About 20 years ago, our friend, and town undertaker, suggested to my wife that I put lights on the pine tree in our front yard. At that time the tree was about even with the roof of our house. Now, I’m not sure Mike had the wherewithal to anticipate that I would be climbing up the center of that tree for the last 20 years to add and replace strands of C-9 bulbs – however the thought of subterfuge entered my mind while I hung on for dear life this year. (Reluctantly, last year I had to finally acquiesce and replace the C-9 bulbs with C-7’s so the circuits would quit blowing in the house.) Were Mike and my better half in cahoots?
Obviously if I fell my untimely demise would be good for the funeral business; perhaps the thought of a huge payday from the Life Insurance policy crossed Nathalie’s mind? I’ll leave it to CSI to make the final determination on suspected malfeasance should an “accident” eventually occur. However, let it be known that I am ever vigilant for slightly sawed or greased branches!
At the ripe old age of 60, accompanied by its concomitant decline in physical abilities, these are some of the things I pondered as I ascended the pine tree this year to add two more strands to the top. As I climbed to heights I had never approached before, the core of the tree started swaying in the steady breeze. Thoughts of “chickening out” were definitely forefront and center in my mind. While hanging on for dear life with one hand, I fumbled around with the other hand trying to spread the lights with a pole over branches that were increasingly becoming smaller in diameter. Although you can’t see it in the above picture, there was an eagle’s nest just above and to the right of me. (OK, ok, so maybe it was the nest that held the noisy Cardinal family that woke us up at 4:45 every morning this past summer.)
While this pales in comparison to Paul Sinclair scaling the Himalaya’s last year, I must admit it brought me considerable satisfaction when I finally threw the switch to light the 45 to 50 foot tree. Global warming enthusiasts, of course, shriek as they pass the house. Actually, the lights didn’t go on initially. In a Clark Griswold moment, I checked on the timers and scratched my head, trying to figure out what went awry. It turned out I had neglected to plug in the extension cords underneath the tree – details, details.
Well, the Hawks have certainly scratched and clawed their way to the top, currently possessing the most points in the NHL, 44 after 28 games. Think about that – 44 out of a possible 56 points. Over an 82 game season, that translates roughly to about 128 points. Once again, we appear to be “peaking” too early – although that story line had a rather happy ending last year. The Hawks went 12-2-1 in November, all against Western Conference foes. One of those losses, versus the Avalanche, was a result of Divine Intervention. The Predators had the type of game against us where if you’re sitting at a poker table, you keep filling inside straights and three card flushes. One of those, “Read em and weep Dilly,” nights. I’m not sure if any of you have played the wild card game called “Baseball,” but let’s just say the Preds kept getting dealt 3’s and 9’s.
The Calgary game saw Switzerland’s finest, Reto Berra, stop 42 off 44 Hawk shots that night, and that ain’t right. Calgary actually looked as if they were about to take two more points from the Hawks on Wednesday until the Patrick’s took over in the last ten minutes of the third period. When Kaner broke the ice, I believe 19,289 fans began experiencing choking-like symptoms. In hockey, “hoping we can hang on,” until the final buzzer is usually the kiss of death. When the dust had settled, Antti Raanta, (am I the only one struggling trying to spell his name correctly – way to many T’s and A’s), recorded his first NHL victory. Apparently, Antti is no relation to that other Antti guy who once played for the Hawks.
After two solid performances, Hawk fans are resting a little easier after Khaby’s injury. Unless you’re going to average 4-5 goals a night in the NHL, (the Hawks scored 4 or more goals 8 times in November), goalies are still pretty important. After Nikolai went down, I started worrying about what would happen if Mr. Big was injured. That was almost as nerve wracking as deciding to put the last strand of lights up in the tree this year.
Brandon Bollig exchanged pleasantries with the Calgary muscle, Brian McGrattan, in an early bout that had a huge impact on the outcome of the game. McGrattan had been taking indecent liberties with our skill players throughout the first 15 minutes of Period One. (Or at least he had intentions to do so if Coach Bob Hartley ever let him out on the ice.) Although Bollig appeared to have gotten the worst of it, McGrattan didn’t even think of “running” Kaner the rest of the game. You had to smile when Bollig tapped Dave “Killer” Carlson, err I mean McGrattan on the head and appeared to say, “You got me in this bout.” You never really want to fight someone who smiles at you after you clock him; generally speaking that person ain’t right!
The Dallas game was a lot like momentarily taking both hands off the tree to connect two strands of lights together. It appeared all the horses were out of the barn. The eye test had Dallas carrying the play in this furiously paced contest. It appeared initially that the Hawks didn’t want to skate and work as hard as Dallas was forcing them to. Not that the Hawks were dogging it, but Dallas was skating in fifth or sixth gear all night long. Dallas rolled four lines and as Steve Konroyd noted, their fourth line, was fast and annoying. All the Dallas forwards logged over 13 minutes of ice time. Garbutt, along with fellow nozzle Antoine Roussel (who I initially confused with the Jean-Jacque Rousseau, the Genevan philosopher whose thought influenced the French revolution, when attempting to spell his name), are filling in quite admirably for Steve Ott who used to irritate me more than Raffi Torres. At Thanksgiving it is customary to state what were thankful for – I’m thankful that “Otter,” as he was affectionately know in Dallas, is in the Eastern Division.
