By Rich Lindbloom
If nothing else last week, I discovered how deep, vast and wide the State of Texas is. We visited Lake Rayburn in the east, and then the Austin and San Antonio area. Needless to say, finding the Hawks games at local watering holes proved to be a challenge. With the exception of the King’s game, we were forced to follow the action on our cell phones. Obviously, we were less than enthused with the late game meltdowns-twice against the Quackers and once against LA.
After the first loss to Anaheim, a quite distasteful 2-4 ending, I thought of a perfect way to describe the outcome. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to see Carlos Santana and his band, you know one of the many highlights is the ending to the song Black Magic Woman. The percussion section is already earnestly pounding away on their bongo’s when Carlos walks over to them, repeatedly lifting his hand upwards, trying to coax a little more out of them. Somehow they dig a little deeper, (the bongo equivalent of heading into the corners), building up to the moment where Carlos’s inimitable, blazing guitar goes to town. Los, baby, Los!
The guitar work at the end of that song is as good as it gets in the rock and roll world. It seems I always turn the volume up two notches at this point. As I drove home from work the day after the 2-4 loss to Ryan Getzlaf and his crew, the song was playing. As the song approached it’s electrifying climax, I started to reach for the dial on the volume. All of the sudden, the DJ fades the song out and starts blabbering away like nothing happened. Are you kidding me? The resulting disappointment perfectly described how I felt watching us lose in the final minutes against LA and Anaheim.
At least in hockey, you can make up excuses for losing. (the puck bouncing off Oduya’s noggin, or Hjalmarsson’s stick breaking in two or forgetting to keep a wary eye on Getzlaf after dominating 15 minutes of the third period or the opposition kicking a loose puck into the net against LA or ignoring the fact that Shaw was blatantly tripped on LA’s shorty-all valid points to harp about.) However, any DJ who truncates the ending of Black Magic Woman, needs to be tarred and feathered, castrated and/or lobotomized. It’s the whole song, morons. Don’t play it if it doesn’t fit into your two minute, sink laden time frame. Playing that song without the ending is tantamount to the Mona Lisa with no smile, or Caravaggio’s painting of David and Goliath without the shepherd boy holding up the giants severed head. I could go on and on, but I think I made my point. Life is Bad when DJ’s try and pull that stuff.
While in Texas, my daughter and I managed to locate a sports bar called Stubbs in Rayburn that was able to find the Hawk/King game on a small TV in the corner of the smoke filled bar. The bar had at least 15 framed shirts of bass fishing champions adorning the walls-needless to say, we were the only ones interested in the hockey game. It was the first time we were able to watch a Hawk game together this year, bringing back fond memories of all the games we’ve watched together since 2005/06 together. (Somehow, I managed to keep the Fels brothers from corrupting her.) Against the Kings were able to high five, holler “Yes!” and bemoan the glaring deficiencies of the zebras as we stared up at the 19” TV that was putting a crick in my neck.
After the second period ended, with Dwight King blatantly kicking the puck past Crawford, (this observation was confirmed by Sam Fels when I asked him in between the first and second period of the Preds game), we turned around and realized we were the only ones left in our section of the bar. Of course, if Niklas Hjalmarsson had just stopped in front of Drew Doughty, instead of a weak fly by, the Hawks would have went to the locker-room with the lead after the two periods. I know Doughty is a great d-dog, but if ever the phrase “Hit Someone!” was apropos, this was the moment.
I think that was Hjalmarsson’s second or third mistake this year, so we cut him some slack. However, goals scored in the last half second of a period go over like excessive flatulence in a crowded elevator. The good news was, since we were the only ones left, we were able to switch to the big screen TV and turn the sound up. The waitress got a kick out of our enthusiasm and admitted she didn’t know much about hockey – we encouraged her to join the club! Although they had locked the doors, they let us stay in until the bitter end while they cleaned up.
