“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not
grow weary, they will “skate” and not be faint. – RL abridged version
By Rich Lindbloom
There’s a legend that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching. In fact, while all other avian creatures seek the cover of the tempest tossed tree, the eagle will spread its wings and fly directly into the storm, using the updraft to rise above the approaching danger. Soaring heights and dizzying speeds are achieved that are not attainable under normal conditions. It takes great daring to jump into the maelstrom. Perhaps they achieve this feat by looking up instead of down. Keep your heads up Blackhawks, at the altitude you’re at right now, looking down might cause substantial dizziness. The Hawks are definitely breathing rarefied air at the moment. (At least when they’re not in the locker room.)
One of the highest points I ever climbed was in the Tetons in an area known as Paintbrush Divide. Montana Bob was leading us on yet another one of his hair brained expeditions into the wilderness. After we had hiked up to the top of the Divide, we found a comfortable rock to sit on, gazing out towards Idaho at a violent lightning storm. The storm seemed to be held in abeyance, as we drank in this awesome display of fury being unleashed in the distance. All of the sudden, we started to hear static electricity around our lofty perch. I recognized this was not normal, and said, “Do you think we should head down?” Duh.
In the next brief moment, the storm appeared to be unleashed from a slingshot, as it approached us with the speed of Viktor Stalberg blowing by another lead footed defenseman. The wind picked up, and as we high tailed it down the switchbacks to the relative safety of our tents, we got drenched. When the storm passed, we stuck our heads out of the tent and lo and behold was the largest rainbow I have ever seen. I know I will never see anything as magnificent in this life again. Although, the Hawk’s 16-0-3 start is almost as mind boggling.
The tops of mountains have always seemed eerie to me. It’s almost like there is some invisible spirit there who you are intruding upon-sacred ground so to speak. Typically, the wind is robust and brisk, flooding the senses with stimulation we’re not accustomed to. The panorama and sounds can be a bit disorienting. We climbed another peak a little later that week. After a few moments of taking it all in, I asked Montana Bob if we should start heading down. It was almost as if he could read my mind, sensing my uneasiness. “It’s spooky up here, isn’t it?” he replied.
The Blackhawks are sure playing ay dizzying heights at the moment. No doubt, it’s a bit spooky on the lofty perch they find themselves upon. I’m guessing that the Blackhawks will win a few Stanley Cups before the record of 19 games without a defeat is broken. The Hawks have become the like the Notre Dame football teams of my youth – everyone wants to be the team that beats them. As my wife’s dad once noted, “I’m for two teams; Missouri and whoever is playing Notre Dame.” Despite the most assiduous attempts of our worthy opponents, the Hawks appear to be as cool as a cucumber.
Many fans in the NHL remain unconvinced that the Blackhawks, (in this day and age of parity in the NHL), have morphed into the 1995/96 Red Wings at 62-13-7 or one of those power house Canadian teams in the mid 70’s. The 1976/77 Canadians went 60-8-12. “They’ve been lucky,” is a familiar refrain. “The streak is nice, but it’s meaningless once the second season begins in the NHL,” is another caution crossing the lips of not only the rest of the league, but nervous Nellie’s inhabiting the United Center. “Do the Hawks really think they can advance with a Crow and a Bro between the pipes?” was a common early question posed by the sagacious analysts. “They are bad at face offs, aren’t physical enough and their Power Play can get as bogged down as rush hour traffic,” are other attempts to find chinks in their armor.
One of the confused, delusional St. Louis Blues fan at work tried to steal our thunder by saying “The Hawks are peaking too soon,” – really, is that all you envious Hawk haters got? Yeah, I’d guess we’d be better off like Secretariat sitting in the back of the pack, waiting to make our move in April –Not! I’m not saying we’ll win this thing by 31 lengths like Big Red did at Belmont, but you have to like our position. (To me Big Red’s victory is the greatest feat in sports history-although Jean-Claude Killy, throwing all caution to the wind, barreling recklessly down the slopes in Grenoble France in 1968 was a close second.) But let’s address the “peaking to early theory” proposed by the doubtful Blues fan.
To tell you the truth, I don’t think this team has peaked yet. The unbeaten string is the culmination of several factors. Number one, other than the fragile, eggshell body of The Rat, we’ve remained remarkably healthy. I have a bad habit of defending teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets. While most everyone sees them as a mere annoyance on the schedule, they actually played some good hockey this year. As the saying goes though, when it rains it pours. Last night Derick Brassard was helped off the ice, joining the Jackets two other starting centers in the press box. (Anisimov and Dubinsky) Can you imagine if the Hawks lost Toews, Bolland and Shaw or Kruger? – devastating to say the least. Keep your fingers crossed on this front. If you have your health, you have everything, especially in this compacted 2013 season.
Secondly, (with the exception of the Calgary game when it appeared all but one Hawk had thrown in the towel), the Hawks having been working hard every shift. I liked what Edmonton coach Ralph Kreuger said after the game on Monday; “…but they are an amazingly powerful team. They are very strong on the puck and they never, never let up, at all.” That description fits the Chicken Hawk Line to a tee. Stals, Shaw and Bicks appear to be skating like they are on a mission. There’s only one possible explanation to how Hjalmarrson is playing – methamphetamines.
