By Rich Lindbloom
While walking the dogs the other day, I came across a neighbor who was taking his dog for an evening romp. We exchanged pleasantries and then he said something that really made me laugh; “I can’t wait until Spring,” he said in between a shiver. “Ha! Leo, don’t hold your breath on that one,” I replied with a huge smile on my face. For heaven’s sake, half the leaves were still on the trees! In Leo’s case, I guess there’s a case to be made for hibernation.
Every fall that passes through my life brings back memories of a great Fleetwood Mac album called Bare Trees. It’s has such a haunting, eerie album cover. This album was just prior to Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham vaulting the band into super stardom. While the album “Rumours” sold over 40 million copies, I much preferred the lineup that included Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie and Bob Welch that had recorded two other fine albums called “Kiln House” (yes!), and “Future Games.” To say the band was prolific throughout the 70’s is like saying the Obamacare start-up has a glitch or two. (On a side note, was there ever a decade that produced as much good music as the 70’s? Of course I realize while I state this my dad thought the golden age of music was Gene Autry and the Tumbling Tumblweeds.)
Actually, Fleetwood Mac has gone through more changes over the years than a hockey team with salary cap issues. I hadn’t realized it until I read the history of the band recently that both drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, the two constants in the Fleetwood Mac equation, were members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Joining them at that time was a passable guitarist named Eric Clapton. And you know that’s right.
Bare trees are certainly a sign that the hockey season is in full swing. As we observe the trees who now expose “the nest of robin’s in her hair,” that Joyce Kilmer so eloquently penned, we are giving a stark reminder of the harsh weather soon to come. The “Man it’s cold outside,” statements uttered when someone comes in the door, are a Tom Skilling weather report away. Call me sick if you want to, yet I can’t wait for that first 12″ snow fall. Few things in life seem so right as braving severe elements to take your seat in the United Center for a few hours midst a winter storm. Everyone, including the players, just seem to be more alive.
Our Hawks are alive and well, (although as Johnny Winters noted “every now and then it’s kind of hard to tell”), sporting a 12-2-4 record. Not exactly the 24 game streak without a regulation loss last year, but nonetheless another auspicious start. Is it just me though, or is a bit of the excitement or suspense of a season like Toews and Kane’s rookie year missing? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pretty much glued to the TV set for every game, although wins are now expected. (For those of you counting, #’s 88 and 19 are entering their 7th season!) In 2007/08 there was an air of anticipation before every game, an enthusiasm that filled the arena with rabid hockey fans who knew something special was a brewing. It was more of the Bare Trees than the Rumour’s era. It was raw, uncertain and very reasonably priced!
It seems now the biggest anticipation before the game is will Coach Q continue the Sheldon Brookbank experiment on right wing. (Merciful Father in heaven, save us!) Thankfully, I read that Jeremy Morin is penciled back in that slot tonight. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly wouldn’t throw Brookbank into a John Scott category, but there is no doubt he skates better backwards than forward. Sheldon certainly is not afraid to mix it up with the nozzles on the opposing team, adding some toughness to a team clearly built around speed and skill.
The only other reason I can remotely understand the mind of Q in this scenario is board battles. When the puck is in our end for sustained periods of time, generally speaking the other team is manhandling our fancy pants players. Perhaps one of Sheldon’s overlooked strong points is that he’s good sealing off entry into are zone on the starboard side. I’m not positive, but I’m guessing he gets more defensive zone starts than offensive zone starts. It’s hard to tell, because you don’t see him out on the ice that often. Maybe Coach Q has Brookbank in a Fantasy League and wants him labelled as two position player D/RW – I’ll bet a lot of you never thought of that. One thing for sure, dressing Brookbank is certainly giving more playing time to Kaner.
Even more peculiar than the Brookbank experiment was the incident involving the fan who took the helmet off of Winnipeg’s Adam Hardy last week. Can you say incongruous? Now don’t get me wrong, in no way shape or form would I ever condone that behavior. As Mighty Mike noted in his recap at Cheer the Anthem, knocking a pane of plexiglass out with your noggin could have resulted in a neck injury or worse. In that case, prying the helmet off the players head, could have resulted in a serious injury – no one would be laughing then. (and to his credit, it sure looked like Pardy was foremost concerned with the fans pinned down by the huge sheet of glass.)
However, I absolutely laughed my butt off looking at that guy with the helmet on. What the hell was he thinking? Just when you think you’ve seen it all. Makes me wonder, how many beers does it take to get someone to contemplate such skulduggery? When you’ve reached that point, can you even contemplate – or is it just a case of raw animal instinct? At any rate, whoever you were, thanks for making me laugh, even if you are a bonafide knucklehead. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Coach Q insert him as our third lines right winger in an upcoming game – he might have to put his beer down in between shifts. By the way, Bollig’s check was very reminiscent of Ted “Woolly” Bulley’s thunderous collisions with opposing d-men. “Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw. Had two big horns, and a wooly jaw- Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully.” Like the robot in the Dana Garvey classic, “Master of Disguise,” Bulley liked to hit.
