By Rich Lindbloom
After two hours of watching my daughter, wife and 65 year old father in law ride the various roller coasters at Great America, they finally convinced me to try my nerve on Batman. Much like the Hawks this season, roller coasters are not for the faint of heart. I’d much rather be trying to hit a 3-iron over 195yds of water than find myself upside down, heading into a blind turn at breakneck speeds. As I watched the three groups in front of us “eagerly” take their turns getting on the Batman, the thought of turning around and making a run for it kept crossing my yellow bellied sap sucker mind. Finally, the attendant released the chain – it was our turn to mount this death trap. As I stood there with sweaty palms and a churning stomach, while Nathalie and her dad were being strapped in, I had one last chance to make a run for it. Would I suck it up, overcome my fears and prove I was a man. Or would I head down the stairs, hiding my face in utter shame as the other people in line laughed and jeered at my cowardice?
Anyone out there feel like they took a sledge hammer to the face last night when time finally expired? Once again, the seeds of doubt have not only taken root, they’re clearly above the surface, poking their head out of the ground like tulips in the spring. It appears more and more that fans are starting to jump ship, as we try to navigate these troubled waters. Watching the Hawks on some nights right now is like watching the movie, They Shoot Horses Don’t They – clearly the most depressing movie ever made. I think that some fans are actually praying for the losing streak that will finally put us out of our misery. Do you really believe it’s going to be that easy?! No doubt, there’s still a lot of ups, downs and hair pin turns ahead on the newest roller coaster at Great America – The Friggin Blackhawk.
I’m not going to go into detail, boring you with my assessment of dire straits we find ourselves in. All the Hawk websites and bloggers have done a pretty fair job of enumerating our shortcomings. To most of us whose heart is slowly being ripped from our chest this year, it’s rather apparent – we need a shut down defenseman that likes eating pucks, we need a #2 center, we need to win more faceoffs, (where have you gone John Madden, in desperation we turn our lonely eyes to you), Keith and Seabrook – enough said, we need Hossa to tally two points/game, we need to send this year’s villainous whipping boy, Kopecky, to Siberia with a bottle of vodka and a light wind breaker. Kaner needs to spend some time visiting Lindsay Lohan, then again maybe not – more on #88 later. It would also help if we had a referee that knows when someone is trying to clean and jerk the net off the moorings.
I might have a solution to the depression the hawks are causing in their fans. There are times when I think I should have been born In Taylorsville, Mississippi. My daughter Taylor asked me with astonishment as we drove down to the United Center last Wednesday, “Dad, have you been listening to Country Music?” She’s old enough to drive now, and she noticed the last few times she drove my car that the station was set on US 99.5. I told her, “Taylor, you’ll find that there will be times in your life when it’s the only music that makes a lick of sense.” There’s going to be times in your life when “Cousin Stanley on the corn liquor jar” just sounds better than listening to ACDC, trust me. Lately, a song Brad Paisley sings is helping me make sense out of these frustrating times. “If I Could Write a Letter to Me,” is one you’ll rewind and play a few times after the first time you hear it. Basically it’s a song about the struggles a 17 year old goes through, and the reassuring voice singing it’s all going to turn out all right.
If I could write a letter to me
And send it back in time to myself at seventeen
First I’d prove it’s me by saying look under your bed
There’s a Skoal can and a Playboy no one else would know you hid
And then I’d say I know it’s tough
When you break up after seven months
And yeah I know you really liked her and it just don’t seem fair
All I can say is pain like that is fast and it’s rare
Our fall from the top of the hockey world seems to be much quicker than our ascent. At a glance, it seems it will be sometime before we mount another attempt at the summit. (Reaching a base camp is all we’re asking for this year!) The lingering effects of Capocalypse just don’t seem fair. The fall is painful, exacerbated tenfold after winning the Stanley Cup. As I thought about our next crisis, signing Seabrook and Brouwer, the thought crossed my mind that at least a portion of this fall is due to the players “loyalty” in these days of “me first.” In these days of the salary cap, it seems for the most part, the only loyalty is for the almighty dollar. I’m not saying give all the money to the bourgeoisie, but a player making $4 million/yr instead of $5 million/yr, could hardly fall under the heading of a working class hero. That reminds me of a story about Keith Magnuson in his first contract negotiations.
Harvey Wittenberg described Maggie’s first contract negotiations in his book, Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks. Keith’s agent told him not to say anything when they were negotiating with Mr. Ivan. The agent started the negotiations by saying they wanted a 5 year contract at $100,000/yr and a $100,000 signing bonus. Ivan responded by saying the negotiations were over and started to walk out. Maggy was about to say something when his agent firmly grabbed his leg under the table. When the dust had settled the #3 car signed for $15,000/yr and a $500 signing bonus. Keith later said “What Mr. Ivan didn’t know was that I would have played for free.”
