Mar 212012

‘The Gray Line’ tearing it up

By Rich Lindbloom 

Serendipity: an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. Good luck, good fortune.

Going 8-1-1 in the last 10 games, with Tazer still trying to count to ten, might add new meaning to the word serendipity. Not even the most optimistic Blackhawk fan could have expected the good luck and fortune that have been our allies over the last couple of weeks. Are you kidding me; Andrew Shaw has two shots bounce off various parts of his body for goals in the last two games? After struggling mightily in January and February between the pipes, are beleaguered goalies are named #1 (Emery) and #3 (Crow) Players of the Week the last two weeks in the NHL? (That’s got to be an oxymoron or something.) Johnny Oduya, acquired in the 11th hour of the trade deadline, suddenly anchors the aft end of a listing defense? Temperatures hovering around 80 in mid-March? Before I get into the “full speed ahead” portion of this article, I’d like to tell you about a serendipitous moment that happened in the Orcas Islands in the Puget Sound.

We were camping on the islands several summers ago and were returning to the campsite when I saw a Tahoe that had a decent size trailer behind it. I said to Nathalie, “I’ll bet that’s a band that’s camping by us.” So when I happened to cross paths with one of the girls from their campsite, I asked her. She said yes and invited us up to meet the other members. One of the fun things about camping is meeting fellow campers and chewing the fat with them. I’ve always found a “Where you from?’ is a good ice breaker. Let me tell you, we hit the jackpot with this group!

First off, I was on the 41st day of a 40 day fast from alcohol. When they asked us if we’d like a beer, my eyes lit up like a firefly. It wasn’t just any old beer either; I think it was some from a microbrewery in Oregon, great stuff. I finally asked them if they would mind playing a few songs and the young lady took out her guitar as the evening shadows closed in around us. Now the band members were a lot younger than I, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

It turned out this young lady had dropped out of engineering school and followed the Grateful Dead for numerous years. Sitting around a roaring campfire, listening to music ranging from the Dead to Led Zeppelin, sipping on a great beer, (ok, to be honest, the beer was guzzled), is just about as good as it gets. Truthfully, that was even more enjoyable than watching the Hawks paste the Blues Meanies last week. All by chance happenstance! One of the last songs she played was a Jorma Kaukonen song, Embryonic Journey. Literally, it is one of my all time favorite acoustic songs. I’m not exaggerating when I describe that space in time every bit as memorable watching Kaner’s smart bomb at 10:06, June 9, 2010.

That memory came to mind when I saw Hot Tuna at the Old Town School of Folk Music the other night. It was the same night, the Hawks rallied to beat the top team in the east, the Rangers, in the waning moments of the third period. Hot Tuna has been compiled of many different musicians over the decades, but mostly the backbone of the group has been 68-year old Jack Casady and 72-year old Jorma Kaukonen. They were accompanied by Barry Mitteroff on the mandolin and an assortment of other small guitar like instruments. To be able to see these three virtuoso’s, in an intimate setting like the Old Town, goes beyond serendipity. One of the best comments on the show was from a blogger who wrote, “It’s not like one of those bands where you say those guys used to be good.”

Remember a few years ago when the Hawks used to be good?

It’s been a peculiar season for us Blackhawk fans. Ups and downs only begin to describe the twists and turns that have led us down the dark road of despair and back to a perch “high upon a mountain top.” Two weeks ago there were many fans who had written this season off. If we did manage to back door ourselves into the playoffs, it would most certainly be a one and done affair. Fortunately, there was guarded optimism that next season, (if the players and management don’t do something really stupid), would find us in a much better position. We have a lot of young talent in the minors, and of course the announcement that Carcillo will be back-although I’m still not convinced that’s a desirable discovery! While the biggest critics of the Hawks still remain unconvinced, suddenly, it’s quite apparent that “thoughts about a brighter day, together in the sun,” have blossomed like the crocuses in the spring.

Flashes of a little bit of that swagger that so defined the 09/10 Blackhawks has been noted in our last three victories. After seemingly playing from behind most of the season, it was a refreshing change to see us score 3 goals against Dallas, 2 goals against Washington and 3 goals against Columbus in the first period’s of those games. Our third line led by Bickell and Chicken Hawk, has contributed mightily at both ends of the ice. Andrew Shaw went undrafted for two years but his stick-to-itiveness finally resulted in the Hawks selecting the little big man in the fifth round of last year’s draft. There have been many adjectives used to describe his game-fearless is my favorite.

When I read that Shaw was trying to get all up inside Ovechkin’s head, I had to laugh. It seemed to confirm my suspicions that Chicken Hawk is just plain crazy. Satchel Paige once said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”  The corollary to that statement, in Shaw’s case, might be “How big would you be if you didn’t know how big you are?” I’m pretty sure Bolland, (aka Foghorn Leghorn), kept pointing at Derek Dorsett, claiming he was a chicken. “I say, I say, pay attention boy. Number 15 on the Jackets is a chicken.” Do you have a better explanation as to why Chicken Hawk went after the guy that went after John Scott?

