What Would Gary Bettman Do? The NHL on Van Damme’s “Sudden Death”

Kevin: With Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals moving to Nashville tomorrow, the Pittsburgh Penguins are firmly in the driver’s seat after taking a 2-0 lead this week. Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup though, as Jean-Claude Van Damme proved in his 1995 “Die Hard” rip-off “Sudden Death.” No matter how this series ends up, at least the Penguins probably won’t have to worry about the late great Powers Boothe blowing up half their arena again and Van Damme impersonating their star goalie in the third period. If that somehow does happen though we are still sure Gary Bettman will come up with the most incompetent response possible.

(Originally posted Jan. 9, 2017)


The absolute pinnacle of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career.

Kevin: “I wonder who gets the Cup if I blow up the building before the game is over?” For a movie in which Jean-Claude Van Damme fights a woman in an oversized mascot costume to the death, the 1995 action film “Sudden Death” should be a lot more memorable. Taking place during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, the “Die Hard in a hockey arena” plot concerns a group of professional assassins who have taken the Vice President hostage in a luxury box and planted bombs throughout the building, which are set to go off unless the U.S. government gives in to their demands.

Apart from the aforementioned mascot duel and a later scene where Van Damme shoots lighter fluid at a bad guy with a squirt gun and that person is instantly engulfed in flames, there is not much to recommend the film, yet as a sports fan the hypothetical posed up top by villain Powers Boothe has bothered me more than I care to admit. Specifically, what would be the impact on the Stanley Cup race if the events of the movie actually occurred, and how would a real life NHL under current commissioner Gary Bettman respond?

The biggest issue of course is the fact that the winner of Game 7 is left undecided by the end of the film. Several minutes into the sudden death overtime period, Van Damme begins his assault on the Vice President’s luxury box, starting with dropping a bad guy onto the scoreboard above the rink and causing it to immediately explode and shower sparks onto the arena for several minutes (if real scoreboards did this I feel like there would be more liability issues involved). While the fans are screaming and bolting for the exits, Van Damme rescues his daughter, who then gets recaptured by Boothe just a couple of minutes later (after Boothe has for some reason donned a disguise that makes him look like Rip Taylor).


There he is Jean-Claude, get him!

Before he can escape the arena in a helicopter, Van Damme starts shooting randomly and manages to take out the pilot, causing the helicopter to plunge back down to earth backwards and explode on the ice. This also leads to one of the most hilariously drawn out bad guy deaths ever, as the number of times the movie cuts to Boothe yelling “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” goes from being comical to transcendent:

So what I’ve always wondered is what would be the NHL’s course of action if something like this happened in real life? With the Cup still undecided, would they replay the entire Game 7 at a later date? Perhaps, but where? Obviously the Pittsburgh arena is in no shape to hold a game anytime soon, due to a helicopter crashing onto the ice, several bombs going off, and the additional safety inspections needed to find all the bombs and ensure the infrastructure is sound. The Penguins organization would object to going back to Chicago, and even playing in a nearby arena would not give them the hometown advantage they had before.

And would the NHL even want to go through with a do-over? With all the death and terror caused during this event, it’s likely that there would be a lot of outcry over whether it would be insensitive to the victims to go forward. And while many fans might be too scared to show up, the ones that do would have to deal with monumental new security hassles before even entering the building.

Now perhaps they could just redo the sudden death period that got cut short, but herein lies the other rub. During the third and final period, Van Damme escapes from some pursuing bad guys into the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room, where he quickly decides that his best strategy is to spend several minutes suiting up into the gear and jersey of Penguins star goalie Brad Tolliver, who has left the game with a fever of 104. Van Damme comes out and joins the rest of the team on the bench, none of whom notice that even with the goalie mask on it is clearly a different person underneath, before being ordered by the coach back onto the ice.


Umm, I’m just the assistant trainer.

