By Rich Lindbloom
The Hawks precipitous fall from the pinnacle of the hockey world left many of us searching not for Rhett Butler, but for the Anacin bottles when all was said and done. Intensifying the pain was the manner in which we were finally eliminated. Despite the efforts of “all the king’s horses and all the kings men,” the Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup defense was shot in the foot by a player who has a Doctorate in Aggravation. I’m referring of course to the villainous #14, Alexandre Burrows, from this point on referred to as the “Squirrel.” I wish there was a way to erase that memory from the recesses of my brain, but it keeps resurfacing like some inextricable nightmare. Furthermore, no doubt we’ll have to watch highlights of that special moment in Vancouver Playoff history the rest of this post season. Excuse me while I head to the vomitorium.
To backtrack a moment, let me try to explain Alexandre’s new nickname. My wife, the Belgium babe, has an incredible soft spot in her heart for animals. Usually we’re fostering a litter of puppies or kittens for the Humane Society. There have been some exceptions – most notably a raccoon named Rocky who drove me banana’s for about three months. I could tell you a lot of Rocky stories, but this one is about three squirrels we tried to raise that fell out of some God forsaken tree in front of our house. What really bugs me is that it seems half of Homewood calls our house when they get an injured or seemingly abandoned bunny or whatever. I can only pray that I answer the phone when they call so I can say, “No she isn’t home and don’t ever call here again!” But back to the squirrels…
Squirrels are the most skittish wild animal I’ve ever encountered. They appeared to be schizophrenic and just didn’t seem to get that we were the good guys. Did you ever here the saying, “If you feel squirrely, jump.” From the moment we tried bottle feeding them, it seemed all they had on their mind was to escape and go search for nuts. They were as wild as Patrick Kane on a Friday night. Thinking about them made me consider Bolland’s nickname, “The Rat.” “The Squirrel” was a no brainer when I thought about Burrows inimical style of play the past few seasons. (If only President Obama would have sent the Navy Seals into British Columbia.) Unfortunately for us, that saying “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then,” came all to painfully true.
While reading and trading barbs on the Nucks Misconduct website, I discovered something about the #14 car I didn’t know. He was an undrafted player, who fought his way through the Minor’s, finally finding himself on one of the top lines in hockey. (How can you not admire that stick-to-itiveness in an athlete?) I sort of wished I would have never read the enemy’s blog site because I learned something about Alexandre that almost made me like him. Remember, the key word is “almost.” When asked by reporters before the rubber game in the Hawks/Nucks series if he had ever played in a Game 7, he freaked the reporters out by replying, “Sure, I’ve played a lot of Game 7’s in my basement when I was a kid!” The Vancouver reporters and fans were mortified that Burrow’s was joking around before such an important game. How could he be so loose? Perhaps because, like the squirrel’s, he was primarily focused on finding a nut. Nothing else mattered.
When I read that quote about the basement my mind went reeling back to my high school days. I used to dribble down four blocks to Oak Hill Park in Hazel Crest, and shoot baskets for a couple of hours. To ease the monotony of shooting and fetching, shooting and fetching, I’d play games against the invisible, but highly talented Quinn Buckner. Quinn led the incredible Thornridge Falcons to consecutive State championships in 1971 and 1972. They went undefeated both seasons, and many have said they were the greatest high school basketball team of all time. As I’m certain was the case with Burrows however, Buckner and Thornridge lost a lot of games at Oak Hill Park. Usually by one point after I put a little shake and bake on Quinn, made the basket and was fouled. (I have to be honest and admit this scene would occasionally require a couple of “takes” because I’d miss the free throw. L)
As we are all to painfully aware, Alexandre’s dreams came true. Chris Campoli will have to live with that regrettable moment until the Hawks win their next Cup, as he recalls his inability to clear the puck from the Hawks zone. Actually, Chris Block made a great observation on that seemingly innocuous play that I think most of us missed. Toews was on his knees along the boards, which most likely would have been Campoli’s preferred route of clearing the puck. Rather than nail his teammate he made the ill-fated decision to exit, stage right. The “Squirrel” seemed destined for that moment. The rest is history of course, as #14 buried a knuckler into the deep, dark, dismal depths of the upper left hand corner of Crawford’s net. And then his wife had a baby girl the next day. When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll I guess. Unsubstantiated rumors are her name is “Squirrelina.” Probably won’t be long before she’s smoking cigars and drinking beers with the rest of Canada’s Women’s Olympic hockey team.