In a serendipitous moment, I thought about Maggie on Friday when I turned the NHL network on and was very fortunate to catch the retiring of Rod Brind‘amour’s #17. (Although I did hear a few people in the stands asking, “Whose team does he drive for?) As I listened to “Rod the Bod” thank everyone for their helping hand in his 20 year career, I began to realize what an honor it is to have one’s jersey hoisted to the rafters. I hate to go return to the way back machine, but when I was a kid athletes for the most part played with one team. Those days are long gone – I was shocked by the Blues trading Eric Johnson – I guarantee you there are a lot of fans in St. Louis with his number on their sweater.
Brind‘amour said to the players “Never take for granted each day you are playing in this league.” For him it was a privilege to lace up those skates. Although heartbroken when he was initially traded by the Flyers to the Canes, Rod found a home in Charlotte, N.C., and in the fans who still call line changes pit stops. I got a little choked up myself when the announcer finally said, “from this day forward, no player will ever wear the #17 for the Carolina Hurricanes again.”
Blackhawk fans, do you ever think we’ll hear the U.C. announcer say, “From this day forward, no Blackhawk player will ever wear the # 88 again?” There’s a reason those numbers at the U.C. are hanging in the rafters – that old Indian Head was very close to their hearts. From what I’ve gathered, Maggie’s just might be the most deserved. Although my 17 year old daughter never saw the #3 car play, she loves that scene they show of the old players before the game – the one where Magnuson throws his arms forward to adjust his pads just before he probably left a little blood on the ice! Both Brind’Amour and Maggie seemed to get it – there’s something a lot bigger than themselves in this game.
I certainly don’t mean to single out Kaner – he’s been pretty awesome lately on the ice. Actually there was a very bright spot after Friday’s crushing defeat. When the last tick of the clock expired, Kaner angrily slapped the puck into the boards. (Thank goodness it didn’t go into the crowd.) Although we lost, what came to my mind is the fire and will to win, that I haven’t always noticed in # 88. I even saw him awkwardly try to finish a check that game. Sure Toews also slammed his stick, but we’ve come to expect that from him. Let’s face it, if you’ve made it to the NHL level you are one hell of a hockey player. What separates the great ones perhaps is the fire in their belly. Reportedly, Brind’Amour’s college coach had to pad lock the weight room – after a game or practice.
At the stop sign at Tomlinson and Eight
Always stop completely don’t just tap your brakes
And when you get a date with Bridgett make sure the tank is full
On second thought forget it that one turns out kind of cool
No doubt there are a lot of fans who think this team is running on empty, which brings me to one other observation on Fridays contest. Wins over the Bluejackets have never been automatic. It seems all our Central Division contests are a struggle. I know, they were playing without a few of their better players – I get it, we should have flattened them like a steam roller. However if you think back to December when we had Kaner and Hossa out at the same time, we also fared quite well. Some of the third and fourth liners stepped up to the plate and said, “Not in my kitchen.” It got to the point where I suggested we hold back from rushing the #88 and #81 cars back to the ice – they might screw up the chemistry! This could be tricky today if we underestimate the Penguins and their injury plagued team. Something tells me they are not going to roll over and play possum.
After our matinee it’s off to St. Louie to face a team that loves beating the Hawks on Monday. It would probably be good advice not to just “tap our brakes” in either one of these games. There’s a few players on the Blues who need to be hit like a demolition car in Jackson Mississippi on a Saturday night. Brind‘Amour seemed to know what it takes to win games like these – it’s time to put the pedal to the metal for the Hawks.
As we debate whether or not we want to get on the “Friggin Blackhawk, I’m guessing there might be one or two of you who wonder if I got on Batman that day. Let’s just say, this time, I’m not only getting on, I’m sitting in the front car. With no hands! Screaming for my life. Hopefully Taylor won’t be finding the dial set on 99.5 a lot the next 50 days or so. Then again as Dierks Bentley noted, “Country Music has always been the best shrink 15 bucks can buy.”
Tonight’s the bonfire rally
But you’re staying home instead
because if you fail algebra
Mom and Dad will kill you dead
Trust me you’ll squeak by and get a C
You’re still around to write this letter to me.
However if our worst fears are realized, and we don’t repeat as Stanley Cup champs, there is another option. About twenty years ago I told my friend Ken who was going through some hard times, “Ken, sometimes I don’t feel good, but then I have a drink and I start to feel better.” – but that’s a whole different Country song.