I90 Octane – Reflections on a night in Hog Wild

Collage of Sound

“What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give…:”

- Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Bastos Ribeiro

By Rich Lindbloom

Roughly two months ago, I once again ventured into what most of you would probably think of as the minor league of music. It seems every concert I go to at The Old Town School of Folk Music, I’m surrounded by old fogies like myself. Definitely an “I knew the bride when she used to rock and roll,” type crowd. This time around we were there to see a tremendous (I’m going to call it Jazz – although I’m not sure that’s quite accurate) guitarist by the name of Earl Klugh. I’d guess one would say this was settling for the second tier of musicians, as far as concerts would go.

There’s nothing like live music to capture ones undivided attention. Although I’ve seen more of my fair share of “United Center” type concerts where the “big” names play, some of the best music I’ve ever heard was at 1 o’clock in the morning at a local watering hole. (It’s not only the girls that look prettier at closing time!) If you ever see someone you like playing at The Old Town School of Folk Music, don’t hesitate to get the very reasonably priced tickets. You won’t see the Stones, Zeppelin, The Who or Justin Bieber there – just someone who never quite made it to “the bigs.” Let me assure you, it’s not for a lack of virtuosity! I think the Old Town seats about 400; it’s a rather safe bet to say there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

For the Earl Klugh show, we were 10 feet from the stage. Like an old bottle of wine, the concert kept getting better and better and better. As is the case with hockey, I know even less about music – but it will never stop me from adding my two cents. It seemed to me Klugh plays chord leads, not satisfied to just pluck one note at a time. The sounds and emotion he could wrench out of his guitar were nothing less than exquisite. About three songs into the show he played “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I think it’s safe to say the notes penetrated the souls of those fortunate enough to be in attendance. It was as if your throat suddenly descended to the bottom of your stomach. (Believe me, I never thought I’d ever mention that song, especially to a blood thirsty hockey crowd – but that song was the hockey equivalent of a hat trick.)

And as if Earl Klugh wasn’t minor league enough, he had five extremely talented high school kids from a music charter school in Chicago, join him on stage after intermission to play one of his songs. Although you could pick out Earl’s guitar quite easily when he spiced it up a bit, the kids drew standing ovations after their individual leads. Talk about a high octane performance!

I bring all this up, because last Thursday I made the considerable trek to The Big “R” to take in my first IceHogs game. The evening started off in a great little restaurant called Octane, which I robustly recommend. My older sister, Maria Theresa, lives in Rockford and said she’d like to join us for a bite to eat before the game. She not only has a good ear for music, she is quite the culinary guide when it comes to suggesting out of the ordinary places to eat. Although she tends to live high off the “Hog,” Octane, which is two blocks north of the BMO Center on Main Street, was reasonably priced. The food was excellent and they have a very good beer list. It’s one of those artsy fartsy type places and the walls are decked with paintings. In what appeared to be a seasonal decoration, they had several walls covered with old Christmas album covers like the one above. Although I never found my personal favorite, Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album, I spotted many of the albums we spun on the “Hi-Fi” in our living room. The Hi-Fi where you could stack 8 albums on top of each other on a spindle, and they’d plop down like magic after each one ended.

Although I could have stayed and enjoyed the warm ambience of Octane, we left for the BMO 10 minutes before puck drop. The walk up ticket buyers were abundant that night, producing pretty long lines of hockey craving fans. The attendance was slightly over 5,000 fans this, a Thursday night, with a smattering of fans wearing Vancouver Wolves sweaters. Trust me, like the Old Town School of Folk Music, there is not a bad seat in the house. As I watched this second tier of hockey players, I was wondering if the people in Rockford and surrounding areas realize how lucky they are. Although there mascot appears to be a mutated offspring of Benny the Bull, the price of admission, the quality of play and the incomparable experience of watching live hockey was enough to drive me “Hog Wild.”

The number of players who have spent time with the Blackhawks last year is pretty amazing. Shaw, Leddy, Olsen, Hayes, Bollig, Kruger , Smith and Saad all played considerable minutes last season for the Hawks. A few more players, most notably Beach and Morin are certainly knocking at the door. Ryan Stanton certainly is no slouch on the blue line. Adam Clendening also caught my eye quite a bit – fast and skilled, although I fear he’ll never be the kick ass player John Scott was. Brandon Pirri is also quite talented, although he seemed a bit unnoticeable against the Wolves.