When the reality of the season ending defeat set in, I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be. Taking the President Cup’s winner to a game 7 after dropping the first three was a pretty awesome way to exit; way to go out swinging Hawks. We were beat up, depleted and “slightly” overmatched, but never quit. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone wrote “The Hawks are finished” this year. I was fortunate enough to be in the U. C. for Game 4. It will go down in my memory of one of the best Hawk games I’ve ever attended. I don’t think I was the only one who thought the post game handshake would be the highlight that night. Surprise!
Although it won’t do any good, one can only wonder if the #36 car would have made a difference in the first three games of the series. Or for that matter where we ended up in the standings. Even without Bolland for over a month, the Hawks ended up with 97 points, two points shy of 4th place. If there were any doubt as to his importance to this hockey team, those doubts were dispelled in the playoffs. And then there’s Big Bad John; I guess we’ll never know if he would have made a difference in Game 7. What we do know is we won the three games he dressed for. Weird, eh?
Big Bad John’s replacement Marcus Kruger, who was slightly faster but not quite as tough, filled in for the #32 car, acquitting himself quite well. Paired with Ryan Johnson and Fernando Pisani, this line surprisingly had a great Game 7 in their limited role. While not quite the pugilist or good luck charm that Scott was, I liked what I saw of Kruger. In addition a couple of the other young Hawk call ups towards the end of the season, Benji and Leddy seemed to solidify their chances for skating with the big club next season. Jeremy Morin is also waiting in the wings – in my hopeful eyes, the future looks fairly promising for the men of four feathers. There’s a good chance “Tara” will be restored.
There’s probably one line that stands out in the movie Gone With the Wind that somewhat describes Keith’s occasional struggles this year. Actually, it’s the last line spoken by the dashing and debonair, Rhett Butler. When Scarlett realizes the wickedness of her ways she cries out, “what am I going to do?” Rhett’s reply stunned the nation when for the first time in movie history, someone used a swear word; “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I recall my mom saying how shocked the nation was by that line. When Keith decided to bare his soul after a long and frustrating season, shocking the Blackhawk faithful, Rhett’s famous line seemed to sum up the decline in the #2 cars play this past season.
BigCSouthside mentioned something in a farewell to the Canuck fans that seemed to capture the enigma that was Duncan Keith this past season. Southside wrote, “Thanks for hitting the Norris switch on Duncs for us. Lord knows we have been trying to find that all season.” While I’ll admit there was a noticeable jump in his post season play compared to the regular season, Keith seemed to be singled out as the scapegoat this year. This despite scoring 45 points and finishing -1 on a team who started the season as mixed up as Pedro’s breakfast. A lot of his plus/minus stat was due to empty net goals in the waning seconds of the third period. It seemed like the Hawks let up an inordinate amount of those this year.
One last thought for those of you who fairly criticize the salary vs. results of Duncan’s play this year. As Chris Block astutely points out, when you receive the biggest contract in Blackhawk history, the “great expectations” are commensurate with the investment. Truly, it’s a heavy load. A lot of the stockholders, (i.e. – season ticket holders), were expecting a bigger dividend check, obviously. Let me pose one last question on this matter; how much better do you think the Hawks would have been with Lidstrom or Weber or Bieksa in place of Keith this year? Would they have made that big of difference? Again, I certainly wouldn’t mind having a dollar for every goal Keith prevented this year. The bottom line is Chris has forgotten more about this game than I ever knew. However, the first Blackhawk jersey I’ve ever owned was #2 – and I’m not about to let General Sherman burn it yet!
