Dec 172012

“I want to bite the hand that feeds me,
I want to bite that hand so badly,
I want to make them wish they’d never seen me…” – Elvis Costello

By Rich Lindbloom

I heard a great definition of philosophy recently:  “A blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat, that doesn’t exist.”

Tell me that doesn’t describe the excruciating labor negotiations between the NHL owners and the players union in a nutshell. Quite frankly, I don’t think I’m alone in my burgeoning apathy in this greed laden, rapacious process. Waves of intense anger may belie my apathy, but I’m doing my best to cope with the situation. Trying to pretend I could care less is easier said than done.

While reflecting upon the insanity of this situation, a memory of my father-in-law’s youth surfaced from the cobwebs. John has a way of telling stories in a way that they stick to your ribs, sort of like a hot bowl of Quaker Oatmeal. I recalled him telling me about growing up in Monett, Missouri back in the 1930’s. While certainly not the edge of civilization at that time, it was only about 40 miles from the Kansas border, which may well have been the edge.

While his grandchildren might have a hard time believing it, on occasion John’s dad sent him out to the back forty to fetch a switch. It was the preferred implement of disciplinary action in those days. Its effect on one’s behavior could be greatly enhanced by making the miscreant fetch his own switch. Somehow, imagining John trying to figure out which branch would inflict the least amount of pain amuses me to no end. Hopefully, he never had enough experience to solve this enigma. John’s dad may well have been put in jail in this day and age of Ritalin and psycho-babble, but the barbaric disciplinary measure seems to have left no permanent scars on his son. (It does make me wonder if Bettman should consider this tried and tested ploy in the stalled negotiations.)

Another story he told was coping with the bitter cold of winter. You see, central heating back in those days consisted of a wood burning stove in the kitchen. When you went to bed at night, you crawled under about six or seven blankets. On the real cold nights, his mom would throw a few hot baked potatoes under the covers. (I’m assuming they were turned into hash browns the next morning.) When it was time to get up, you made a beeline to the kitchen. Ha! And kids now a days think they have it rough. (Actually, limiting my sons cell phone use for the last three weeks just may be more painful than deliberating over which switch to pick.)

It’s memories like John’s that make me wonder me wonder if the whole world isn’t going mad. I can’t imagine the people from Monett, MO turning their noses up at millions of dollars to prove a point. It’s been noted that “pride cometh before a fall,” and pride appears to be a growing factor in the players stubborn refusal to get a deal done. I know the players are highly skeptical of the owners claim that 20 out of 30 teams in the NHL are struggling to make money. Yet, as I ponder this seemingly insurmountable impasse, I just have a hard time believing the owners are trying to teach the players a lesson.

Asking the players to take a 10% pay cut could hardly be construed as sending them out back to fetch a switch. Is it painful, yes. However if I had the choice of making $900,000 instead of $1,000,000 – well, I think at this point you just might want to bite the bullet. I realize there’s a lot more than just salary to sort out in the negotiations. However, cutting off the nose to spite the face is most certainly a failed policy.

I know most of you who might peruse these ramblings are probably just as fed up with the negotiations as me. To help take your mind off the increasingly dwindling – (a great oxymoron by the way) – hopes of an NHL hockey season, I thought I’d rehash some highlights from last season. Hopefully they’ll bring a smile to your face, if not a forlorn longing for days gone by.

Number one on my list of highlights is when John Scott absosmurfly pummeled Deryk Engelland for taking a run at Marcus Kruger. Big Bad John took great offense to Engelland’s filthy, despicable and cowardly shot on “Freddy.” The ref, who was 15 feet away from the play, may have missed it, but Scott who was a tad behind the play at our blueline did not. This did not bode well for Engelland. The Penguin defenseman received a three game suspension for the late hit, but that probably paled in comparison to the justice “Fluffy” meted out. Normally Murdersaurus will quit throwing punches when he has bested his opponent. However in this award winning vigilante performance, Scott landed about four more punches after the refs tried to break it up, including two wicked upper cuts to Engelland’s ribs that would have made Rocky proud. Big Bad John was the number one star in my book, which obviously destroyed any credibility I had as a knowledgeable fan – but hell, that’s hockey!

