Ain’t but three things in this life worth a solitary dime, Old dogs, children and watermelon wine. - Tom T. Hall
By Rich Lindbloom
Our family has fostered quite a few four legged beasts for South Suburban Humane Society. It’s messy, time consuming and as my daughter would put it, “This house smells like a kennel.” And then she’d pick up one of the critters and talk to it as if the puppy could understand her. “Come here my little Do-Do head or Taco bird, you’re just a little fatso,” and many other endearing terms that emanate somewhere from the soft spots of her heart. I’m fairly certain the puppy has no idea what she’s saying, but the tail wagging like a wind shield wiper in a downpour would seem to indicate the beasts seem to know they’re loved. (Can you imagine a dog without a tail? So much is communicated with so few words.)
I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I told you Nathalie would have kept at least one from every kitten or puppy litter we’ve fostered. Admittedly, by the time they are old enough to be spayed, neutered and hopefully adopted, it is quite difficult to say goodbye to the rather untidy house guests. Cleaning up after them pales in comparison to finally saying goodbye to our four legged friends who all have “pet” names by then. (Hopefully the Hawk organization is planning on keeping the big pit bull who wears #29 next season – c’mon Stan, throw that dog a bone!)
It seems like the predominant breed we’ve fostered has been the notorious American Straffordshire Terrier (aka – The Pit Bull.) We’ve noticed that although quite lovable, they play with each other quite aggressively. Of course when they are done wrestling, they pile up on top of each other for a peaceful siesta. They are very stout puppies, and seem to gain weight quicker than other breeds we’ve had. Taylor’s observation’s that they are “little fatso’s” is pretty much spot on.
So what do pit bulls have to do with Blackhawk hockey? As Kip from Napoleon Dynamite would say – “Easy.” Bryan Bickell and his wife Amanda are involved with an organization called Chicago Loves Pits. The couple has been helping to raise awareness of the other side of coin when it comes to Pit Bulls and their bellicose nature. They have a great photo at the web site of Amanda, Brian and “Taco head,” with the caption, “Bryan Bickell is the only fighter in this family.”
As our worthy opponents from Motown are discovering, when Bryan Bickell has his tail between his legs, well, you just may want to give up the stuffed toy.
Without doubt #29 on the Hawks, “Despicable Bickable,” is making his presence known this series – actually, all season long. Our gentle giant is no Big Buff yet-however if you’re a defenseman chasing down the vulcanized rubber into a dark and desolate corner of the rink with Bickell breathing down your neck, your head better be on a swivel. Entering a dark alley in Englewood might be safer. My advice, acquiesce and live to fight another day – in this case, discretion truly is the better part of valor. Just ask Niklas Kronwall.
The photographer extraordinaire for the Chicago Tribune, Scott Strazzante, captured the moment I’ve been praying for since the notorious #55 on the Wings leveled Martin Havlat in the 08/10 Conference Finals. The only thing missing from the photo is the caption, “I want my mommy.” Kronwall did not take a shift in the last 10 minutes of the game after this crushing blow. Brian just completed his third season as a Blackhawk, although he did play 16 games on that team that brought home the bacon in 09/10. Throughout those three years, many fans have vociferously urged the 6’4”, 226# “little fatso” to hit Hit Someone! It appears the light bulb has gone on, much to our opponent’s chagrin and delight of the denizens in the 300 Section.
Another complaint often lobbed “Bashers” way is he doesn’t frequent the dark alley otherwise known as the front of the crease. It seemed he preferred to launch his massive wristers from 40 feet away, tip toeing around the Andrew Shaw areas of the rink like a giant Tinkerbell on skates. So where does he end up tallying two huge goals in Game’s Five and Six? Let’s just say Phil Esposito would be smiling. My wife and I were smiling when they did a close up of Bickell on the bench in Game Four. I noted, “He looks like a American Straffordshire Terrier!”
Actually, the entire Hawk team has been playing live pack of pit bulls since Detroit went up 3-1. Historically, I believe the chances are about an 8% of digging yourself out of that hole. The comeback has been led by the Hawks Captain, or “Tooos” as my mom likes to call him. After being much maligned after his “meet me in the parking lot when the game is over” effort in Game Four, Toews has played like a man on a mission. (And I still don’t think he had as bad of a game as the critics say he did.) How many athletes can you name that have the desire to win like Tazer?
If # 19 were a dog, I’m thinking he’d be along the lines of an Akita. I remember seeing a picture of an Akita in its back yard watching over a group of kids playing. The caption beneath the picture said, “While relaxing, the stern look of the Akita lets you know he is ever vigilant.” That phrase, “the stern look of the Akita,” seems to describe Tazer in a nutshell. Many pundits were pointing out how Zetterberg was stymying the frustrated captain. This despite Corsi Rating numbers that were off the charts for #19. Toews leads all players on both teams by a wide margin at 36.66 in this critical statistic. Datsyuk leads the wings at 19.61 – Zetterberg is a -5.95. If Zetterberg has Tazers number, the real numbers certainly do not bear that out. Zetterberg does have a better beard than Jonny – actually Nathalie pointed out Toew’s is beginning to look Amish. Even my daughter noted, “Yeah, he needs to work on that beard a little.”
Jim Croce has a song where he sings about four things that are not particularly wise to do if one wishes to remain healthy; You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim. I might add, don’t get Tazer ticked off. It increases a focus that is off the charts already. His goal against Howard in the second period was a great piece of sniping, banking a wrister off Howards head and into the net. Babcock initially disputed the goal, claiming Toews did not state, “Bank shot,” before he fired the point blank wrister. He had about a 10” x 10” window to put that puck. The great ones find a way to get it done, eh?