Dallas rolling four lines reminded me of a huge part of the Hawks success in recent times. I went back about five games and don’t believe I saw any of our forwards besides Toews logging more than 19 minutes of ice time – Tazer had a few around 20 minutes. Contrast that with Vancouver who had Kesler, Sedin and Sedin all play over 25 minutes when we whooped them. How’s that going to work out in April? Not sure they’ll be a lot of gas left in the tank if they make it that far.
At any rate, the handsome one deflected a shot from “Norris’ Keith to knot the game at one a piece with 13 minutes to go in the third. There were a total of 22 shots on goal in the third period, making for very intense, nerve wracking hockey. Brent Seabrook could have made it 23, but he decided to get cute and stick handled his way into oblivion. This prompted Steve Konroyd to somewhat humorously note, “It’s never a bad idea to shoot the puck.” – hint, hint. That’s a euphemism for what we 300 level denizens are known to brilliantly shout on occasion – “Shoot!”
Chiasson, Eakin and Sequin were a formidable line, possessing great speed and skill. I think we’ll be all to familiar with those names by the end of the season. The Young, Dumb and Full of Fun line? Chiasson actually slid one through Crow’s gaping five-hole as time expired in OT, just wide of the net. Both Crawford and Lehtonen were up to the task however, just warming up for the 11 round shoot out.
Mighty Mike at Cheer the Anthem said Crow looked thoroughly bored by the time the shootout was over. While MM tends to exaggerates a bit, both goalies seemingly toyed with some of the best players in the world. “I spit on your forehand/backhand move,” was heard a few times from Lehtonen and Crawford. Imaginary five holes were closed faster than an inquiry into Healthcare.gov. By the way, I’ve heard Zus was a shoot out expert and he, indeed, had Lehtonen at his mercy before lifting the puck an inch to high, nicking the cross bar. Coach Q may want to file that tidbit of info away for future games. As far as his questionable speed goes, CT at Hockeenight had a hilarious observation on Zus keeping up with Saad and Kane flying into enemy territory; “Just go in without me.” That cracked me up! Actually, Zus has not hurt our momentum, although I was really starting to like Saad/Pirri/Kaner.
Agent Smith came to the rescue as both coaches were running out of good options. The Hawks 11th shooter ripped a wrister into the twine. Until I can come up with a better name, our fourth line from now on will be known as “The Bollig Line.” If you want to know why Versteeg and Pirri’s playing time is being reduced, look no farther than the effective play of 28/16/52. Steve Konroyd named the entire line his “High Flying Hawk” award on the post game show after our quite satisfying win in the desert. I believe that is the first time more than one player has been named the High Flying Hawk, deservedly so. Stick tap to Konroyd.
In a fact that may be lost to most of the Hawk faithful, Brandon Bollig’s first NHL goal came against Mike Smith on 4/14/2012 in the playoffs. He tallied his third this season off a violent wrister on an odd man rush. It’s becoming rather clear that Brandon owns Mike Smith. “He’s my ho,” the pugilistic specialist noted in a post game interview. Astonishingly, Q did not call 52’s number in the shootout. It seems B-52 gets as much press on the various Hawk blog sites as Kaner, although not all of it is positive. However, more and more, it seems Bollig is moving his considerable rear end fast enough to keep up with Freddy and Benji.
Marcus Kruger is having another fine season contributing is so many small areas that go unnoticed on the score sheet. I can’t remember the last time I saw him smile. I still say he’s a mini-Tazer clone. In a surprising and very welcome turn of events, Freddy has gone 60%, 45%, 60%, 62% and 60% at the dot in his last five games. These were obviously all on the road where supposedly the home team has an advantage. Forget about Imagining if there is a heaven, can you imagine if Marcus is winning 60% of his face-offs in the playoffs. That excites me!
As for the third member of the increasingly effective Bollig Line, I think it’s safe to say Ben Smith is here to stay. Coach Q, we’ve been telling you for two years the kid can play – you have to listen to us knuckleheads once in awhile!
I don’t have time to talk about our rear guard in this piece. Suffice it to say Niklas Hjalmarsson may be having his best year ever as a Hawk. Of course, with two Cups under his belt, that is saying a lot. He has been getting much friskier on the offensive side. I’m not saying he’s a Nick Leddy yet, but when he busts a move, clearly, it’s Hammer Time. Duncan Keith’s play has been passable also.
The Hawks road trip was certainly passable, as they survived the Circus Trip with high flying colors. What’s more impressive however is I placed two more strands of lights atop the pine tree and managed to emerge unscathed – other than some scratched up hands and aching bones. Nathalie brought the Bose out and blasted Tina Turner’s “I want to take you higher” as I made my final assault on the summit of the tree. When I told my family about my ascent to the top at Thanksgiving, my brother John told a pretty humorous Christmas decorating story.
John was the one who first motivated me to start decorating the house, when I was a bachelor. He’s always had a knack for lighting the house up in the Christmas season. He said his house would take about 4 to 5 hours, which was considerably longer than his neighbor who he described as a greaser. (does that term even exist anymore?) Hid neighbor would come out with a plastic Jesus, Mary and Joseph, place them on the front porch and plug them in. He said he finished his decorations before his cigarette went out!
That type of decorating will never get you in the Clark Griswold Hall of Fame.
“Shepherds why this Jubilee?” – well the month of November was a good start for the Hawks! As Tina Turner would sing,