“I wanna tell you a story
I wanna tell you about my town
I’m gonna tell you a big bad story, baby
Aww, it’s all about my town…”
By Rich Lindbloom
Ah June in the 60’s – a time of warm weather, summer vacation, ice cream trucks, twi-light games of ghost in the graveyard, transistor radios, Dick Biondi and Dick Clark – Top 40 and graduation parties at the Surf Club. In 1966, the Standells recorded the song Dirty Water that prompted my dad to ask if there was something wrong with the volume control on my stereo. For those of you not familiar with the object above, it was known as a 45. This particular one peaked at #8 on the charts and brings back memories of a time when music was music. How it never reached #1 is a mystery to me – it probably had something to do with four lads from Liverpool. There was just something so right about singing, “Oh, Boston you’re my home.”
For many fans, it was also a time when hockey was hockey. It’s hard to fathom at one time there were only 6 teams in the NHL. As I watched Game Five of the conference Finals Saturday on a huge, high definition flat screen at a local watering hole, my mind drifted back to TV’s where you had to play with the rabbit ears to try and get a decent picture. And you think it’s hard to follow the puck now! I miss those back to back slugfests on Saturday and Sunday nights. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt,” never rang so true! It was pretty easy to keep track of all the hooligans and jackrabbits on the other five teams. Get ready to see some shots of goalies when they were real men!
Those teams and players will always hold a special place in my heart. Their distinctive uniforms, for one reason or another, just seem classier than the rest of the league. When our groups split up season tickets, those games are always snapped up quicker than the Senior Citizen Buffet at Costco. Even the Maple Leaf games are prized possessions!
The 1967-68 season saw six new teams enter the NHL fracas – the California Seals, LA Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and, in a mistake that has never been rectified, the St. Louis Blues. Expansion continued until it reached its present day total of 30 teams. Personally, I’m not a fan who thinks the league has become too watered down. Most towns will fervently exhort their teams on if the playoffs are in reach – watching Columbus push themselves to the limit this season was a joy to behold. Yet, there just seems to be something very special brewing in this year’s Lord Stanley Cup Finals as Mary Dixon from WXRT termed it the other morning. It’s been 34 years since two original six teams locked horns for the Cup, with the Canadians winning in five games over the Rangers. At the very least, I’m expecting a lot of old footage and interviews with the participants, or should I say combatants, from that era.
Before we get on to my “take it to the bank prediction” as to the outcome of this year’s Cup, isn’t it nice to have three days to savor, (i.e. recover from), that roller coaster of a game we watched last Saturday? What started out as a laugher, turned into a “how much time is left on the clock affair” after the first period. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted from our shoulders when Kaner ripped home his second goal of the night off great feed from a player who most likely will take the money and run this year, Bryan Bickell. (For those of you fretting Bickell’s departure, take time to read Chris Block’s excellent piece in Saturday’s Committed Indian; it helped put my worried mind at ease.) When Bick’s clearing attempt with 14 seconds remaining ended up in an icing call, I recall telling a friend, “This could be very dangerous.”
Jarret Stoll, who really deserved an assist on the tying goal, squared off against the #2 face off machine in the NHL, Jonathan Toews (59% during the regular season – a sluggard on Boston named Bergeron led the league at 62%!) I overheard at work that someone on the radio said Handzus should have been taking that faceoff. (In the playoffs Tazer was 53.3% and Zus was 47%) I’m guessing this was the same radio announcer that stuck a fork in the Hawks when they went down 1-3 against Detroit. Regardless, Hawk fans throughout the city held their breath as the official prepared to drop the puck.
After what seemed to be about two seconds of assiduous skirmishing, the puck squirted backwards to Anze Kopitar and he sent it quickly to Voynov. That pain-in-the-butt all series then banked a wrister off of nozzle extraordinaire, Mike Richards. I guess it was a pretty play if you were a Kings fan. Good to see Richards out there – hopefully he was concussion free and not trying to pull a Gregory Campbell. (In a side note, I think much of the hockey world was saddened by the premature retiring of the Blues Andy McDonald due to recurring concussion symptoms. Get well and stay well Andy – the Blues will sorely miss you.)
A sickening pall came over the Fifth Quarter in downtown Homewood when Richards squared things up. That is except for the notable exception of Steve the owner, who smiled as the patrons of his establishment refilled their glasses. I can’t begin to imagine the deflated atmosphere at the United Center. On a night where the referee’s whistles were nothing more than an adornment, (four total penalties in 4.5 periods of hockey!) they were completely jettisoned during the OT periods. Playoff hockey, don’t you just love it?! Not surprisingly, I called about 8 penalties on the Kings from my bar stool in the first OT period alone.
After a fast paced first OT, in which the Kings seem to have the upper edge, the score remained knotted at 3-3. Steve was smiling again as most of the patrons glasses were emptied while trying to calm their nerves as Corey battled Quick to a standstill. It wasn’t until the 11:40 mark of period #5 that our Hoochie Coochie man came barreling in on a two on one with who else, but #19. Someday, we’re all going to look back on this crime stopping duo and realize what a privilege it was to see these two wearing the Indian Head at the same time. Their magic was on full display on this tense night.