Duncan Keith, who has quietly amassed 8 assists and one goal this post season, has been playing some very solid hockey. Two plays Saturday night stick out in my mind. One came at the end of a penalty kill when a Wing defenseman tried to hit a forward streaking through center ice. One of the last things you want to see is one of the fleet footed Red Wing forwards flying into the Hawks zone with a full head of steam. Keith sized up the situation and in a split second stepped forward and deflected the puck out of harm’s way.
The other play involved a one on one situation with Gustav Nyquist. Gus was barreling into the Hawks zone with the throttle wide open. Keith was the lone Hawk back, and the only hope to corral the emerging Swedish stallion. Both players were flying and at about the blue line Nyquist put on a few shake and bake moves. Keith did not bite though, making a very difficult defensive play look quite easy. Basically, Duncs refused to give #14 any room, despite the precarious situation. (I think we all remember what Nyquist did to Seabs) Keith used his greatest asset, his considerable skating abilities, and defused the dangerous situation with a poke check that knocked the puck harmlessly to the boards. Crow breathed a sigh of relief, I’m sure.
Neither of those defensive efforts showed up on the score sheet, but plays like that are an integral part of any victory.
Actually, after rolling with three defensive pairs for most of the playoffs, Coach Q has relied more heavily on Keith/Seabs and Hammer/Oduya in the last two or three games. Those four have been logging about 24 minutes each, while Leddy and Roszival have been around 12 minutes in our last two victories. Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the increased chippiness Roszival has brought to the table in the playoffs – it’s obvious he doesn’t care too much for Abdelkader, Detroit’s preeminent nozzle in this series.
The last highlight I wanted to mention from Saturdays game actually took place in the stands. With about 5 minutes left in the game, a Detroit fan who had smuggled an octopus into the U.C., emerged from the Gate by section 120. Do these Wing knuckleheads tape the octopus’s to their body somewhere to get them in? Gross! Regardless, with the Wings trailing 4-1, he launched the octopus onto the ice and then flexed his muscle at the Hawk fans around him. With fans trying to help out the ushers by pointing out the culprit, a vigilante Hawk fan took matters into his own hands. In my book this fan should have been voted #1 Star for taking quick action and dumping a full beer on him. Now that’s hockey!
Although Shaw deservedly was awarded #1 Star, I would have liked to have seen it go to our Captain. The U. C., which was already rocking, would have exploded. It seemed like the weight of the world was lifted from Atlas’s, err, I mean Tazer’s shoulders in a not to be denied performance. He was even smiling for a change.
Of course there were plenty of smiles on Sunday when Michal Handzus knotted the game at 2-2. The series of plays that led to the dagger in Howard’s chest began with two solid pinches by our pressing Swede’s on the back line. First, Oduya sealed the puck about halfway along the left boards. One of the Wings flung the puck blindly along the right boards on the ensuing play. Hjalmarsson intercepted it along the right boards at about the faceoff circle, sealing the puck deep in the Wing zone. (It is unclear if the Hawks had anyone back at this moment! Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.) Of course Handzus made a perfect shot, after daring Howard to make the first move, but the play really started with two pinches by our gallant Swedes – one blonde, one not so blonde.
I had to have someone pinch me to make sure I truly did see a PP goal or two for a change the last two games. One thing I noticed that contributed to our success was the stick handling abilities of Big Hoss. On Sunday, I recall the Wings sending one or two men towards Hossa trying to get him to cough up the puck. It was a classic “I’m Marian Hossa, and you’re not and don’t touch my puck,” moment. He showed great patience and was not pressured into a hurried turnover. Little things like that are huge to the PP’s success. (Kudo’s to Sam Fels for his excellent spy work on the inner workings of the Blackhawk PP by the way in the last Committed Indian issue! As he pointed out we need more options than “Kaner, makes something happen!”)
Finally, there’s Michal Frolik. I don’t know who celebrated his goal more, the eyebrows that ate Chicago or Toews, when he converted his penalty shot. Tazer was jumping up and down like a 10 year old on the bench! You have to see the gif they had posted in the comment section of the Committed Indian web site posted on Monday morning to know what I’m talking about. I believe Frolik has wormed his way into the hearts of the Hawks with his dogged determination this entire season. He foregoed the traditional fist bump when he approached the bench, launching himself into the open arms of the Hawk mosh pit. Seriously, I think at that point he would have been passed around the U.C. if the fans could have gotten hold of him! I’m sure there would be a few girls pinching his derriere as he was being passed around.
In closing, I’d like to mention another dog lover in my family who has been watching the Hawks for well over 50 years now. I visited my ailing mom Sunday afternoon and of course we discussed the game. She has been in and out of hospitals and Nursing homes for about 9 months now – fighting off the ill effects of COPD and an assortment of other ailments. Chronic pain has been her constant companion in her illness’s. However, whenever we talk about the Hawks, her spirits are temporarily lifted. She was quite concerned with the mugging “Tooos” was taking in this series, and was as elated as I with his goal and the Hawk win on Sunday. She did admit she has to keep changing the channel – because the games make her to nervous! (A lot of us know that feeling mom!) As I left the house that afternoon she made a prediction concerning the Hawks post season chances; “If the Hawks win in Detroit on Monday, I think they will go all the way.” I left with a smile on my face.
Of course we have a huge test tonight in one of the greatest rivalries in hockey. But I think my mom may be on to something. C’mon Hawks, win won for the Gipper, err, I mean mom. Let’s go you “little taco head, fatso birds!”
As Marvin Gaye sang, “Let’s get it on…”
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.