Jun 012012

“A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile…” – Don McClean

By Rich Lindbloom

So you think you know what pain is? An infected ingrown toenail?  Yes, indeed, that would be in the running. I had a friend who once told me that pain was comparable to childbirth. Then there’s the pain attributed to listening to yet another advertisement that tries to get you to buy something by utilizing a British accent. (What the bloody hell is that all about mate?)  Or its close advertising counterpart, the bloke who tries to speed read 500 words in 5 seconds. Those two are the type of aggravating pain that makes you want to plow your car into someone who has just cut you off. Then there’s the pain of Fakhra Yourus, 33, a Pakistani acid victim who committed suicide after enduring more than 3 dozen surgeries over the last 12 years to repair damage to her face and body. That type of pain is truly a heartfelt pain. Hopefully our merciful Lord will cradle her in His arms for the rest of eternity.

If you’re a Blackhawk fan, watching the Coyotes eliminate the men of four feathers in six games, had security forces at the Sears Tower denying entrance to anyone wearing Blackhawk garb. Game 6, in particular, could only be described as a tortuous affair. It was in Ghent, Belgium that we once visited a museum of medieval torture contraptions. That was a very disturbing display of mankind’s sadistic side. That museum might want to consider adding Mike Smith’s goaltending mask. Centuries from now, I can hear some tour guide at the museum saying, “And this mask was used to inflict excruciating pain upon a sect of barbarians who appeared to be followers of an early American warrior.”

All the above are certainly painful experiences. I’m sure you could add to the list. However, none can compare to the one I’m about to attempt to describe. If you have a weak stomach, you would be well advised to skip the next few paragraphs and move ahead to my “expert” analysis of “what went wrong.” The following pain could only be described as cruel and unusual punishment. It is the classic example of mental cruelty.

While vacationing in Destin, Florida three years ago, we visited a quaint shopping district after dinner one night. After strolling around for awhile we stepped into a restaurant/bar that was having a family karaoke night. For the most part it wasn’t too bad. My daughter and her friend Faith tried for over an hour to get up the courage to sing Miranda Lambert’s great song, “Kerosene.”  Knowing it was one of my favorites, Taylor kept trying to talk me into joining them. That more than likely would have proved to be a bigger disaster than the one that transpired next.

Three over served golfing buddies decided to take a whack at Don McClean’s classic, “American Pie.” Most of you are probably familiar with it, although you can probably remember only a few stanzas other than the chorus. I think the song contains over 5,000 words. Couple that with too much beer and a range of two notes, low and lower, and it doesn’t take too much imagination to envision the catastrophe that ensued. Now I’ve endured some pretty bad karaoke experiences in the past. This one though had me contemplating taking by butter knife and either slashing my wrist or repeatedly stabbing “The Three Baritones.” Let’s just say they quadruple bogeyed that song.

The phrase, “Get the hook out” took on an entirely new meaning. They mumbled through each lengthy stanza, voicing with gusto occasional lyrics they recalled. As familiar words popped into their alcohol addled brain, they gained momentary confidence. And of course, they would sing the hell out of the chorus. It was enough to make you want to punch a kitten. Any thoughts I had of joining the girls when they sang ‘Kerosene,” were quickly, and forever dispelled. As I slammed down a beer in an attempt to alleviate the intense pain, I gave considerable thought to booing for the first time someone brave enough to give karaoke a try. Below is a painting by Edvard Munch depicting anyone who was in that establishment for the day the music truly died.

The painting bears a striking resemblance to many Hawk fans in the third period of game 6 at the Madhouse on Madison. (And believe me, there were a lot of mad, mad, mad people there that night.) After the 4-0 drubbing over the immensely fortunate Coyote team, many co-workers descended upon me like vultures at the office the next day. I defended the Hawks vigorously, firing back at anyone who ballyhooed their effort throughout the series. Convinced the better team did not win that series, I finally had enough. “As far as I’m concerned, we won that game,” I said in a fit of rage. This bold proclamation confused my critics, temporarily silencing them. Perhaps many of you would also diagnose me as delusional. A quick look at some statistics in that series however, will go a long way to validating my sanity.

Total shots on goal; Phoenix-149 Blackhawks-241. That does not include shots that were blocked by the pain in the ass Coyote players; or shots that narrowly missed their mark. Kaner and Frolik both had prime opportunities whistle by the post. Duncan Keith, in two different games, cranked up uncontested slapshots from the slot, between the face off circles. Now you can call that good goaltending or you can call that being on the wrong side of the vicissitudes of the fickle finger of fate. I wonder if slap shots from that area were part of the vaunted Dave Tippet defensive system? Let me ask you something; which system would you rather watch for 82 games per season, the Hawks or the Coyotes?

By the way, if you take away the fluky results of Game Six, Corey Crawford only let in 13 goals in five OT games-not exactly sieve-like numbers. Unfortunately two of those goals were of the Charmin Tissue variety that led to stinging OT losses. Although Crawford did not face near the shots that Mike Smith did, Phoenix has an eerie ability to make their shots treacherous. Corey did not play nearly as bad as many fans accused him of. Let’s see, hmmm, Luongo, Schneider, Lundquist, Rinne, Bryzgalov, Niemi, Smith, Holtby, Howard and Thomas-all who would probably be classified as better than Corey, failed to lead their teams to the Cup Finals. Are you trying to tell me you would give serious consideration to giving up Kaner for one of them? I’m just saying that while a hot goaltender is paramount to a team’s success, it certainly is no guarantee.

Here were the final scores and shots on goal in each game in the Hawks vs. Coyotes series, otherwise known as:

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Game One: 2-3 final with the Hawks outshooting the Coyotes 45-34.