There were actually two Blue Jacket players that stood out in my mind last night. Jared Boll was raised in Crystal Lake, IL and is always one of those nozzles on the other team that make you keep your head on a swivel when he’s on the ice. There was not a harder working player on the ice last night. While he didn’t get on the score sheet, he had two consecutive shifts in the third period where his tenacity kept the puck in our zone. Those shifts were just prior to Rick Nash tallying the BJ’s lone goal. It was quite apparent he was playing the game as if it were 0-0 and the outcome would determine their playoff status. While he continues to annoy me to no end, it’s rather apparent that no one has told Boll that the BJ’s can’t make the playoffs. I appreciate efforts like that – even if Brandon Bollig did rough him up a bit for his efforts.

The other player, who also refuses to mail in his effort, was Rick Nash. The feisty right winger has toiled for 8 years on some very mediocre Jacket teams. He was all over the ice last night, and in a sick sort of way, I was glad to see him score. Probably one of the most sought after players at the trade deadline, Nash found himself still a Blue Jacket when all was said and done. John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” After not getting traded, he could have played halfheartedly and coasted the rest of the season. Reportedly when all the trade rumors were circulating and it was well known that Nash wanted to move to a team in the playoff hunt, he gathered his teammates together and spoke to them. He didn’t have to explain anything, but he wanted the other players to understand it had nothing to do with them. If anything, Nash has been playing harder in what could be his last days in Columbus. There is no doubt in my mind the fans there will forever hold a spot in their heart for their captain. Rick Nash, “The suns gonna shine in your back door someday, tomorrow’s wind gonna blow, all your blues away.”

Speaking of the Blues, overheard singing a Rev. Gary Davis song during free skate at the United Center yesterday was our Captain, Jonathan Toews. Although he didn’t remember all the words, they go something like this;

“When trouble comes, I don’t pay no mind,
I’ll be all right someday,
Deep in my heart, I do believe, that,
I’ll be all right someday, yeah.”

All we Hawk fans can do is hope and pray. Tazer’s biggest concern will be where he will fit in when he returns. Bruno/Kane/Hossa has been damn near unstoppable-nope not this line. Sharp/Feddy/and the oily, suave and debonair Stalberg have been scorching dimwitted d-men. Viktor’s goal against Washington was speed personified. As the announcers said, “Orlov knows he’s fast and he still got around him!” I’m pretty sure even Coach Q wouldn’t tamper with the “Two Wild and Crazy Guys and a Sharped dressed man” line. Bickell/Bolland/Shaw has been a shutdown machine, in addition to tickling the twine with regularity. Bolland and Shaw appear to be on the same wavelength which is a rather disturbing thought. If the truth be known, the last stretch of games is probably the longest period of time Coach Q has gone without tinkering with the various line combo’s. In my mind, that leaves Tazer pivoting the fourth line between Mayers and Frolik. Maybe a little special team assignments also.

Perhaps the biggest reason for our recent success is the solidification of our defense pairings. I think it’s fair to say Johnny Oduya has exceeded “everyone’s” expectations. He seems as comfortable in our zone with the puck as Keith. (And for all you Keith detractors who love to point out his shortcomings while he skates 28 minutes/night – suck a hatchi.) All I can think is Winnipeg must be loaded on the blue line. One thing I noticed about Oduya is how low his center of gravity is as he circles behind our net. He’s as solid as a fire hydrant, extremely hard to knock off balance. In the 10 games Oduya has played for the Hawks, we’ve gone 8-1-1. Coincidence? Perhaps, yet the eye test tells me Stan Bowman “finally” did something right! What’s that saying about a blind squirrel again? A serendipitous addition if there ever was one.

Needless to say, March has been a fortunate month for the Hawks. Will it continue tonight against the floundering Canucks? Will we be sitting around a campfire in late June reminiscing about another Cup run? Or are we going to be labeled as the team that “used to be good.”

I found it pretty amazing that three old guys, like a fine bottle of Ripple, continue to get better, pushing themselves to new levels. At one point in the Hot Tuna show, Jorma and Jack started quibbling about something and Barry Mitteroff interrupted and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, these two guys have been together for 54 years.” Jorma’s statement that “time has a way of making itself felt,” rang very true at that moment. I wish I could describe to you their rendition of “Good Shepherd” off Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album. I’ve always enjoyed the electric lead on that album. However Casady and Mitteroff took that song and turned it every which way but loose. At one point Kaukonen just glanced over at Casady and sort of shook his head in amazement. Fast, furious, hell, maybe even a little out of bounds-come to think of it, not a bad way to play hockey, eh?

The winning streak without our Captain is indeed a bit of fortune none of us expected.  “Well now what is going to happen now is anybody’s guess;” the torrid pace were on is most likely unsustainable. But I can’t help but feel that “sunshine’s waiting for us, a little further down the road.” If you’re really lucky, you just might stumble across a girl who dropped out of engineering school to follow the Dead.

Steady as she goes, Blackhawks, steady as she goes.

Rich Lindbloom

Rich Lindbloom is the author of the book War Drums in the Distance, a collection of articles Rich authored on the Blackhawks in their path to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

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