The last time I spoke to Jamie McLennan was two years ago, as he was running over Roberto Luongo with a Zamboni, his evil laugh echoing through the Florida Panthers' arena.
OK, technically it wasn't really Luongo, but a look-alike dummy, and McLennan's laugh was pure thespian. He was starring in a TSN mocumentary about the homicidal fantasies of underused backup goalies, or something like that.
We chose McLennan for one simple reason: He is loopy. Anyone nicknamed Noodles has to be a character, and McLennan is one of the game's greatest.
So it hardly shocked me when I heard where he was playing this season after not being re-signed by the Calgary Flames.
"Ladies and gentleman, the starting goaltender for your Nippon Paper Cranes ... Noodles!"
Yes, in the immortal lyrics of '80s one-hit wonder Alphaville: McLennan is "Big in Japan, tonight."
"It has been a wild experience," McLennan says from his hotel room in Sapporo, where he has just made 26 saves in a 5-1 Paper Cranes victory against the Oji Ice Hockey Team (That's their real nickname by the way: "Ice Hockey Team." Did they hold a "Name the Team" contest to come up with that? Why not the Oji Whiz? The Oji Simpsons? The Oji Wan-kenobis? Work with me, people.)
"I was going to retire," McLennan continues. "But my best buddy from Lethbridge, Joel Dyck, has played in Japan for 14 years, and he said, 'Why don't you come play with me and finish your career here?' So I figured, what the heck? It has been awesome so far. The people. The culture. It's amazing."
McLennan brought another former NHL pal, tough-guy Tyson Nash, with him. They are Nippon's two allowed imports. The rest of the team consists of transplanted Canadians and native Japanese players, who already knew all about their goalie's infamous antics.
"They had all seen the bit with me running over Luongo on YouTube. They know I like to have fun," McLennan said with a chuckle.
Noodles and Nasher (this already sounds like a sitcom) set the tone early. While one teammate was out having sake, they completely re-arranged his apartment, moving his bed into the kitchen and his dining room set into a bedroom. The photographic evidence is displayed proudly on McLennan's blog, including a shot taken the next morning of the clearly hung-over victim, smiling proudly from his new kitchen-bed. He seems truly honoured to have been hazed by the legendary Noodles.
"Nasher and I joke around with them a lot, but a lot of it gets lost in translation," McLennan says. "Our assistant coach is the translator, but we have to act out everything. Our entire existence is one giant game of charades.
"I was at this restaurant and I wanted to order beef, but I have no idea how to say it in Japanese, so I just made the 'Mooooo' sound to the waitress. I guess it worked. I got my beef!"
The language issue makes things interesting on the ice, too. McLennan is a goalie who yaps constantly. He has had to cut his vocabulary down to two words.
"When I want them to play the puck, I yell, 'Play!' When I want them to leave it, I yell, 'Hai!' That means, 'Yes.'"
How's it working?
"No so good," he says, laughing. "We've had a few mixups."
Japanese hockey crowds are a little different, too.
"Five minutes before the games, the entire building is dead silent. No one says a word. Then we come on the ice and they go crazy. There are no anthems. We just bow to each side of the stands, then, after the game, we do it again. But the fans seem to really love the game."
McLennan says the level of hockey is surprisingly good, somewhere between the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League. He doesn't want to say what he's getting paid, but I'm told it is in the neighborhood of $200,000 a year, and the team takes care of all his expenses.
I have so many more questions. Does Nash do The Crane when he drops the gloves with an opponent? Do they serve nachos and cheese sushi at the snack bars? Instead of the Kiss-Cam, do they have a Bow-Cam?
Sadly, there's not enough time. McLennan has to get some sleep before a showdown with the arch-rival Nikko Icebucks.
I do squeeze in one more: Why do they call him "Noodles," anyway?
"I used to bring a crock pot on the bus in junior and cook Kraft Dinner. I just ate a lot of noodles. It's that simple."
So, after 17 seasons and 16 different professional teams, he has finally found a match made in hockey heaven: Noodles in Japan. It's perfect.
"You're right," he says. "I had the best noodle soup ever tonight. It was incredible."