Evgeny Kuznetsov giggled as he stretched, noticing the sign along the glass during warmups in Toronto last Thursday. The poster read Give ‘Em The Bird and featured Kuznetsov’s signature bird walk celebration.
Except, this was a next level sign. The arms on the sign actually flapped.
Not only did the sign catch Kuzy’s attention, but the rest of the hockey world too, as the posters went viral late last week. The sign and the Alex Ovechkin Hot Stick sequel were covered by NHL, NBC Sports, and TSN.
The maker of the signs, Julia Pettella, a Brock University goaltender, said she can’t believe the reaction her signs have gotten over the past couple of days.
So the Kuzy sign is back, and it brought a friend 😂🔥 pic.twitter.com/3PGlgC9qzm
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 23, 2019
The signs themselves were the product of months of planning. The Ontario native planned to follow the Caps along the back half of their six-game road trip in February. She ended up attending three games in a row: Los Angeles, Toronto, and Buffalo.
“I wanted to come up with a way for them to tell that I traveled to see them play at two opposite ends of the country,” Pettella explained. “The idea was always a sign, but I needed to ensure a way that it would stand out and be memorable. I ended up with the idea of having the sign move.”
Pettella said she had a couple different ideas for the signs when she was planning the trip back in November.
“I was thinking of different Caps moments to recreate; Holtby’s ‘The Save,’ Ovi’s ‘Cup Stand,’ and Oshie drinking through his jersey were a couple ideas that came up along the way,” said Pettella. “However, it hit me as I was watching the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup DVD and Kuzy scoring the series winner versus the Penguins that his iconic celebration was a no-brainer, not to mention it was easier to make.”
The words on the sign and their double meaning came to Pettella easily. Kuznetsov has been derogatively nicknamed The Birdman and faced criticism from Don Cherry for the celly in the past.
Pettella enlarged a photo of Kuznetsov doing the bird celly across four pages, then cut off the arms and reattached them using paper clips that poked through slits cut in the poster. That way she could rotate the paper clip and make the arms look like they were flapping. She added a pull tab to make the movement easier and it was ready to go.
Unfortunately, her original plan hit a snag. She was worried the poster wouldn’t survive a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles, so she left the sign at home. When it was time for the game against the Maple Leafs, she was excited to show the team what she had created.
“Shortly into warmups, Kuzy began stretching close to the red line, but he was positioned so he could look straight at my poster,” Pettella said. “I was so happy that he actually saw it, and later on Carlson, Wilson, and Bowey were all staring and had a quick exchange about my sign before Bowey gave me a thumbs up. The game hadn’t even started yet and my night was already made.”
She had no idea that her sign and Kuznetsov’s reaction had made it into the game’s broadcast and was picking up steam across social media.
“At the beginning of the night I wanted two things to happen,” Pettella said. “I wanted the Capitals players to see it during warmup, and to make the team’s social media. I was also hoping for a puck, but who doesn’t when they attend warmup. I first saw my sign online on NBC Sports Capitals and had a mini freak out in my seat just before the anthems, which put a huge smile on my face. I thought that would probably the end of that, maybe the Capitals would retweet it but it would end there.”
During the game, Pettella could feel her phone going off constantly in her pocket. Her friends were texting her non-stop about seeing her sign all over social media. Pettella ended up being interviewed by the Capitals PR team and an article was posted on NHL.com.
“Since then I’ve seen it all over social media on various platforms by various big-name accounts, I was in disbelief watching and reading what these accounts were posting – like wow that’s me, I did that,” said Pettella. “It’s unbelievable that I’ve gotten the reaction I have, it’s a great feeling and it’s something that I’m going to always remember.”
Sensing her 15 minutes of fame was nearly up, Pettella said she had just enough time to introduce another moving sign two days later in Buffalo, this time of one of Alex Ovechkin’s infamous celebrations: the Hot Stick.
Pettella is a student working on a degree in Sport Management. She hopes to graduate law school and find a future job in the sports industry. Safe to say she can add creative sign-making to her resume.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland
Headline GIF via @NBCSCapitals
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