The Saskatchewan Shockers haven’t had a great season. They’ve been the worst team in the league, by a wide margin. It took the Shockers 15 games to register their first victory. And although the attendance numbers have remained surprisingly decent despite the team’s futility, owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz was looking for a promotion that would spur a sellout at Potash Arena.
He settled on a seemingly odd gimmick, declaring Sunday’s game against the Anchorage Igloos to be “Japanese Night.” There isn’t a significant Japanese population in Sakastchewan, nor was there an obvious hook for the promotion, but Doofenshmirtz promised that fans who showed up would see “something that’s never been done before at a hockey game.” The promotion was a success in one important respect, drawing the sellout crowd the owner sought.
After a pre-game performance by a traditional Japanese dance troupe and the performance of the Canadian and American national anthems by tenor Ken Nishikiori, Doofenshmirtz strode onto the ice and invited the audience to “Behold!” And then, from one end of the ice, from a billowing cloud of fog, emerged Sekitoriku, a sumo wrestler. The Shockers had signed him to a one-day contract to appear as the team’s goalie.
“It’s one of the great questions that has been debated since the beginning of hockey,” said Doofenshmirtz. “Why doesn’t a team just get a sumo wrestler as their goalie? Would anybody be able to get the puck past him? Well, today, you get to find out!”
According to a press release issued by the team, Sekitoriku had never played hockey or even attended a game before, although the team had given him a brief crash course in the game in the week before the stunt. The crowd was enthusiastic, at least initially, as Sekitoriku unsteadily skated across the ice and parked himself in the crease.
The visiting Igloos proceeded to prove that putting a sumo wrestler in goal, at least one not trained to play hockey, isn’t a good idea. Although Sekitoriku successfully blocked the first few shots that the Igloos aimed at him, the visitors quickly figured out that the sumo goalie was virtually immobile on skates and was unable to keep up with fakes and dekes. Thereafter, Anchorage scored virtually at will.
By the time the first period was over, the score stood at 6-0, and the fans were emitting sympathetic groans with each goal Sekitoriku allowed. Shockers coach Myron Beasley elected to send regular starting goalie Zeke Zagurski out to the crease for the start of the 2nd period, saving Sekitoriku any further embarrassment.
After the game, Igloos coach Sam Castor ripped Doofenshmirtz and the Shockers for a “ridiculous stunt that made a mockery of the game.” The coach added, “When we first heard that they were going to send a sumo out in the goal, my first impulse was to refuse to take the ice. But I’ll be damned if we were going to forfeit and surrender a game [in the standings] to Michigan. So we played, but it was a cheap and stupid stunt. The whole league should be ashamed of this. If Saskatchewan needs to resort to circus sideshows to sell tickets, they shouldn’t have a team.”
Some of the Shockers also expressed distaste at the move. LW Tadeusz Adamczyk said, “It’s kind of insulting, to tell you the truth. We all know that we’re not going to make the playoffs, but we’re all still busting our butts and trying. And then for ownership to pull a stunt like this… it’s not right. We’re all trying to keep our heads up and maintain our professional pride, but it’s hard when they go and embarrass us like this.”
Beasley expressed mixed feelings about the stunt. “I mean, I thought it was funny,” said the Shockers coach. “And I’ll admit, I’ve always wondered how a sumo would do in goal. Still, doing it in a regular-season game… probably not the way I would have gone.”
Doofenshmirtz defended the decision, saying, “If we hadn’t done this, who would be talking about us right now? I’d rather people calling us evil and terrible than ignoring us completely.”
For his part, Sekitoriku said that he enjoyed the experience. “It was fun,” said the sumo goalie through an interpreter. “I had a good time. I think I will have a lot of bruises tomorrow, though.”