“In war, you win or lose, live or die – and the difference is just an eyelash.” – Douglas MacArthur
By Rich Lindbloom
No, that is not a picture of Sam Fels’s family room wall. Actually, it’s my daughter Taylor’s bedroom wall– nothing like a little Blackhawk paraphernalia to brighten up a room! I had to laugh one day when Nathalie looked at the wall and asked, “What have you done to her?” The wall of fame contains rally towels, ticket stubs, Jonathan Toews pictures, more Jonathan Toews pictures and an assortment of other Hawk items. These items eventually replaced a huge foldout of Mark Bell, the 8th pick in the 1998 draft. I remember her asking me, as we drove home from the game that they gave the Bell poster away, if he was any good. I told her yes and the next day it was up on the wall in the room. Sigh…I miss my hockey bud.
I liked the way Bell played also, but about the time he left Dale Talon pulled two rabbits out of his hat. Hockey has not been the same in Chicago since. We were at the October 19, 2007 game Toews skated around 8 or 9 Avalanche players his rookie season to electrify a half full United Center. I personally have never celebrated a goal as long as that one. As I approach my sixth decade of hollering “Ref you stink,” there have been few moments when I’ve been as excited about two prospects than that night. As Taylor’s wall can attest to, there have been a few other moments in the last six years, since the dynamic duo’s arrival.
However, my favorite Blackhawk season will always remain that one in 07/08 when hockey was born again in Chicago. Toews scored 54 points in 64 games and Kaner had 72 points in 82 games. Up until “The Edmonton Game” you could walk up to the ticket window and for $10 see two of the brightest young stars in the NHL. There will never be a better bang for your buck than that season. Old time fans came out of the woodwork like rats on a sinking ship. I’ll never forget telling Taylor as we drove home from a scintillating victory “That Columbus game is going to be a big one!” Huh? What?
That year, the Hawks practiced at The Edge in Bensenville and would sign autographs after the practice on the way out. As I recall, it was Wisniewski and Burish that TP’d Tazer’s truck after one practice. My wife and daughter actually gave them some kind of magic marker and they wrote stuff like “I love the Red Wings” on the windshield. Man was Toews pissed when he came out. As we’ve learned over the years, Jonny doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. He couldn’t catch the culprits as they peeled out of the parking lot, but he did manage to nail the escape vehicle with a water bottle.
Watching Martin Lapointe applaud the 300 Section and the celebration after that Oiler game will always be my favorite Blackhawk memories. When the Blues won their second to last game of the season against the Preds in Nashville, the Cinderella season drew to an end. The Blackhawk fans hopes and dreams for the future were just beginning though. A lot of teams breathed a sigh of relief when the Hawks were finally eliminated. With two minutes to go in the final home game of the season, the fans were on their feet robustly applauding a season forever etched upon the souls of us fortunate enough to witness it. The ovation was spine tingling, no other way to put it. Clearly, the results were not as important as the effort we witnessed night in and night out. (with one noticeable exception – the infamous “Commit to the Indian game.”)
Although I doubt I’ll ever see a season that exciting, (and reasonably priced!), this season and team, is becoming something special right before our eyes. 19-0-3 after tomahawking the Red Wings in Motown on Sunday, is something to write home about. I had to chuckle at various bloggers who were saying, “I’d almost like us to lose to just get it over with.” Ha! –we’re undefeated and the Hawks still have us sitting on pins and needles. Man up Bucko! I heard one announcer on the NHL network say he hoped Columbus would win on Friday so “we” could stop talking about the streak. Although in many fans eyes, a new benchmark has been set – anything less than the Stanley Cup will be a disappointment – more on that later.
Perhaps one area we can all breathe a little easier about is our masked men in the nets. In the last three games against Divisional foes, that really wanted a piece of us, we’ve given up a total of four goals. I read the recap by Fifth Feather after the game where he noted that if the Hawk goaltending keeps up this pace, it would be hard for any team to win four games against us in a seven game series. That thought unnerved me a bit because memories of that bold statement issued about the Titanic before it set sail, “Even God couldn’t sink the Titanic,” came to mind. (Sort of off track, but have you ever wondered what color the fifth feather would be?)
Now Fifth Feather has a habit of throwing around compliments of the Hawks like he was tossing around a man-hole cover. That was sort of a… “When E. F. Hutton talks…” moment. ‘Objectivity’ would be a word I would use to describe his thoughts on the Hawks – not the whimsical musings of someone who follows this team with their heart. And now? Well I suspect he’s humming that Monkey’s classic, “I’m a believer.” Good golly my mind, indeed.
The Hawks kept the streak alive last week with incredible goaltending by Razor. Hopefully his thigh bone remains attached to his hip bone, because he’s been a big part of the streak. The final score against the Blue Meanies, belied the tenseness of the contest. The Blues threw everything but the kitchen sink at Emery during an intense power play in the second period. There was a smidgeon of luck involved, as Shattenkirk’s blast from the point almost shattered the weld between the crossbar and post of E-dawg’s cage.
The Blues were without the services of three exceptional players (McDonald, Steen and Tarasenko), but put up a valiant fight. It seemed that the Oshie/Perron/Backes line was on the ice every other shift. Now, I realize a lot of Hawk fans were upset that Backes tried to turn Hjalmarsson into a Swedish pancake a few times, but I have to say I like the way the guy plays. He’ll never be a Toews. I get that. But he is bonafide captain material, make no mistake about it. I believe he played injured in the third period after Brandon Saad took a vicious run at him, sending him to the locker room for repairs.(Actually, Saad accidentally bumped into him when he couldn’t get out of the way. He looked a little sheepish, almost apologetic, when Backes was helped off the ice, politely tapping his stick on the boards.)
