“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come.” – Nelson Mandela
By Rich Lindbloom
False Summits, as anyone who has ever backpacked in the mountains can attest to, are very similar to a mirage in the desert. Backpackers become painfully acquainted with false summits as they switchback their way up the mountain, stealing surreptitious glances around a corner – praying that the end is almost in sight. It seems I tend to start looking for the end of the trail about half way into a hike. For those of you who have strapped 50#’s to 60#’s on your back and headed upwards, you might agree with me that this is around the time we ask people headed in the other direction, “How much further to Surprise Lake?”
The first backpacking trip I ever went on was in the Tetons in Wyoming. We started out the day in great spirits, in total awe of the magnificent peaks set before us. I remember thinking, “this looks pretty steep and dangerous.” Day one of our 7 day expedition was a 4,000 foot climb covering a distance of 6 miles. As I quickly learned, that 6 miles was not exactly as the crow flies. The banter and songs seemed to diminish as we ascended higher and higher up the never ending switchbacks. With aching backs and blistering feet we trudged onward and upward, many times fooled by what appeared to be the apex of the trail.
It was an arduous hike up to Surprise Lake. I believe the lake received that name do to all the false summits you encounter on the way up. Finally, the lake almost magically appears. Surprise! It seems almost too good to be true. As I recall, we set up our tents, made some awful freeze dried food and crawled into our sleeping bags. If you were to score our trek up the mountain that day it would have read, Mountain 1, Backpackers 0. After a fitful night of sleep dreaming of switchbacks, bears and false summits, we awoke the next morning to find the puddles around our camp site had frozen over. At the start of Day Two, I was thinking to myself, “Are we having fun yet?”
Obviously, there are parallels between false summits and the long and arduous schedule a NHL hockey team must forge, trudge and battle through. After we got spanked by the Canucks, and then embarrassed by a horrendous Blues squad, (actually, the Blues aren’t that bad, it just feels so good to say that), the blog sites were rife with panic. “we need to fire Coach Q,” “Toews, Keith and Sharp should be stripped of their C and A’s,” “Kitchen has to go – he’s the reason the power play is so offensive, (ha-ha)” “John Scott is the iceberg that will sink the good ship Blackhawk,” “If we don’t acquire a top six left winger to play with Toews were doomed,” “Crawford is leaking oil,” “Carcillo is beginning to metamorphose into a huge Italian meatball,” “The Rat is playing like a mouse,” “Montador’s a bust, he deserves to be gored by a bull,” “I didn’t realize Brunette is slower than a glacier,” and on and on. The whining reminded me of a lady at the office who was known to have the sunniest disposition known to man. It got to the point that people were getting ticked off because she was so friendly and had a perpetual smile on her face. (A few of the ladies wanted to physically harm her.) I guarantee you though, if she would have read the Hawk blog sites after the Blues game she might have considered suicide or at the very least turned to powerful drugs to deal with all the negativity.
Apparently, the first false summit of the season had many looking for an alternate route. One that causes less internal conflict. Of course after last season, when it appeared we were trying to ascend the Himalayan switchbacks, you can somewhat understand the fan’s concern. I believe we stumbled into about 40 false summits last year. However, it’s amazing what a three-game win streak will do for your perspective, eh? Let’s take those packs off our backs, find a comfortable rock, and take a look around at the scenery after 18 games this season. We’ve got another 64 games before we reach the hockey equivalent of Surprise Lake, the playoffs.
As we “look back over the distance we have come,” the view isn’t all that bad. Although we’ve played a few more games than others, we stand atop the NHL in total points at the moment. Recall one week ago we were screaming for immediate and significant changes – instead we got Monty powered up like the Red Power Ranger and a steady diet of Fluffy on our third line d-pairing. That reminds me of that saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Change certainly can be a double-edged sword.
One thing we asked for was a reuniting of Marlboro 72, Keith and Seabrook. So far, I’d have to say that’s been working. (However, I can recall more than one writer last year saying it was time to break that duo up!) If Leddy and Hjalmarsson start getting lit up like a Roman candle, we may have to resort to Plan B. The good news is, Hjalmarsson appears to have gone back to the future, and has reemerged as the shutdown defenseman that the Sharks tried to steal away. Leddy, despite his Lilliputian frame, has been an offensive juggernaut. I realize he’s not the tough, stay at home defenseman many clamor for, but man it’s fun watching him rush up the ice. Although we obviously miss Brian Campbell, the blue line has posted some good numbers thus far;
Keith 10 pts/+8; Seabs 7pts/+1; Hjalmarssom 2pts/+5; “Steady” Leddy 12 pts/+4; Montador 6pts/+8; O’Donnell 2 pts/-1; Lepisto +4 and Big Bad John -1. I listed the defenseman in what I would consider the proper pecking order, but fear Scott is rapidly moving up the ladder in coach Q’s eyes! Watch for continued breaking developments in his playing time, as Big John appears to be Q’s pet project for the year. This, of course, is graying our hair and causing intestinal issues, but outside of a bad line change in St. Louis, he really hasn’t been the disaster waiting to happen we all think he is. Tell me you wouldn’t mind seeing Scott on the ice when a numbskull like Lucic takes a run at Corey. Something tells me Scott would have wiped that smirk right off the Boston bad boys ugly mug. (On a side note, do you think there is a possibility of a line dance in Buffalo next Wednesday, the 23rd? Katy bar the door. The Frug, Mashed Potato, Wah Watusi, Monkey and Shake may all be seen in one form or another at some point during that game. And if you’re old enough to remember any of those dances, I would bet my bottom dollar you held a transistor radio to your ear.)