One Hawk player who will probably never be accused of not burning with desire, is the Tazer Man. (pretty darn close to Tarzan, isn’t it?) As one announcer said, “Toews doesn’t have a second effort; he has a sixth and seventh effort.” What a battle we watched between two of the Selke finalists throughout the series. Both of their offensive productions were down, perhaps a testimony to being voted two of the top three defensive forwards in the league. (By the way Ryan, good luck with, as Semi_Colon labeled him, Datsick if you end up facing him.) If ever someone scored a goal by sheer will, the #19 cars tally at the end of regulation in game 7 was it. Luongo described it best; “It was a massive play by him.” What was even prettier was the pass he sent to Sharp from behind the net in overtime. I’ve watched that play about 30 times now and am astounded how well he threaded the needle. (All this why the “Squirrel” was in the penalty box – from zero to hero in about 5 minutes time. Drat, foiled again.)
Luongo didn’t give our Sharpshooter much to aim at, leaving only about a 12” square opening in the upper left hand corner. It was an outstanding stop by a goalie, who like Keith, that has taken considerable criticism for the pay vs. results equation over the past few seasons. Although he didn’t bury that golden opportunity, truth of the matter is I doubt we would have been in this series without Sharp. Despite nursing a sore knee, no one on the Hawks played harder than #10. His feistiness gave the depleted, injury ridden Hawks, a much needed boost. (I’m still not sure how Brouwer was able to play after seeing him skate off the ice with his arm looking like it was out of his socket against the Canadiens.) I loved Lu’s comment after the game, “It’s nice, I’ve got to be honest, but it’s only the first round and that’s the crazy thing.”
Roberto’s counterpart, Corey (not in my kitchen) Crawford was brilliant. For the second year in a row, the pundits were questioning the Hawks netminders. I’m pretty sure #50 removed any doubts about his abilities in the year he laid claim to the pipes for the Chicago Blackhawks. Actually, both goalies kept their respective teams in many of these games this series. On Crawford’s save on Kesler in the third period of game 7, he reportedly yelled “Easy!” as the puck left #17’s stick. In a sick sort of way though, perhaps it would have been better if Crow hadn’t played so well in this series. I’m sure with every save his agent was ringing the cashier. Corey remember, if you ask for too much you won’t get to be interviewed by Sarah Kustok anymore. That ought to count for something.
Well, as we so reluctantly lay this season to rest, it’s all over but the crying. As we watched the Squirrel’s shot nestle into the net, I know many of you were overcome with pain. There was an old wives tale remedy for dealing with pain in the movie Gone With the Wind that I’d like to pass along. As Melanie was about to give birth to her baby, Prissy tells Scarlett something her mama told her. “Ms. Scarlett, mama said if you put a knife under the bed it will cut the pain.” It can’t be any worse than a lot of other remedies I guess.
As I sign off this season, I’m going to leave you with a song. (surprise, surprise.) Before Rod Stewart posed the question in his later material, “Do you think I’m sexy,” Rod and Ron Wood wrote one of my favorite songs. It goes something like this,
“And if I’m called away and it’s my turn to go,
Should the blood run cold in my veins,
Just one more favor I’ll be asking of you,
Don’t bury me here, it’s too cold.
Take me back, carry me back,
Down to Gasoline Alley where I started from.
Take me back, won’t you carry me home,
Back to gasoline Alley where I started from.”
There’s a little bit of that song in all of us, isn’t there? Take me back to last year’s Stanley Cup, take me back to making the playoffs for the first time in 8 years, take me back to the incredible hope and excitement of #19’s and #88’s rookie season, take me back to Roenick, Belfour, Savard, Mikita, Hull, Pilote, Maggie and Hall (For RoseLee and Earl only – take me back to Litzenberger and Mosienko), take me back to the skating rink at Oak Hill park. Indeed Alexandre Burrows, take me back to those basements where the dreams all start.
Or as Scarlett O’Hara instructs Rhett Butler, “Take me back to Tara.” We’re going to live through this, October is right around the corner. I even have a good feeling that the Duncster will “give a damn’ next season.