The one player who really stood out though was team scoring leader Martin St. Pierre. Although admittedly I have a small sample size to work with, (i.e. it was the first time I saw him play), someone will have to explain to me why this guy has languished in the minors. He had speed to burn and seems to have a very accurate shot.  I noticed on one power play how smooth he was with the puck – no panicking when pressured. Reminds me of a guy who used to play for the Hawks, #88. Although Rob (Adonis) Flick banged home the loose change on the Hogs first goal, it was set up with an incredible burst of speed around the left side d-man for the Wolves by the fleet-footed Frenchie. He also scored the game winner with an ICBM just as the Hogs had killed off a Bollig beatdown penalty. Martin seemed to appear out of nowhere, (which led me to speculate he was serving the time for Bollig who was assessed about 14 minutes in penalties for coming to the defense of the Hogs Little Big Man, Andrew Shaw.), flying in on an uncontested breakaway. Two words to say about that goal – “Rip City.”

The most unusual, and potentially entertaining line for the Hogs was Bollig, Shaw and Beach. The only possible combination that might prove more unstable would be one centered by Ahmadinejad and flanked by Kim Jong Un and Hugo Chavez. It was also the first time I got the chance to see Kyle Beach live. After what appeared to be two non-descript periods, he really was noticeable in the third period.

I believe the Hogs first line was St. Pierre, Kruger and Saad, although I tend to follow the puck to much and usually struggle to remember who played on whose line. It ticked me off at that I couldn’t recall who Ted Dent had as his defensemen at the end of the game when the Wolves pulled their goalie and made things, how should I put this, rather interesting. I’m guessing one was Stanton. Funny thing, Klas Dahlbeck seemed a bit shaky to me, but when I looked up his stats noticed he was a plus 7. Nick Leddy, who notched two assists, appears to have the ability to skate by anyone he wants to in this league. I exaggerate, but the guy is so smooth when he isn’t getting wasted in the corners.

On a side note, here are the Hogs top six scorers; St. Pierre – 28, Smith – 23, Pirri – 22, Clendening – 21!, finally a Blackhawk representative Kruger – 19, followed by Morin with 17.

On the Wolves side of the ledger, Andrew Ebbett – who actually played for the Hawks in the beginning of the 09/10 Stanley Cup season, was very active. It appeared at times he was a man among boys. Zack Kassian definitely has a bright future in the NHL if they ever decide to play again – especially with the dearth of talent currently on the Canucks roster. Chris Tanev especially, but Kevin Connauton and Peter Andersson appear to be NHL blue liners in the future. Big, mean and ugly – all three of them – typical Canuck defensemen.

All in all, it was a great night, well worth the price of admission and 1 hour and 45 minute ride. I’ll certainly be back – really struggling with the idea of going again tonight. While I certainly miss heading to the United Center, sometimes those second tier performers aren’t all that bad.

Although not the equal of the big name musicians who are capable of filling the United Center to the rafters, Earl Klugh wasn’t all that bad either. One of the last songs Earl played that night at the Old Town was Cast Your Fate to the Wind. You literally could have heard a pin drop. (And no, it wasn’t because us old codgers were falling asleep – you would most certainly have heard the sound of snoring if that was the case).  I am incapable of describing the brilliance of Klugh’s interpretation of that classic. The audiences roar when he finished that song, reminded me of one of those magical moments we’ve been treated too over the years when the Hawks score a big goal. Kind of like that moment when Toews scored that goal against the Avalanche his rookie season.

When Klugh was playing a song he constantly had a strained, grimaced look on his face while trying to remember where to place his supple fingers. When he’d finish a song, it was like the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders. After every song, which sort of resembled a high speed aerobic workout, he’d let out an ear to ear, totally infectious smile. Earl Klugh resembles a human who gives more than he takes.

What’s it all about, NHL? We’re tired of grimacing.

“As sure as there’s  heaven above, alfie
I know there is something much more…
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, alfie.”

Rich Lindbloom

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