Thirdly, there’s that mercurial, fickle, two timing tramp known as Lady Luck. I pondered this as I read Brad Gardner’s recap of the Columbus game at thethirdmanin.com. “The teams continued to trade chances without much luck throughout most of the second period.” I’m not entirely convinced that you make your own breaks or that they even out in the long run. Many hockey pundits feel the Hawks are bound to hit some misfortune. (i.e. players like Brassard will not shoot a puck over a wide open net.) To tell you the truth, it’s not like we haven’t hit our fair share of posts this season – hell Sharp has about 30 himself. As old Blue Eyes sang, “Luck be a lady, tonight.” Truth of the matter is, it’s better to be lucky and good.
I read this morning that “the problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.” We do have a few issues – a little more luck on the power play, someone else besides Toews needs to win a faceoff, and we need to become a little more gritty. In regards to the last item, out shooting an opponent, instead of out hitting them, seems to be a good game plan. Remember how the Canucks tried to beat us into submission in 2008/2009? That didn’t work out to well for them as I recall. St. Dustin made them pay dearly for their malfeasance.
So, are we peeking too early? Actually a friend helped allay my fears recently when he said, “Take a look at the Western Conference. Is there really any team that you can say has “more” upside than the Hawks?” As I thought about it, teams like Vancouver, Anaheim and San Jose seemed to be on top of that heap, followed closely by the Wings, Kings, Blues, Stars, Preds and Wild. Certainly none of those teams are to be taken lightly – but it’s not exactly like I would swap their teams for the Hawks.
After recovering from multiple stab wounds to their back, perhaps the biggest question mark before the start of this season were the masked men between the pipes. I haven’t heard demands or read pleas lately that Stan Bowman acquire a tier one goalie such as Roberto Lunog-O. (Although in a bit of backsliding – it appears after Sundays trouncing at the hands of the resurgent Wings, he should be called Luong-8.)
There is no doubt that the heights the Hawks have soared to have been greatly enhanced by our last line of defense. Great to see Corey pick up right where he left off when he was injured. (although I wish all the hawk players would quit head butting him after a victory!) Sugar Ray just continues to amaze and befuddle his critics. It appears he took a bit of advice on stress from that great philosopher Satchel Paige, “Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.” You know, a little George Jefferson swagger. You may still be inclined to think that our goalies have peaked, (hard to imagine them getting any better, eh?). I think they’ll continue to be as rock solid as Bedrock. I’m fully expectant that they will continue to have a yaba duba doo time!
No doubt the goaltending has been greatly enhanced by the Hawks defensemen. In fact, as a whole, the team defense seems to be improved. As my friend Jerry McDawg pointed out about Sharpie when he seemed to be a bit lost earlier in the season, “My feeling is he’s thinking offense first when the puck is in the Hawks end…a sure disaster and it makes the hockey gods mad. And you don’t want to make the hockey gods mad.” Also, it appears that Nick Leddy could probably play on the second defensive pairing on most teams in the NHL. His rushes up the ice are beauteous – anyone think that kid has peaked yet?
The fans may claim that this unbeaten streak is meaningless, however something happened when Marian Hossa was being interviewed after his OT goal against the Oilers. (anyone noticing that little pass to himself move he’s used now to get one by Schneider and Mason?) It brought back memories of when Sarah Kustok tried to interview Antti Niemi after the Hawks went up 2-0 on the Flyers in the Cup Finals. She was going to ask a question, but instead just held up the microphone towards the rafters. The United Center was in total pandemonium. Niemi was speechless, and just basked in the warm glow of the rabid, appreciative Blackhawks fans.
On Monday, as the fans started chanting “Hossa, Hossa. Hossa,” Marian was rendered speechless for a moment. Now it could be lingering effects of getting clocked by Hansen, but Big Hoss seemed to really appreciate and relish that moment. The Hawks and their fans may claim that the streak is nothing to write home about. Yet the effort on the ice and fans sitting on the edge of their seats tell a different story – not often we get to watch history being made.
Of course the naysayers will continue to claim the only thing that matters is hoisting the Cup. I say don’t let the curmudgeon’s steal your thunder Hawk fans. Enjoy and savor the next game, the next incredible save, the next sick move Patty Cake puts on a defenseman or the next incongruous line constructed by Coach Q.
Actually this streak and the critics, who say the only thing that matters is when the playoffs start, remind me of one more incident that occurred while hiking in the Tetons. After we had set up a base camp from which to roam around the next day, unencumbered by a 60# backpack, we headed up hill to get a closer look at the Tetons incredible peaks. As we traversed more switchbacks and few snow fields, we came across a dad and his young son. I asked them what it looked like up ahead and his answer has stuck with me until this day; “Just the side of a mountain.” Never has the statement, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” rung more true. Needless to say, I had a slightly different take on that ineffable scenery.
I firmly believe this streak is a special as that “side of a mountain.” Savor the view while it lasts. Hopefully this Hawk team will continue to soar to heights where only eagles dare.
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.