Once in front of the net, Van Damme is a little shaky at first, but he quickly puts his past experience as a semi-pro hockey goalie in Canada (phew, thank god that awkwardly inserted bit of backstory paid off!) to use and manages to stop a goal that would have likely put Chicago’s lead out of reach. Van Damme then gets himself taken out of the game after punching out an opposing player (note that the bad guys who have been looking for him see him from across the arena and instantly recognize that he’s not Tolliver, unlike the teammates standing right next to him), while his goal-killing save allows the real-life Luc Robitaille to tie up the game in the final seconds and send it to: “SUDDEN DEATH!”

So forget about redoing Game 7, does the fact that the Penguins, knowingly or not, had an obviously ineligible player on the ice, and one who had a clear impact on the end of the game, make them subject to forfeit? Van Damme may be a hero for now, but could he become a pariah in Pittsburgh for saving a few lives while costing the city the championship? And most importantly for the league, how would Gary Bettman handle this kind of PR nightmare in real life? While I am not much of a hockey fan myself, I figured I’d reach out to two people who know a lot more about the sport – CJ and friend-of-the-site Mike S. – to offer their opinions:


Sean Avery, at it again.

CJ: I saw the mention of Robitaille and went, “Did he even play for the Pens?” And he did, for the one season when they filmed this movie. Talk about an all-time terribly placed cameo that will confuse the hell out of hockey fans.

As for what Bettman would do, it’s the following and I’m 100% serious: He would hold a new Game 7 in a classic hockey hotbed like South Florida, New Mexico, or Biloxi. Afterwards he would announce it was a rousing success and that there will be six outdoor games scheduled for the Florida Panhandle. Again, I’m not kidding (all hockey fans are sadly nodding in agreement while reading this).

 Mike S.: It appears that CJ may be a more current NHL expert than me (last time I watched NHL games with any regularity was a few years after “Sudden Death” premiered at the box office),  so I’ll defer to his evaluation on Bettman’s response. I do remember enough about Bettman to know that his decisions for the league are generally that nonsensical and not respected by the serious NHL fan (wasn’t Fox’s  glow puck and comet trail slapshot graphic done under his tenure as commissioner?).

Unrelated note: The one thing that “Sudden Death” does seem to get right about the NHL is having it be the Vice President, not the actual President, in attendance at the red-headed stepchild of American sports. The NHL has always gotten a more Quayle/Biden level of national attention.

Personal question CJ: Do you like Doc Emrick as the voice of the NHL? Personally, I think his nasally tone is one of the reasons I quit watching pro hockey; I’m more a Gary Thorne/Bill Clement man myself.

CJ: Mike I thought I was the only one. I hate Doc. He ruins games for me. It’s not just his nasally drone, but he’s TOO excited and it causes him to make a lot of mistakes, like calling player names. Why everyone loves him or gives him a pass I do not know. I very much like Gary Thorne for hockey and baseball. Does a solid professional job calling games, good voice, and knows how and when to crack the occasional joke. The best guys in the States are usually radio guys.


Doc Emrick, a worse villain than anyone in this movie.

Kevin: Before we conclude what’s turned into a hatefest against poor Doc Emrick, a quick addendum to the scene in which Van Damme fights the woman in the Penguins mascot costume. That scene was in the original script back when it was envisioned as an action comedy, but the fact that Van Damme and the filmmakers completely re-wrote it into a more “serious” film yet still kept that idea tells you everything you need to know about the sensibility behind “Sudden Death.”


Once again, the “Muscles from Brussels” being easily overpowered by a woman in a mascot costume.

7 thoughts on “What Would Gary Bettman Do? The NHL on Van Damme’s “Sudden Death”

  1. Three thoughts:
    1) That is the slowest falling helicopter EVER. Had it literally been made of feathers, it still would have fallen faster. 2) Easily one of my favorite movie tropes: pilot/driver gets shot and killed, but somehow still manages to fly/steer into a crash. I would love to see a Mythbusters where the guys test this by shooting a bunch of chauffeurs (“Wow. It turns out they really *do* stomp down on the gas pedal in death!”). 3) I think they could have finished the game right there and just played around the fragments of the crash. A few passes with the Zamboni and most of the ice is good as new.

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