As it turned out Dustin Brown stuck a dagger in us after his initial snapshot, off a strong face off win by Anze Kopitar. The shot was going about ten feet wide of the net before striking Oduya in the noggin. Memories of my father repeatedly admonishing me to use my head as a youth came to mind; although that sagacious bit of advice just didn’t work out to well for Oduya on that particular play. The puck went right back to Brown’s stick and he wasted little time making the deposit that ensured the Kings fortuitous victory. Brown was immediately cut from my Fantasy team. Doughty is on a three game probation.
The Anaheim game also saw us succumb to the fickle finger of fate. Sheldon Souray, who was basically dumped by the Oilers two years ago, has seemed to found a home in California. He’s on the number one defensive unit and is a ridiculous +25, with 7 goals and 6 assists. He blasted a shot from the point late in the third, breaking Hjalmarsson’s stick. Somehow, I doubt that slapper would have shattered the wooden Northland sticks we grew up with. The puck was deflected by surprise starter Ray Emery, with just over two minutes left in the tight defensive effort – i.e. boring. Several people asked me if I was afraid of Anaheim should we meet in the playoff. My reply was, “I’m scared of anyone we face in the playoffs!” Although as Sam Fels pointed out, the Wings are a good match for us. They are not overly physical and think they can skate with us. Clearly after Sunday’s matinee there is a little Panic in Detroit.
We had driven through the night from Tyler, Texas and had reached Champaign about the time the Hawk/Wing game began. By the time we exited Champaign, the score was 3-0! Can you begin to imagine the ribbing Jakub Kindl took from his teammates after he scored on a backhander, beating Howard high glove side? At least he didn’t raise his stick in exultation. Although he hasn’t been sent down to the Grand Rapid Griffin’s yet, it may only be because Babcock is still in a state of shock. Credit Jimmy Hayes with an assist for putting a lot of pressure on Kindl as he tried to get rid of the hot potato.
Listening to the game on the radio was a delightful way to kill the last two hours of the 14 hour drive. I sat down in time to catch Bolland’s legitimate goal on TV. Please, more of that type of shot Davey. Bolland appears to be this year’s whipping boy on the Hawks, (it’s just our nature, we are compelled to harp about something.) Mark my words; we will be praising our own Davey Crockett before this season is over. Tell me you can’t picture Bolland in a coon skin hat exclaiming “Remember the Alamo!” as our team heads into the playoff battles. Hopefully the injury Bolland suffered against the Preds is nothing to serious.
We faced a team that is fighting for their playoff life at the moment last Monday. It was the first game I was able to attend at the United Center in quite awhile. As we drove by the Cell to the booming sound of the exploding scoreboard, (Go, Go Sox!), I was thinking the Hawks/Preds game might be a bit of a snore. I was delightfully surprised by the pace of the game, as normally Barry Trotz coached teams play a brand of hockey that borders on persistent constipation. This game was pretty wide open affair, with the Hawks dominating the first two stanzas. Nashville turned the tables, with the weaker team suddenly becoming dominant in the third. Cor-dawg seemed to suffer momentary paralysis on a couple of dump ins, leading to an awful goal by David Legwand. Even Bobby Hull pounded his hand on the table and exclaimed, “He did the same thing in the playoffs last year.” Seems Bobby may have forgotten he made a goalie or two look foolish in his day.
Corey did batten down the hatches, when it seemed Nashville kept the puck in our zone for the first ten minutes of the third period. It’s odd, but a good portion of Blackhawk fans have a unsettling, uneasy feeling about our masked man despite a stellar campaign. Such is the life of a goalie I guess. Crawford is second in the league in GAA-1.97 and third in SV% at .925. He did win a few borderline fans back when he stopped 4 out of the 5 Predator’s in the shootout. Big confidence booster in my opinion. Maybe the Pred players should have just dumped the puck in from the blue line-Corey inexplicably struggled with that shot on Monday.
Of course, the buzz in the stadium was audible when Coach Q tapped Michal Rozsival on the shoulder. Confusion reigned in the U. C. over that selection as he picked up the puck at center ice. Troy Murray described it the best when he said, “That’s a curious choice,” obviously questioning the sheer genius of the Q-meister. My wife said it was probably a good selection because Rinne had no idea what Rosi’s best move were. Listening to the radio on the way home though, it turns out Rozsival was 9 out of 10 in practice this week. Do you think Q might go to the well next time the situation arises? The dude knows how to bust a move-much like yours truly, but more on that in a moment.
