By Rich Lindbloom
The Roman poet Ovid wrote a book called Metamorphoses about 2,050 years ago on people changing into new bodies – trees, rocks, animals, constellations etc. It’s a great read covering some 250 Greek and Roman myths, man’s feeble attempts to explain the why for and the where for of his existence. (Or as David Byrne sang, “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”) Ovid states in his opening sentence, “I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms.” With those enticing words, the hook is set.
The transformation of Bryan Bickell this season was enough to send me to see if I could locate Ovid’s classic Metmorphoses in the attic. In its day, it was one of those books that you couldn’t put down. Who would have thought 40 years ago that I would be mentioning Bickell’s name alongside Ovid in a hockey piece? Bickell has always been a bit of an enigma to the throngs pining for blood in the 300 section during the past two seasons.
At 6’3” and 233lbs, one would expect him to use that considerable frame to his, and more importantly, the Blackhawks advantage. I suppose many fans were still bemoaning the loss of that behemoth who wore #33 for the Hawks, dat Buff-lin guy. Many fans wanted Bickell to be the guy who stood in front of Luongo. Or the one to crash the net and knock players like Chris Pronger on his duff-certainly not an easy task. Instead, it appeared that Bickell was content to float around the perimeter like some overgrown ballerina working on his Battements, Pas de Basque and Passe’s. For one reason or another, Bickell was never associated with that Grabowski type, blue collar athlete that the lunch bucket crowd in Chicago tends to idolize.
Actually, you may be surprised to know that Bickell was second in hits, only to Brent Seabrook, the last two seasons. In 2010/11, #29 was ranked 36th in the NHL with 178 hits – Seabs had 227! In 2011/12, Bicks was ranked 111th with 128 hits, with Biscuit leading the team with 165. For whatever reason, it seems that Bryan’s hits have been more of the earthquake variety this year. Obviously, knocking Ryan Getzlaf on his arse is no small feat. Getzlaf is a known scoundrel and not many players wish to mix it up with the mean spirited, talented Anaheim forward. Let me tell you – that hit tickled me pink! It was odd, because earlier in the day the thought of what kind of fighter Bickell is entered my mind. Was it a premonition?
If his propensity for crushing opponents in the process of chasing down errant pucks continues, I’m thinking “Basher” would be a quite appropriate nickname for Bickell. Hard hits are certainly not the only thing he brings to the team. He is deceptively fast, and has a cannon of a wrist shot. Although Antti-matter was able to fend off his breakaway wrister on Friday night, I’m not sure he ever saw it. No longer are Bickell’s considerable talents obnubilated, they are becoming as plain as the nose on your face. Bryan Bickel has been transformed from a ballerina to a “Basher,” right before our eyes. That’s what my man Ovid was talking about.
Another transformation of sorts is the inspired play of Marcus “Freddy” Kruger. I’m beginning to think we don’t have to search too hard for that bonafide #2 center that has eluded the Hawks for about 40 years now. (On the other hand, if only Bolland could improve at the dot, 10/36/88 is a nightmare for a lot of defensemen. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I have not given up on this offensively charged line.) In his last three games, Kruger has been #1 star, #3 star and #1 star. Dude, that is our fourth line center! Remarkably, as Eddie-O pointed out on Friday, Coach Q is perfectly okay with our fourth line going against the other team’s top line. How many teams in the NHL are blessed with that option?
There does seem to be the synergistic effect of coupling Freddy with the eye brows that ate Chicago, Michal Frolik, pictured below at a team meeting;
If Carcillo is half the man he used to be, well, Katy bar the door when this line takes the ice. Greg Boysen, the editor for secondcityhockey.com, had one of the best lines of the week; “Kruger and Hjarlmarrson could kill a 5-2 penalty if they had to!”
The best line of the week on the various Hawk blogs I peruse was penned by the irascible Sam Fels. When describing the Hawks play on the man advantage he noted, “The Hawks power play has as much movement as a Goth dance party.” Now I’ve never attended a Goth dance party but I’m assuming John Travolta would not be found there. I have two thoughts on the PP; first – so much of the efficacy of a PP is luck. Time and time again you see someone uncork a bomb from the point into rush hour traffic in front of the net. As Nick Lowe sang, “And so it goes and so it goes –but where it’s going no one knows.” Secondly, perhaps we need more meatballs standing near the crease. We need two bodies screening the goalie and one crashing the net. It’s time to Phil Esposito the PP. As Coach Ditka once said, “I’m sick of the skill players” – no more pussy-footing around. Oh, and move a little too.
Lin’s Bin on XRT also had a great line this week, a line that could explain some of Cor-dawgs success in the net this season. The Bin was on whether or not a teacher should quit his day job and become a painter. Lin pointed out that someone once told Van Gogh he couldn’t be a painter because he only had one ear. Fortunately Van Gogh couldn’t hear the critic, eh? Good thing Corey didn’t listen to all his detractors!
The metamorphoses of Crawford’s game in less than a year is one Ovid would probably record for posterity. I can honestly say that I was never overly concerned with the Hawks goaltenders. I don’t know if I would put him in an elite status, but Corey certainly belongs in the NHL. Emery is a very adequate back up. I know a lot of very knowledgeable fans still have their doubts about Crow and the Bro. You might be well advised to consider this gem from Ovid – “The spirited horse, which will try to win of its own accord, will jump even higher if encouraged.”
Lin also pointed out Salvador Dali once said, “I don’t take drugs. I am drugs.” For whatever reason I couldn’t help but think of Tazer when I heard that quote. The Captain almost appeared to be on drugs, or at least under the influence of a moment of insanity, when he decided to chop down Jack and the Beanstalk late in the first period. I believe he was awarded the #2 star of the game just for that major contribution. I might have made him #1 star, such is my disdain for Thornton. Many of you who watched the fight may have given a clear decision to Jumbo – I beg to differ.
First off, Tazer got the best shot in with a wicked cross check that clearly stunned the Sharks Captain. Toews then repeatedly pushes Thornton down as he tries to get up. Admittedly, it appeared Jumbo got the only two good licks in when they dropped the gloves, but Tazer standing up to Thornton sent a pretty clear message. Basically Toews said there was a lot of stuff that flicked the Psycho Jonny switch on – not the least of which is the blatant cheap shot last year that I believe started Tazer’s concussion symptoms. Thornton spent the rest of the evening skating around like a Jumbo Shrimp. “Kick his ass Seabass!” Mad Jonny is a metamorphoses I sort of like.
Well, we improved to an astonishing 11-0-3 with the surprisingly easy win over the Sharks. I’m sure you could think of many other Blackhawks who have gone from the “trade that bum” cries of the 300 section, to an almost recognizable Greek God status in less than 10 months. Good thing the Hawks brass had a little patience with players like Hjarlmarrson, Frolik and Stalberg. Anybody still very concerned about Leddy’s lack of physical play? I’m sure every player in the league is well aware of Bryan Bickell and his butterfly kisses by now.
And if anyone asks you why the Hawks have got off to such an incredible start, just babble something about Ovid and metamorphoses – the stories of things changing into other forms. Hell, it’s as good an explanation as any!
Rich Lindbloom is the author of the book War Drums in the Distance: Special Moments in a three year quest for hockey’s Holy Grail, a collection of pieces written on the Chicago Blackhawks return to prominence and up to the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup Championship. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com or for the Kindle.