Sixty-five years after Babe Ruth called his shot and more than a decade before Rex Ryan started making guarantees, Owen Nolan of the San Jose Sharks had his moment as the most confident man on the planet at the 47th annual NHL All-Star Game.
On Jan. 18, 1997, in San Jose, Nolan became the first known NHL player to call his shot, capping off one of the most famous hat tricks in NHL history.
Doing it in front of the home crowd in San Jose only added another level of theatrical flair.
Despite his historic performance, Nolan didn't walk away with the game's MVP award.
Consider the backstory: With 2:32 left in the second period, Dale Hawerchuk of the Flyers gave the East a commanding 10-4 lead. By this point in the contest, Montreal's Mark Recchi had already posted a hat trick and the Rangers’ Wayne Gretzky had an assist in his East debut after playing 17 seasons for the West.
The San Jose faithful started to feel restless watching their conference get blown out. The fans put a little bit of extra effort into their cheers, hoping that someone in a purple uniform would answer their call and end the embarrassment.
That someone was Nolan, the hometown star, who was playing alongside Tony Amonte of the Blackhawks and Theoren Fleury of the Flames. With 1:06 left in the second, Nolan slid a pass from Fleury by the Devils’ Martin Brodeur, cutting the East’s advantage to 10-5.
Nolan scored again eight seconds later -- an All-Star Game record -- with a slap shot on a pass from Amonte. With the deficit cut to four, Nolan sent the hometown fans into a frenzy and gave life to the West.
But in the third, eventual league MVP Dominik Hasek shut the West down, giving up no goals in nearly the first 18 minutes of the period and foiling Nolan on several juicy chances. On the West bench, Nolan looked up at the clock and then into his hometown crowd. He wanted no part of a Hasek shutout.
Nolan jumped onto the ice and went into extreme forecheck mode. When the Rangers’ Mark Messier coughed it up at his own blue line, Nolan jumped on the loose puck (lit up on TV by Fox’s glowing puck) and skated toward Hasek. That’s when it happened.
Nolan took a few quick strides to gain momentum and picked up his head. Gliding at the top of the left circle, Nolan stared straight at Hasek and pointed in the goaltender’s general direction.
Hockey historians argue whether Nolan pointed at Hasek or the top right corner of the net. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Nolan blasted the puck off the crossbar and into the top right corner.
He took on Hasek, whom Gretzky had declared "the best player in the game" and called his shot to cap off a hat trick, which came in the final 22 minutes of the game. The hats came flying onto the ice from all over The Shark Tank in a true "Hats Off Moment." It might have been even more of a "Hats Off Moment" in a literal sense if Recchi hadn't already posted his hat trick.
The East held on to win 11-7. Recchi won the game’s MVP award as most of the ballots had already been collected by the time Nolan finished off his hat trick in electrifying fashion.
Nolan played 11 more seasons in the NHL, making one more All-Star Game roster. Now 39, he plays for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss 'A' league.