Two kids from the Big R – Purple Hayes and Chicken Hawk. As Forklift from Hockeenight noted about Andrew Shaw, “Shaw continues to play like one bad shift will get him sent back to Rockford.” He quickly became a fan favorite with his pugnacious style of play and a goal celebration that usually involved smashing his face into the plexi-glass behind the net. The kid goes into the dirty areas of the ice like there’s an ice cream truck there. All you need to know about Shaw is that Hannibal Bolland thinks he’s crazy. After tallying 3 goals and 4 assists in his first 10 games, Hayes, the 6’6” behemoth, seemed to greatly bolster our 3rd or 4th lines. Although I don’t recall him ever taking a stab at it, I recall urging Frank Pellico to play the Hendrix classic “Purple Haze” when Hayes struck pay dirt – rock on Pellican man – now make it funky.

Tazer referring to Antti Niemi of the Sharks as “Their goalie.” Apparently that friendship stuff only goes so far if your one of the greatest competitors to ever don a Chicago uniform. “For unto us, a hockey player was born…” Against Anaheim last year Toews made an uncharacteristic turnover that spoiled a shutout for Ray Emery in the waning moments of the game. As the Hawk players skated off the ice after raising their tomahawks to the rafters, Tazer exchanged some brief words with Sugar Ray. Despite a big victory for the Hawks, there was no doubt he was apologizing for the turnover. I’m quite certain most Blackhawk players would begin decomposing if they ever realized what Tazer’s expectations are.

Actually Ray Emery helped right the Hawks listing ship with a relief performance for Crow against the Maple Leafs. As I recall, Toronto jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead. My daughter texted me after the Maples third goal and simply asked, “Why?” (As noted on the back of the Committed Indian, the Hawks record when Taylor attended games last year was less than sterling.) It was one of many “must win” games for the Hawks last season. After breaking the nine game losing streak from the deepest corners in hell last February, the Hawks went on a four game winning streak. This was followed by three consecutive losses to the Stars, Kings and Ducks. The Hawk/Leaf contest was a game of two talented teams desperately trying to turn their season around. (Watching Kessel skate that game was a thing of beauty.)

If you were fortunate enough to be at that game, you were treated to one of the most exciting of the season. Even though the Maples were up 3-1, I texted Taylor and said I believed this was going to be a high scoring affair. Emery sparkled in the net and anchored a thrilling 5-4 comeback win, my favorite kind of win. It started a terrible backsliding for the Leafs, and an 11-1-2 tear for the Hawks. Despite being the most suspect goaltending tandem in Hawk history at that moment, Emery was named #1 star in the NHL one week, followed by Corey being awarded the #3 star a week later. By the way, is this a list of who’s who as far as NHL goaltenders go: Halak, Lunquist, Quick, Lehtonen, Lu, Rinne and Brodeur? All of those premiere backstops faced us in that incredible surge without Toews in the lineup. Who’d a thunk it?

Sugar Ray was also a member of the most unusual selection of the Three Stars I’m certain I’ll ever see. It was against the Ducks on Dec. 16th, a 4-1 Hawk victory. The number one star was Emery. The number three star was Jamal (I be jamming on your face) Mayers. Fan favorite, John Scott, was the number two star which I think even brought a smile to Sam Fels face. When he was announced, Fluffy skated almost all the way across to the penalty box. The best celebration I’ve ever seen when the Three Stars are announced. I know that most of the time fans were yelling “Get off the ice,” at Big John – but admit it, there were just times when you wanted to hug the behemoth- in a Platonic way of course. That night Scott skated on our third line with Mayers and Bruno. I’m pretty sure Brunette never felt as safe on the ice. Mayers of course is always a great teammate to have on your line when the opposition is trying to single out the weak and infirm.

Perhaps the most unusual line to pop out of Coach Q’s Random Line Generator, occurred during a game against the Kings. When Coach Q saw Bickell, Mayers and Scott pop up, I think even he began to question the Random Line Generator’s efficacy. But after scratching his head a few times, he looked at Haviland and said, “You know, this might work.” As I kicked back in my Lazy Boy easy chair I came to the conclusion that Q had clearly lost his marbles. Oddly enough, the line somehow proved effective that evening! Never doubt the RLG!