Keith has been lights out since his return from the pinky injury. (Suck it up, would you number two.) I know he appeared to make a bad play on Smyth on Sunday, but did anyone besides the Co-founder and President of the DK fan club notice the play he made on Taylor Hall in the first period? Hall got a head start on what appeared to be a line change and had a step or two on Keith. Keith put on a burst of speed, slamming the door in the young stars face on what looked like was a certain Hall breakaway. That play never shows up in the stats, but was a beauteous sight to behold. Always fun to watch two of the fastest skaters in the NHL race each other! Sam Fels described the Marlboro 72 duo perfectly in describing their play on Sunday; “Marlboro 72 “arrogantly” taking back puck possession to start a break the other way.” It’s as if they were saying, to some of the brightest young stars in the NHL mind you, ‘Get that weak stuff out of my kitchen.’ I’m guessing Montador will fill in for Seabs until his lower body injury goes away. Then again, coach Q might think it’s time for Scott’s big break. (hair pulling, gnashing teeth, wrist slashing, chest beating sounds)
Our Top Guns could destroy the entire Soviet Air Force with the way they’ve been flying around lately. Ostensibly, Jonathan Toews has issues with goalie water bottles. It started in the shoot out against Anaheim, then continued Sunday when he obliterated Nikolai Khabibulin’s bottle with a surgical strike. It appeared that the shot enveloped Khabibulin’s net with shame, as the red hot Oiler goalie started leaking oil like the Exxon Valdez. Toews is a firm believer of Coach Boone’s philosophy espoused in the movie, Remember the Titans; “Water is for cowards. Water makes you weak.” #19 now has 15 points, collected with an assortment of ragamuffins on his line, and is +7. He may not lose another face off all year. Getting knocked on his duff by David Backes of the Blues last week seems to have awoken our Tazer-nator. Not good for the rest of the league, and certainly not good for Backes on Dec. 3rd when these two go at it again. Although something tells me multiple punches to the face would have little effect on the envious Blues winger, envious of Toews’s awesomeness that is. With the help of his current line mates, Hossa (18 pts and a ridiculous +13) and Stalberg (8 pts/+7) the Hawks # 1 line is kicking ass, and taking names.
Kaner (19 pts/+11), Sharp (17 pts/+10) and Danny Boy (7 pts/+ 9) have also been on a tear since the Line Generator machine was activated. 88 continues to do amazing things with the puck, like dish it off to Carcillo for the empty netter on Sunday. Someone noted that in the hockey world that might be considered paying protection money. I could stare at the picture Julia put on the Second City Hockey website of Kane splitting to Edmonton d-men, for two more days and still not figure out how he did that. As she surmised, teleportation might be the only plausible explanation. Sam Fels made another great observation on Montador’s undressing of Khabibulin. “Not to take anything away from Montador, Ole!, but Kaner’s ’patience’ set up the goal.” It’s hard to hang onto the puck in the NHL – it’s what Kane and Hossa do so well. Do you think Kane ever gets yelled at by Q for not dumping it deep? Forget about it.
One last thing; I read a few assessments of Ben Eager that were less than complimentary after the Oiler game. I’m loyal to a fault, and have a pretty special place in my heart for all the members of our Stanley Cup team. One of the keys to our success was a very good and annoying fourth line. It changed over the course of the season, but by the end basically contained Burish, Eager and Madden, or as I liked to call them – The Nozzle Line. Their contributions were not insignificant. If you recall, Eags had the game winner, I think, in Game Two against the Flyers. Eager reminds me of the type of friend who would carry the cooking gear and the tent when you went backpacking. And he could probably knock out a bear. All that being said, one of the funniest moments in the Cup run was when Eags lifted his hand up as he approached the bench for a line change, then decided to play on a moment later. Unfortunately that left one to many skaters on the ice and the Hawks took a penalty. Man, was Q mad!
After our last three games, it would appear we are closing in on Surprise Lake. Don’t be fooled; expect a few more false summits or as Steve Konroyd put it so well, “the ebb and flow of the long season.” Actually, the last time I went to the mountains, we horse packed it. Horse packing has many advantages over backpacking, with one noticeable exception. When you backpack, you have to rest a lot more often. We’d shed our packs, pull up a rock and stare out over the incredible vistas, drinking in a beauty that nourishes the soul. Only the good Lord knows what we talked about, but those were some of the most cherished moments in my life. (I do remember Montana Bob looking at some incredibly beautiful natural scenery and declaring, “We need to put a McDonalds over there.”) Now I realize watching John Scott may not be a beauty that feeds ones soul, but savor the journey as the Hawks fortunes rise and fall this season. Be prepared for a few more false summits.
And if we should lose a few games in a row, well as Nelson Mandela noted, “..look back on the distance we have come,” every once and awhile. Stop worrying, Scoutmaster Q got this thing! Before we know it, the playoffs will be just around the bend.