In a surprising moment of sanity on Coach Q’s part, it appears Ben Smith is becoming a permanent fixture on the Kruger/Bollig line, or is it Bollig/Kruger line. It’s about time! Whatever you want to call it, that 4th line has racked up 6 goals and 10 assists this season. They appear to be developing into a bit more than a checking line. While he hasn’t exactly made us forget about Frolik yet, it seems to me Smith has a very similar playing style. Frolik and Kruger developed a chemistry last year that got stronger as the season progressed. Even Coach Q wouldn’t mess with their juju. I really enjoyed the salute the Hawk organization gave to Frolik during a time out during the Jets contest. Frolik did a complete 360 degrees, waving to the fans who obviously appreciated his efforts while donning the Indian Head. A well-deserved ovation for the erstwhile warrior.
Our first line of Sharp/Toews/Hossa, deserves an ovation for their inspired play of late. They have more points than Carter has pills. Their Corsi rating is off the charts, second only to Patrick Kane’s,”this is my puck,” wizardry. (One of the writers at the various blogs recently stated Kane had a +3200 Corsi rating – while a bit of exaggeration, he is probably only off +/- 100) What I’ve really noticed this season is Tazer’s brute strength along the boards – very hard to take the puck away from him. You won’t see Coach Q putting Brookbank in his position anytime soon. When’s the last time you recall our first line facing off in the defensive zone? This might be saying a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sharpie play any better than he is currently. By the way – all hockey announcers – we get it, “If you want to score goals you have to go to the net.” We hear you loud and clear! What we really need to do is “Hit Someone!”
In closing, there are two prime reasons in my mind for the Hawks continued success. First off, does anyone still doubt that Mr. Big is a franchise goalie? Although, he has unnerved me a bit the last few games when it appeared he wanted to lead the rush out of the zone! There were several times lately where he appeared to be abandoning his post. I’m surprised Olczyk hasn’t mentioned that the D got the G and the G got the O.
Secondly, our defense pairs are extremely solid. Hjalmarsson and Oduya are certainly giving Keith and Seabrook a run for their money. Can you begin to fathom that Niklas is worried about making Sweden’s Olympic team? There is no doubt that Hjarmal’s, like a fine bottle of Swedish glogg, is getting better with age. And then there’s this guy Leddy who is the essence of a puck moving machine. If Brookbank is a Hummer, Leddy is a Maserati. It appears that he increasingly has the green light to create when he gets the chance. All I know, is that it makes for very exciting hockey. As Killion once noted about Big Buff, “Cover me, cuz I’m going in!”
Well, we faced one of the most annoying opponents on our schedule tonight and emerged with a hard fought OT victory, surviving the pitching penny’s portion of the game. I think what annoys me most about the Coyotes is their Academy Award winning goalie, Mike Smith. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell Shaw did to deserve a penalty – clearly Smith initiated the contact and did his best imitation of a molestation victim. Toews certainly abused him in the shootout!
The Coyotes had defeated the Canucks, Capitals and the Blues in three out of their last four games. Certainly no one thought this was going to be a cakewalk. For one reason or another, the Yotes have seemed to have our number. Phoenix is a team with considerable talent, yet we out shot them 52 to 30. That’s a paddlin’. Brandon Pirri had two regulation goals, both on deflections, and a beautiful shoot out goal. Unfortunately the first goal was a magnificent deflection past Crow! (Moments later, Shaw failed on his attempt to get one by #50.) Help me out here you knowledgeable hockey fans, (and I think you know who you are), isn’t it an unwritten rule that you don’t extend your stick into a shooting lane?
How Pirri was able to deflect Seabrook’s blast is a “Mystery to Me.” I’m pretty sure Brandon has been watching reruns of the Blackhawk’s telecasts, because he is getting the notion of going to the net. In a surprising turn of events, Pirri went 64% at the dot. (Kruger continued to show improvement in that area of his game, going 57%) Actually, Pirri caused all kind of havoc on Saad’s goal, enough so that Smith started whining to the the refs. Someone needs to go all Ray Emery on that douche bag.
If the truth be known, the Hawks deserved to win this game in regulation. I will credit Smith with a great effort to keep this game close. Hossa just missed two prime scoring chances in the third, ending up being #1 star of the game. Again, Toews, Sharp and Hossa proved to be too hot to handle. All in all, it was a very entertaining game tonight. Mike Ribeiro seems to have energized the Coyote offense a little. It seemed very hard to take the puck away from him.
Well, while I don’t need to pull the long underwear and Michelin Man down parka out of the closet yet, it’s no secret the trees are bare. That certainly is a harbinger of some inclement weather in the near future. Let’s just say, the hockey season has now officially started – shiver me timbers bucko! I guess I won’t have to get to bundled up tonight at least – rumor has it there is a warm Versteegian breeze coming up from Florida.
Think layer system Hawk fans and you’ll be just fine.
Other important stuff:
Do you think Boston is having any second thoughts about trading Tyler Sequin?
Can we please at least bring back Sarah Kustock? Call me a sexist pig, but I enjoyed the post game talk with the #1 star of the game much more when a good looking damsel conducts the interview. I guarantee at the very least we would have found out the weight and height of the Hossa’s new baby.
You better get ready – bad rap is about to make a comeback in the Blackhawk dressing room. The scariest part of Versteeg’s Stanley Cup rap song was my son and daughter memorized it. As I recall it had something to do with him and his babes and chillin’ in a hot tub. It had very little flow.
Will Rozsival give up #32?
Will Coach Q try the Versteeg at center experiment again – (just trolling the Fels brothers with that thought. Although Coach Q is Master of the Line Change. “That’s so crazy, it just might work.”)
Get well quick Steven Stamkos.