Game Two: 4-3 final with the Hawks again outshooting Phoenix 50-33. The first of two games that saw the Hawks tie the game with an empty net, when our Sharp dressed man strikess pay dirt.

Game Three: 2-3 final with the Coyotes emerging victorious on a bad angle tally in OT. (i.e. – lucky shot) Raffi Torres tries to behead Marian Hossa. Despite Czar Shamalamadingdong saying there were actually three penalties that could have been called on the play, both refs let the play continue until they noticed the Hawks medical personnel on the ice attending to Big Hoss.  SOG – Hawks 37 Coyotes 34

Game Four: 2-3 final, a game in which Mikkel Boedker (that guy seemed to be everywhere throughout the series) tallied one of the most nauseating goals you’ll ever witness. Luck with a capital “L.” A classic example of Murphy’s Second Law; “If anything can go wrong it will; and at the worst possible moment.” SOG – Hawks 32 Coyotes 19

Game Five: 2-1 final with Tazer’s laser making Smith look like a Pee-Wee goalie. Certainly one of the highlights of the series. SOG-Hawks 38 Coyotes 19. The refs decide to single out notorious Hawk bad boy Viktor Stalberg, sending him to the sin bin four times. Now I’m not insinuating the refs cost us the series, but when Viktor is called for a roughing penalty, well, it does make you wonder. Especially after the number of head shots Tazer took from Shane Doan throughout the series.

Game Six: 4-0 you may have noticed I have the score reversed; again, as far as I’m concerned we won that game. SOG-Hawks 38 Coyotes 19. This game featured one of the best periods of Blackhawk hockey I’ve ever witnessed, a 16-2, 1st period drubbing over out manned team from the desert. The turning point in the game was a weak interference penalty called on our Captain.

Not to take anything away from Phoenix, there’s a lot of talent on that squad. Hanzal, Whitney, Yandel, OEL, Pyatt, Doan, Boedker, Vrbata – are all great hockey players. We did not lose to a bunch of ragamuffins. The post game analysis immediately digressed into a “we need to get bigger and tougher” mind set. While there’s a good chance the team will look significantly different than it did last season come next October, my hope is that we just fine tune a little. This team does not need to have the transmission pulled-just change the oil and the wiper blades.

One of the best sentences I’ve ever read on hockey came from a long time fan named Ed Liesenfelt. He stated “Hockey is a great sport and its prize comes only after a long litany of grueling heroics that are combined with some luck in the roll of the puck.” All the hockey pundits are raving how good the Kings are at the moment. “Best #8 seed ever” claims abound. (Although I can’t help but wonder if the Kings would have emerged victorious over Vancouver if Daniel Sedin was healthy?)  The truth of the matter is the Salary Cap works in hockey. Any of the 16 teams that made the playoffs were a legitimate threat. There are no Karaoke singers in the NHL playoffs.

Before putting the final nail in the coffin of this, in my opinion, successful season, I’d like to weigh in on the “time to try and get something for Kaner while we still can” bandwagon. Let me start by saying I too am tired of reading about #88’s extracurricular activities. (When I was a kid – oops better not go there, eh?) Kaner’s recent Frat weekend from hell reminded me of a kid’s story by P.D. Eastman entitled Go, Dog. Go! For those of you who have read it, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say, “No, no Patrick. We do not like your party hat.”

However, I do like the incredible skills he possesses. Some fans are bemoaning the fact that his point totals, 23 goals and 43 assists- the lowest of his five year totals, are an indication of a falling star. The truth of the matter is he could have easily had 10 more assists if Hawk players would have buried the clever passes he sent their way. I don’t think the Hawks power play will be as anemic next year as it was this year either. When Toews was battling his upper body injury, Kane played some of the best hockey of his career. I know I wasn’t the only one who suggested that they could see an A on his jersey someday.  Hawk fans, do you think we make the playoffs if Kane doesn’t step up in Tazer’s absence? (Can you imagine the Yankees trading Ruth or Mantle?) I don’t have the totals, but it would be interesting to see how many goals he scored in shootouts this year. The kid is magic with the puck – magicians don’t come around very often in the NHL. And, it was a class act by Kaner to come out at the end of the game to join the handshake after getting the boot by the zebra’s.

Well, to finally wrap it up, as Game Six wound down about 50% of the fans headed towards the exit with about 8 minutes to go in the game. I was with my boss, and was hoping he wouldn’t want to leave early also. Not just to witness one of my favorite moments in sport, the handshake, but to pay tribute to this 2011/12 Blackhawk team who wore the Indian on their chests this year. While not quite meeting our suddenly lofty expectations, (Stanley Cup Finals or bust!), this team was a lot of fun to watch. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort that we couldn’t get by Smith and the Yotes. Fortunately, my boss who witnessed Tony Esposito’s first shutout in the Forum-a 2-0 victory-stayed to the bitter end. With about a minute to go he pointed up at the 300 Level and said, “Look at that.” It immediately dawned on me what he was thinking.

It’s kind of a long standing joke that the real fans sit in the 300 Section, although there is some truth to that observation. As I scanned the upper reaches of the United Center there were very few empty seats. I doubt that they were hoping for a comeback at this late juncture of the game! The downtrodden Hawks might not have noticed it, as most of the players had their heads down, buried deep in the stinging loss and feelings of frustration. It was obvious this team does not like to lose. However, for the remnant of us who remained, we made as much noise as we could to show our appreciation for the way this team battled. Let’s face it; overcoming the month of February was no small feat! I can’t say I’ve ever been more proud to be a member of the balconies than at that moment. A big stick tap to you fans in the outer limits. (By the way, there were a couple of octogenarians named RoseLee and Earl from section 101 who were also, quite predictably, loitering around 20 minutes after the game!)

Rich Lindbloom

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