being right on fake gambling (truth be told I only took the Oilers due to my hatred for the Red Wings). With the upset, Pisani had emerged as the forward with the hot hand, netting six goals in the first round series wit two goals coming in the series clinching game six.
The first sentence of that last paragraph is most likely nauseating for anyone who watched the ’05-’06 playoffs, as NBC and Versus beat the storyline to death with the continued stellar play of Pisani. Of course Gabe and I, being the brilliant humorists that we are, thought we were the only people crafty enough to come up with this joke. Clearly, we wern’t, but we didn’t find out about Knob Hockey until after the playoffs had ended, so for the duration of the Oilers playoff run I would get texts and voicemails like:
“ItsA ME! Fernando Pisani, da puck it a looka like a my momma’s meatballs, so I just ah gotta have it! I putta tha bread da basket, make a my momma proud, she say ‘Fernando you sucha a good boy out dere scorin’ all da goals!'”
Pisani tallied 14 goals and 4 assists in the 24 game Stanley Cup chase, scoring big goal after big goal; maybe none more memorable that his Stanley Cup Final game 5 short handed overtime winner to keep the Oilers alive. Ultimately, the Oilers would loose game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes, and Pisani would be rewarded with a four-year $10 million contract from the Oilers in the off-season.
The scoring touch from the playoffs did not follow through into the ’06-’07 season as Pisani totaled 14 goals and 14 assists on the season, and the Oilers failed to make the playoffs. By this point, my bandwagon fandom had dissipated and Pisani became somewhat of a comical icon for Gabe and I, due to that Italian voice just always being funny. Before the ’07-’08 season began, it was announced that Pisani had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. My inbox was promptly flooded (read: four e-mails). Why I still root for Pisani so hard is because I also have what they call the “Crohn’s / Colitis”. The disease does not just appear one day and there really is no cure or quick fix. It’s a pretty drawn out process and I am willing to bet Pisani was feeling like shit (get it? – G) while playing, going as far back as the ’05-’06 playoffs. I would be surprised if his point totals in ’06-’07 wern’t affected by colitis. He only missed 26 games last season due to colitis and still put up 13 goals and 9 assists. Fernando Pisani was nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy last year, but Jason Blake won with cancer and Chris Chelios came in second with advanced age-itis. Through five games this season, Pisani has a goal an assist and I think he still has it in him to hit 20 goals in a season.
This is the reason why hockey fans love their sport so much. The league has plenty of superstars that fill the highlight reels and are up on billboards, and as fans we adore them, but Sidney Crobsy and Alexander Ovechkin can’t take every shift, score every goal, or block every shot. For almost 16 minutes a night Fernando Pisani is out there busting his ass, playing the game he loves (and making a crap ton of money), and I’m willing to bet feeling like absolute shit before and after most games due to colitis. Pisani is just one of the many 2nd to 4th line type guys who are easy to root for. Ask any die-hard hockey fan who their favorite players are and I guarantee you a couple names will crop up that aren’t players on their favorite team or superstars. The reasons why they’re liked will vary, but in the end it all boils down to the fact that hockey rewards hard work and dedication. Its players like Fernando Pisani that make the league truly enjoyable for a fan.