“He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly, but because he felt deeply.” – John Buchan
By Rich Lindbloom
To be honest with you, I had forgotten what it felt like after a Hawks loss. I had been perched on Cloud Nine, (clearly a million miles, from reality), for 24 games in a row. There’s such a feeling of “momentary” euphoria when we triumph over the known scoundrels in the NHL. Truly a case of good triumphing over evil – Truth, justice and the Chicago way. When we win, I devour every word of the postgame show as if something meaningful is actually being said. As the song goes, “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” While we all knew it couldn’t last, a feeling of invincibility and smugness had settled in during “The Streak.”
And then the Avalanche and Oiler games happened. Before I dissect what went wrong for your, as Jim Morrison would put it, “fragile, eggshell minds,” I have to tell you about a lesson on life I learned well over 40 years ago.
Back in the 70’s I recall sitting down and listening to the head of the maintenance department at Oak Forest H.S, where I worked 12 hour weekend shifts. Knowing my partner Greg and I were on the knucklehead side of the ledger, he’d stop by to check up on us. Every once in a while he’d actually catch us working. I’m not sure why, but I always liked to sit down and listen to his stories. Russ was a cagey old codger who had a hankering for gambling.
One day, I’m guessing it was after a night of trying to fill inside straights, Russ waxed philosophically about feelings. “Do you know what the two greatest feelings in the world are?” he asked. Based on the temporary euphoria evoked, obviously winning is one. However, the other side of the coin – losing – is just as powerful when it comes to evoking emotion. Certainly winning is important in life, but clearly, it is not the only thing. Otherwise, most of us might as well throw in the towel right now. Vancouver fans would have jumped into the depths of the Howe Sound a long time ago. Cub fans – well, you get the picture.
Think about all the music and art that has been a result of the emotion of losing. Could songs like Mr. Bojangle’s, written by Jerry Jeff Walker, have been penned in a moment of euphoria? The truth is, Mr. Walker wrote the song after meeting a street performer in a New Orleans jail after getting arrested for public intoxication. Generally speaking jails are not associated with winners. Yet, this song has been recorded by artists such as Garth Brooks, Chet Atkins, Henry Belafonte, David Bromberg, The Byrds, John Denver, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and even Old Blue Eyes. And that just scratches the surface. If you stop and think for a moment, I’m sure there are a few songs you can recall that could have only been penned in moments of deepest despair. “In the early morning rain, with a dollar in my hand…” – I just love me some Gordon Lightfoot.
You see, something good can come out of losing. Don’t you feel better already?
I bring all this up as a way of coping with the humiliating loss to the Avalanche last Friday. The loss brought up feelings I haven’t had to deal with yet this season. While most Hawk fans are not Sitting on the dock of the bay, (yet), some shillyshally thoughts of just how good we are have crept into their psyche. I felt intense shame on Friday, despite the 21-0-3 record. How quickly feelings of joy and elation can be dispersed by worry and despair. To tell you the truth, when it comes to the Blackhawks, I have a problem embracing losing feelings. I certainly didn’t have the urge to sing Friday night around 10:45pm.
Maybe we are a little shakier than our record would indicate. Will the rabbit’s foot fall out of our goaltenders pads? Will face off shortcomings be our undoing? Are we too soft to win against physical teams in a seven game series? Are the referees under league orders to make the Hawks ‘earn it?’ Has the chemistry of our third line been destroyed as Coach Q tries to figure out who to replace Sharp with? Are the special teams really that special? The Oilers, with the aid of the zebra’s, certainly exposed a few chinks in the armor. As Chicken Little would exclaim, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
While it might seem simplistic, the solution to turning this precarious skid around can be summarized in two words, “Hit Someone!” Yes, the last two games have brought out the “inner meatball” in me. If you can’t beat them, beat the hell out of them-that’s hockey. The game against Colorado looked like the Hawks thought they were playing in an over 50 no check league. Lane, who “checks” in at thethirdmanin.com on occasion noted, “let’s see…3 elbows to the head of Kane, Keith and Shaw respectively and a crosscheck just under the neck of Hossa by Landeskog over the last two games and the Hawks retaliate by…pushing and shoving? I’m embarrassed by the lack of response to the “liberties” the Avs took over a two game span.” That summarized exactly what I was feeling at that moment. It’s bad enough losing, but it seemed the Avalanche players were rubbing our nose in it. And that ain’t right.
It’s obvious that this Hawk team is not built with the purpose of kicking ass and taking names. Sadly, we haven’t been the same since John Scott left. But the Avalanche game may have had the least physicality of any Hawk game I ever watched. You witness more contact in a chess match. The Hawk players did not appear to be very interested in getting their hands dirty, or putting their noses in places they didn’t belong, especially during the Av’s first period onslaught. It didn’t help that we were a day late and a dollar short most of the evening.
Another weakness I noticed in the last two games is how easily our defensemen are getting beat to the puck on the dump and chase. Matt Duchene was especially annoying; blowing by the normally fleet footed Duncan Keith on more than one occasion. It made me wonder, are the Hawk defensemen playing opposing forwards too tight? Should they adapt a more bend but don’t break defensive mindset? While I’m not sure if I should be advising the erstwhile Norris trophy winner how to play his position, desperate times call for desperate measures. And while I’m at it, hit someone twinkle toes!