There were three other highlights that stood out in my mind in Predator game. First off, does Andrew Shaw know Paul Gaustad is 6’5” and 223#’s? Sometimes you just have to wonder if Andrew is a few cards short of a full deck. Then again, the fearless, passionate way he plays this game is why he’s in the NHL. Chicken Hawk should have had a goal on a 2 on 1 in the second period when Stalberg made a perfect pass. Anyone else think Stalberg is “seeing’ the ice a lot better this season? He’s no Kaner yet, but…
Nick “Lightning” Leddy, continues to improve beyond our wildest dreams. I’ve said he looks Bobby Orr-ish at times the way he rushes the puck – only because I don’t know who else to compare him to. Someone recently suggested Paul Coffey, which may be a better match. In my mind, he rushes the puck better than Brian Campbell. Such comparisons are indeed premature, but I’m really starting to like him winding up behind our net and swooping down the ice like a Stealth Bomber. He made one defensive play in the third that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen. One of the Pred’s broke out of his zone with at least a 15 foot lead on Leddy. The next 5 or 6 strides of Leddy could only be described as explosive. It was like he was shot out of a cannon. I get excited when I see players skate like that! I’d suspect we might see some Leddy and Saad shirts at the U.C. before season end.
Finally, Tazer and Crazy 88 cruising in on a two on one. Only one way to describe that scenario – “Life is Good.”
Some of you may be wondering what the trio pictured above this piece has to do with hockey. Obviously, they are not in Santana’s band. The long and short of it is we saw the harpist pictured above in a saloon in Austin, Texas on the infamous 6th street. There must have been 10 bands playing in the establishments on that wild and crazy avenue. Austin is loaded with talented musicians. Nathalie Googled entertainment in Austin and stumbled upon an eclectic band called “Harp on This.” They played songs featuring a harp that were sort of a mixture of jazz, reggae and blues. “Hmmm, this ought to be interesting,” as I pondered the incongruity of it all.
We had dinner at Riley’s and as we were finishing up, the band started playing a great rendition of Bob Marleys One Love. They then played Dock of the Bay and Wooly Bull. (that song brought back fond memories of Ted Bulley. Wooly Bulley played for the Hawks from 1977 to 1982-and that’s probably all the band has in common with hockey) It seemed most of the people at Riley’s were chair dancing by the end of the third song and when they started playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller, I begged my wife and daughter to dance with me. When they refused, I decided to get up by myself and throw it down, Soul Train style.
People in the bar started laughing, but this band, and moment, was just too good to sit like bump on a log. Shortly after I began to make a fool out of myself, a strange lady came up and started dancing with me. When the band played Aretha’s Respect, the dance floor became a bit crowded. They even did a great cover of Cold Plays Clocks. All three musicians were jamming virtuoso’s – who’d a thunk it?
I don’t think many of us thought the Hawks would be in the position they find themselves in as we head towards the second season. The ebbs and flows of a hockey season, or even a game, can be very taxing on us die-hard fans. It wasn’t too long ago we were harping about not making the playoffs. Now there’s a lot of harping about if we don’t hoist the Cup again, everything means nothing. Basically though, other than DJ’s who cut off the ending of Black Magic Woman, Life is Good. Whether it’s sitting with your 19 year old daughter watching the Hawks at a place called Stubbs in Rayburn, Texas; or getting your wife to finally dance with you; or getting blown away by a band you never heard of; or blowouts in Motown; or even seeing two octogenarians who have been going to Hawk games since 1952 caught smooching on the Kiss-Cam. (Seriously RoseLee and Earl, get a room!)
For all our harping, the 2013 Blackhawks are proving to be a team that’s as exciting as the 09/10 champs. They have a swagger about them-they know how to get down. They are every bit as exciting as a band with a harpist gone wild in Austin Texas. I remain unconvinced this team is going nowhere without a true #2 center or a Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes, as many worry warts have said. All we can really hope for is that they leave it all out on the floor and let the cards fall where they may. I like our chances-breathe!
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.