Backes’ arch enemy, Jonathan Toews, bulldozered two tallies across the goal line by driving hard to the net. On the second one, he whacked it into the back of the net two or three times after it had crossed the goal line. It was as if the circuit board in his head was saying, “Puck must stay in net. Puck must stay in net. Puck must stay in net.” Below is Tazer pictured on his first trip to planet earth, he was called Gort at that time;
As Friday dragged along at work, I was increasingly tempted to go get a standing room only ticket for the Columbus game. I decided at the last minute that it would probably be a lopsided affair and on the duller side of Blackhawk victories. As it turned out, the game turned out to be a fast paced, exciting come-from-behind victory. Although the Blue Jackets had lost 7 of their last 8, they were all by one goal. Friday night’s game would prove to be no different, with Mason having an exceptional night between the irons.
When Seabs buried a pass from Gort, errr I mean Toews, the local watering hole I was in exploded. So did the United Center. So did the Blackhawk players. There was a nice picture of the celebration moments after the goal in thecommittedindian.com. The fans looked like we had just won the Stanley Cup! One of our third stringers provided a goal that gave the Hawks a short lived 3-2 lead. Bickell’s steal and wicked wrister added to the growing legend of our dominating third line. I tried to see if I could follow the puck on the replay, but you really can’t see it until it hits the net – I’m guessing about 125mph on that ripper.
Is it just me, or does the puck never seem to leave the o-zone when these three knuckleheads take to the ice. Early in the third period, Johansen, one of the Jackets up and coming stars, made a Kaner-esque move on Emery to make things very dicey for a while. It wasn’t until Toews spotted Seabs breaking down the slot with his x-ray vision, that the Blackhawk throngs could breathe a sigh of relief. Regardless of what others say, this was a great game to watch. Or maybe I had one too many beers.
That brought us to the matinee on Sunday over a revamped Red Army team. While not as formidable as a few seasons back, the Wings are still a potent threat. They survived a first period onslaught and did a little counter punching of their own as the game progressed. Howard was outstanding and appeared to be in the zone. Brunner and Tatar are new players on the Wings that can inflict considerable pain and damage. It was Tatar that got the Wings on the board first, when a softie eluded Mr. Big, Corey Crawford. (Just kidding about that, but it seems 75% of the goals Emery or Cor-dawg let in are of the soft variety according the armchair ghoulies in the stands.)
The Hawks fought furiously to even the score, but I think I’m not the only one worried this could be the end of the line as the clock ran down. As the Hawks sustained intense pressure behind enemy lines, finally the Wings made a mistake. Jonathan Ericsson lofted one into the stands for a delay of game penalty. It didn’t take Patrick Kane long, after some assiduous work by Viktor Stalberg, to fire the puck into a 12” x 12” box that was open in Howard’s upper left hand corner. Vintage Kaner. Before getting to his shoot out goal, I have to mention the play of Michal Rozsival. He is so smooth with the puck he reminded me of a former player by the name of Lidstrom for the Wings. He was that good Sunday. Coupled with the puck moving Nick Leddy, this is about as good a third pairing on defense as there is in hockey, period. In fact, they may be the best third pairing ever.
Ok now that I have that hyperbole out from under my belt, let’s proceed to the shootout out goal by Kaner; here’s my take. If you have any dogs and take them for walks, you’ll notice they have to mark every spot they sniff. Our males like to hoist their leg high into the air to mark trees and fire hydrants. As Kaner lifted his back leg twice before firing a shot by a mesmerized Howard, it was clear he was mock marking the crease with his scent. From this day forward that move shall be known as “The K-dog marking his territory move,” soon to be emulated by players throughout the league.
Although the Hawks have left their mark in the NHL record book, more and more fans are beginning to clamor for that new bench mark. In their eyes, the only one that really matters – is lifting that 35# silver cup after the last game in June. (Or will it be July this year?) In my mind, this season has been almost as exciting as 07/08. However, as that commercial with the little girl who is asked what’s better, more or less, states “When you like something you want more. You want more” Perhaps Walter Hagen’s advice to “be sure to smell the flowers along the way,” is every bit as important as always wanting more. Basically, I think he was saying don’t let the ultimate goal blind you to the beauty of the moment. It’s the journey, not the destination. From my vantage point, both the Blue Jacket and Wing games this past weekend were a sweet smelling bouquet.
I know one person who would give her right arm to be up here going to an occasional game, even if it were the lowly Blue Jackets. I called my daughter the night the Hawks were playing Vancouver with a chance to tie the undefeated record. She, of course, already knew it and lamented, “why are they playing so good when I’m gone?” Taylor is attending school outside of Dallas, Texas this year, not exactly the hockey hot bed of the world. I had to laugh when she stated she’s turning all her friends into hockey fans. A group of them are actually going to see the Hawks play the Stars in Dallas on March 16th. The games in June will be far from her mind as she gets to see the Hawks play for the first time this season. They’d better win and Tazer better score, if he knows what’s good for him!
Although I would urge Blackhawk fans to savor every game this season, it sure would be nice to see four more rally towels added to her wall of fame in June!
“You find that you have peace of mind and can enjoy yourself, get more sleep, and rest when you know that it was a 100% effort that you gave – win or lose.” – Gordie Howe
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.