To say that Crazy 88’s had his mojo working in Game Five would be a slight understatement. Over the years Kaner has been on again, and off again, of the Captain’s line. There are times it worked and times it didn’t. Against the Kings they were absolutely formidable. Hollywood could not have written a better script than 19 and 88 barreling down on a two on one in a second OT period. The fact that it resulted in a hat trick for a player that many people were ready to trade next year, (again), was just pure icing on the cake. Kaner got his cake and got to eat it too. (Another good thing about the three day layoff is Patrick may be sober by Wednesday. I’m assuming some of the Hawk players pulled an all-nighter after this victory – I mean how could you sleep after it?) Do you want to know what I’m think? I’m hoping I live to see the day numbers 19 and 88 are hauled to the rafters. I’m sure I’ll recall the game winner in Game Five vs. the Kings when they do.
Of course, the valiant protectors of Gotham had a little help in overcoming a very strong effort from a beat up Kings squad. As someone noted, the champ went down swinging. Jeff Carter and Justin Williams, two players who really grind my gourd, excelled in this series. They seemed to be involved in every King score. In the end though, I think it was the Hawks speed and depth at the blue line that nudged us past the wire.
Despite my vote, I doubt that Niklas Hjalmarsson will win MVP of the Hawks this season. At the very least he should win most improved player. When you start mentioning Hammer’s name with Duncan Keith’s, you’re beginning to breathe some rarefied air. He’s been incredible this season at getting the puck the hell out of our zone. I’m still trying to figure out why he turns sideways to block shots, (I’m guessing he makes himself a bigger target), but if this continues he really needs to put some additional padding around the outside of his knees.
Another player who may want to don some additional padding is our little Chicken Hawk. One of my bosses told me Andrew Shaw’s dad came up to the box where Bobby Hull was Saturday and wanted to shake the Golden Jet’s hand. Reportedly Bobby told him, “If all the players played like your son, we wouldn’t have any problems.” Pretty high encomium from a guy who knows a thing or two about hockey. (Of course, there might be a lot more Blackhawks in the penalty box if that were the case.)
It was also pointed out by Rubin that he thinks playing on Shaw’s line has help transform both Bickell and Stalberg into more rough and tumble type players. It’s an interesting hypothesis. Maybe “crazy” can rub off on your line mates. Matt Greene, (6’3”, 232#’s) tried to decapitate Shaw with a wicked cross check to the head in Saturday’s game. That play made Duncan Keith’s wreck less high stick look like a love tap in comparison. I haven’t heard any talk about a possible suspension for that wicked hit, which sliced Shaw’s nose. I guess in Shanahan’s mind it was a hockey play. Greene could have fractured Shaw’s skull with that hit, but apparently Shama-lama-ding-dong thought a two minute penalty was a big enough deterrent to stop this course of action in the future. Obviously, Blind Justice reigns in the Czar of Discipline’s office. At least Duncs said he was sorry.
One area that would be nice to improve on for the Hawks would be Marcus Kruger’s faceoff %, which was below 36% before Saturday’s game. After watching him lose a draw on Saturday I turned to a friend and said, “When you think about it, the effectiveness of our penalty kill this year is even more puzzling when you consider we lose just about every opening draw on the PK.” It’s like were purposely taunting/mocking the opposition’s Power Play team.
There certainly is very little fault in the rest of “Freddy’s” game. He and Frolik have really had a pretty incredible season – funny how some players click together. They skate like those daring young men on the Flying Trapeze, seldom shying away from contact. With Bolland centering the fourth line currently, the opposition does not have a lot of time to make decisions with the puck. Certainly not your prototypical fourth line grinders. They will descend on you like flies on a potato salad.
Well, despite a lot of tense moments in Saturday’s game, All’s Well That Ends Well, eh? As we move forward, the Bruins are a multi-talented team that will no doubt be a bit more than a bump in the road in our pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup. I believe it will take less than one shift for Hawk fans to develop a deep disdain for Bradley Marchand-definitely the type of player you either love or hate. I firmly believe if the Sedin, (who was repeatedly punched in the face by Marchand in a post whistle scrum), would have took a swing at the pest, Vancouver would have won the Cup two years ago.
Lucic (68 hits) and Horton (7G and 10A) are certainly two big, talented, sides of beef. As Dana Garvey noted in the classic film Master of Disguise, “Ah, the muscle.” They are centered by that slippery little devil, David Krejci. (9G, 12A) I think I read Bergeron is 70% at the dot in the playoffs. They have the Jolly green Giant on defense, and word is they intend to duct tape Gregory Campbell’s broken leg. (Hey-don’t knock it, it works on everything else!) There backstop, Tuukka Rask, somehow managed to hold the Penguins to two goals in four games; although it should be noted he has the worst beard in NHL Playoff history.
As I put the finishing touches on the treatise, I’ll finish by saying I think the hockey world is in for a treat. While I’d be happy with a four game sweep, watching this series play out over seven games would be one for the ages. All year long I’ve heard the Hawk detractors say, “Wait until the second season starts – you’ll be lucky to win one series.” Well, the second season is here, the moment is now. Win or lose, this has been a special season for the men of four feathers. However, while you’re at it Hawks, you might as well just go ahead and finish the job you started.
Obviously there have been many great songs and great hockey players since 1966. However, like the song Dirty Water, those two great uniforms have withstood the acid test of time. To those of us fortunate enough to witness this great game when there were only six teams, the uniforms speak volumes.
Oh, by the way. Hawks in seven – you didn’t think they were going to make this easy on us did you?