I guess I could write a whole column on Crazy 88’s. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” would be a fitting title. I think the best place to start would be the way he stepped up his game when Toews went down for the count. Up until that point, I don’t think I was the only Hawk fan who thought they’d never see an A on his sweater. Truthfully, Kaner’s the type of player that has you holding your breath every time the puck is on his stick. “Nextgame,” a blogger on the Second city Hockey website gave the best description of Kane I ever read; “As down of a year as he’s had so far, every time he has the puck on his stick in the O-zone, I edge up on my seat a little and fully expect him to score or set up a score with some ridiculous (no look) pass. And I’m surprised every time it doesn’t happen.” Niklas Backstrom is still recovering from Kaner’s abuse in a shootout victory. As I believe Mighty Mike noted, “He’s still sliding into the parking lot.”

The Lilliputian is pretty resilient also. The Canuck and Blues thugs have been trying to hospitalize him for what, 6 years now? Remember when he knocked David Backes on his arse one game, screaming “That was for Toews,” as Backes hit the deck! Perhaps the best highlight of the 11/12 season was Patrick Kane remaining a Blackhawk, when a lot of meatheads were clamoring for a real hockey player. In a very sagacious move, Stan Bowman is reported to have hung up the phone when the Jacket’s wanted Kane for Nash.

Concomitant with the Hawks resurgence was the acquisition of Johnny Oduya, a poor man’s Brian Campbell as Chris Block so astutely noted. I remember the Hawk fans clamoring for that missing link in our line up otherwise known as a true #2 center. When Oduya turned out to be the grand prize we were all anxiously awaiting, well, let’s just say there was a lot of air let out of the balloon. The crux of the problem was that most of the other NHL teams were looking for the exact same pieces as the Hawks. Every team seemed to have the same wants and needs. You might say Stan Bowman missed the boat by not acquiring Jeff Carter, but in truth he’s never been the same player since he was Carcillo-ed in the Stanley Cup Finals by his over exuberant teammate. That memory always brings a smile too my face, probably Kopecky’s also.

Another great highlight was that Edmonton never got to ten. In your face Oiler fans.

I’ve only sort of scratched the surface of some memories from last season. Others, including the “lowlight reel” will have to wait for another day. But I will leave you with one more highlight, even if it was a lowlight at the time. All season long, knowledgeable fans had bemoaned Marian Hossa’s run of the mill contributions to the team. If there were a bright spot in Raffe Torre’s beheading attempt, it was that hopefully the fans realize just what it is Hossbollah brings to the ice day in and  day out. There seemed to be such a gaping hole in our lineup. I heard that Marian was just released to play again the other day – maybe it’s a harbinger of some sanity returning to the parties involved in the CBA discussions.

In wrapping up, I’d like to tell you one more story my father in law passed along. We were sitting in the living room chewing the fat one day, when a thought entered my head. You see, John turned out to have a long career as an engineer at Amoco – and somehow the thought of how he paid for college begged an answer. I said, “John, how did your family ever afford to send you to college?”

A big smile came across his face as he pondered that good fortune himself. It turned out one of his friends received a football scholarship and John was just accompanying him as he headed off for school in the fall. The head football coach took a look at John who was a pretty good sized lad himself and asked, “Do you play football?” John explained he did in High School which prompted the coach to do some quick thinking. “There’s no room in the dormitory for you, but if you want to sleep up in the loft above the gym, I’ll see about getting your tuition paid for.” I’m not sure the shepherds and angels visited him that night, but John eventually graduated with an engineering degree. My, how times have changed.

The story of the town revival, the preacher and a lady from the small town who was about to come up to an altar call will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say when the preacher saw the lady coming up the aisle he exclaimed, “Hymn # 88. Sing and sing loud!”

Maybe the NHL should switch their negotiations to Monett, Missouri. Seems like people had a lick of common sense in that town. Then again, somehow all this could prove beneficial to the average schmuck in the 330 section – there’s a very good chance ticket prices will not be increased next season. I swear, there’s always a silver lining.

Rich Lindbloom

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