After the last two paddlings administered to the Hawks, the goaltending doubts reared their ugly heads. Blackhawk fans who have a restless, uneasy feeling about our masked men, pounced on Ebony and Ivory like a vulture on carrion. I realize I’m in the minority in defending Crow on Duchene’s seemingly innocuous backhander. However, I once read that a backhander is one of the hardest shots for a goalie to read – maybe it’s because it stays on the stick longer. Duchene was flying, and released the puck from about 6 paces with nary a Hawk defender in sight. Every other goal that night came from a forward releasing the puck in stride, from prime scoring chance territory. This game resembled the Calgary game, sans the miracle between the pipes. Our goaltenders were faced with a situation similar to a relief pitcher coming in with the bags loaded, a tight strike zone and nobody out. That generally doesn’t turn out to well.
Was I the only one who noticed the moving pick set on Frolik on two of the Avs’ goals. To me it was obvious interference and reaffirmed my suspicion that the NHL is intent on bringing the Hawks back to the pack. I’ll give the zebra’s the benefit of the doubt on O’Reilly’s blast, but the second time it occurred seemed to confirm my hunch. Speaking of O’Reilly, it’s pretty obvious he was missed during his holdout. He was a lot to keep track of on this ill-fated evening in the Mile High City. Probably a fitting name for Denver now that Colorado has legalized marijuana. Maybe that explains why the Hawks looked like high monsters in the first period last Friday. The following photograph pretty much sums up our effort against the Avalanche:
I’m not sure what it is, but we seem to bring out the Mr. Hyde in Edmonton. By the time Sam Gagner took a Sunday stroll into our zone for the second of two goals he would tally in the first period, all I could say was, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Would somebody please hit someone!?” Now I’m not one to normally complain about the refs, (yuk, yuk); but the officiating in this game added incontrovertible proof to my NHL conspiracy theory against the Hawks. One Edmonton player held Tazer’s stick so long he could have carved his name on it. Then the ref calls Leddy for a phantom holding call. The only thing Taylor Hall didn’t due on his takedown of Andrew Shaw was to try and brand him. As we are well aware of in Chicago, you can’t beat City Hall.
Kaner rekindled our hopes with an early strike in the second period. Devan Dubnyk either had delusions of grandeur, was on drugs or decided to make a game out of it when he raced for a loose puck halfway up the right boards. Crazy 88 put on the after burners and beat him to the puck by a split second. He poked it ahead and then outwitted two Oiler defensemen with his uncanny patience. Did you ever notice how things slow down when the pucks on Kaner’s stick? Davey Bolland picked up a helper on the play with a brilliant bit of thinking. It was clear to me the Oilers only hope of stopping the tally was to knock the net off its mooring. Bolland bravely jumped onto the crossbar, holding it down to thwart the dislodging attempt. While hanging like a monkey in a monkey tree, he even lifted his knees to his chest to avoid making the save.
If you want to know the truth, I think it was The Rat who got us going with a thunderous hit on the fore check early in the second. Bolland had a scowl on his face in the 2nd and 3rd period that shouted out, “I don’t like you.” I don’t want to say I told you so, but that hit changed the momentum of the game. When all else fails, hit someone. Bolland also picked up a terrific assist on Kaner’s surgical power play strike in the third period.
Unfortunately, the Oilers were able to stave off a furious comeback by the Hawks in the third period. I don’t know if they drank some espresso in the first intermission, but the Hawks out shot Edmonton 31-13 in the last two frames. We put our skates on their necks and never let up. Speaking of necks, good to see Dubnyk recovered from a hit from his own defenseman after a great save on Marian Hossa. He shut out the Avalanche last night, recording 36 saves in the process. Yann Danis came on in relief of Dubya, (no relation), and sparkled between the pipes to bail out the rest of the team that was clearly taking on water. Although we eventually ran out of time, it felt like we actually won that game. I felt much better about that loss than the avalanche in the Rockies.
So the streak is history. I guess I can finally quit dreaming about going 64-0 this year. Still, 21-0-3 is a record that most likely will stand the acid test of time. It made me feel proud of the warriors with the Indian Head on their chest. It was interesting reading the remarks from fans of other teams as the streak progressed. There were a lot of Hawk haters out there who tried to downplay the achievement. While reluctantly having to admit we’d make the playoffs this year, they claimed it will be one and done. They were also quick to point out we didn’t play anybody in the “mighty” Eastern Conference. Please, that conference is nothing more than glorified rat hockey – how else do you explain Crosby having 45 points already?
However, it was really nice to see fans from various teams in the league dropping by secondcityhockey or thecommittedindian to acknowledge the streak. I had to laugh as many of them prefaced their praise with “I really hate the Hawks, but…” A big stick tap to all you hockey fans! That showed a lot of class.
Well, as that great philosopher Anon. once noted,
Is to learn.”
(I recall Tom O’C finally setting me straight on that Anon. character. I remember asking him who Anon. was one day, pointing out all the quotes attributed to him – true story. It was then that he let me in on the little secret that it stood for anonymous.)
What I learned over the weekend, is how much I hate watching the Hawks lose. It’s like I die a little. It was a foul tasting piece of humble pie we were forced to ingest last Friday. I may just as well have been sitting in a jail in New Orleans, watching Mr. Bojangles do the ol’ soft shoe. Losing seems to be a much deeper emotion than winning.
But, tomorrow is another day. Hopefully can get back on track against the surprising Blue Jackets – apparently none of the players on that team heard that they are terrible. Whatever the outcome, take the advice of Joan Armatrading when it comes to those feelings;
“Show some emotion
Put expression in your eyes
if you’re feeling happy
But if it’s bad
than let those tears roll down”
And if all else fails…dance.
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.